Reading Aloud & Reading – There’s a Big Difference.

My greatest passion is reading aloud to children.  I thought it was time to talk about the difference between reading and reading aloud, as I often post about good children’s books.  While reading is the goal, the dream- reading aloud is the pathway to that dream.  Jim Trelease, author of the million-copy bestseller “The Read-Aloud Handbook” says it best:

“People would stand in line for days and pay hundreds of dollars if there were a pill that could do everything for a child that reading aloud does.  It expands their interest in books, vocabulary and comprehension, grammar, and attention span.  Simply put, it’s a free “oral vaccine” for literacy.  
~Jim Trelease~

I love a good story, especially one that involves reading aloud and the stunning difference it makes with children.  Here is a favorite story of mine from his best selling book, which is proof of what happens with reading aloud:

“During his ten years as principal of Boston’s Solomon Lewenberg Middle School, Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. and his faculty proved it.  The pride of Boston’s junior high schools during the 1950s and early 1960s, Lewenberg subsequently suffered the ravages of urban decay, and by 1984, with the lowest academic record and Boston teachers calling it the “looney bin” instead of Lewenberg, the school was earmarked for closing.  But first, Boston officials would give it one last chance.

The reins were handed over to O’Neill, an upbeat, first-year principal and former high school English teacher whose experience there had taught him to “sell” the pleasures and importance of reading.

The first thing he did was abolish the school’s intercom system.  (“As a teacher I’d always sworn someday I’d rip the thing off the wall.  Now I could do it legally.”)  He then set about establishing structure, routine, and discipline.  “That’s the easy part.  What happens after is the important part–reading.  It’s the key element in the curriculum.  IBM can teach our graduates to work the machine, but we have to teach them how to read the manual.”  In O’Neill’s first year, sustained silent reading (see chapter 5) was instituted for nearly four hundred pupils and faculty for the last ten minutes of the day, during which everyone in the school read for pleasure.  Each teacher (and administrator) was assigned a room–much to the consternation of some who felt those last ten minutes could be better used to clean up the shop or gym.  “Prove to me on paper,” O’Neill challenged them, “that you are busier than I am, and I’ll give you back the ten minutes to clean.”  He had no takers.

Within a year, critics became supporters and the school was relishing the quiet time that ended the day.  The books that had been started during SSR were often still being read by students filing out to buses–in stark contrast to former dismissal scenes that bordered on chaos.

The next challenge was to ensure that each sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade student not only saw an adult reading each day but also heard one.  Faculty members were assigned a classroom and the school day began with ten minutes of reading aloud, to complement the silent ending at the end of the day.  Soon reading aloud began to inspire awareness, and new titles sprouted during SSR.  In effect, the faculty was doing what the great art schools have always done: providing life models from which to draw.

In the first year, Lewenberg’s scores were up; in the second year, not only did the scores climb but so, too, did student enrollment in response to the school’s new reputation.

Three years later, in 1988, Lewenberg’s 570 students had the highest reading scores in the city of Boston, there was a fifteen page waiting list of children who wanted to attend, and O’Neill was portrayed in Time as a viable alternative to physical force in its cover story on Joe Clark, the bullhorn- and bat-toting principal from Paterson, New Jersey.

Today, Tom O’Neill is retired, but the ripple effect of his work has reached shores that not even his great optimism would have anticipated.  In the early 1990s, a junior high school civics teacher in Japan, Hiroshi Hayashi, read the Japanese edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook.  Intrigued by the concept of SSR and Tom O’Neill’s example, he immediately decided to apply it to his own school.  (Contrary to what most Americans believe, not all Japanese public school students are single-minded overachievers, and many are rebellious or reluctant readers–if they are readers at all.)  Although SSR was a foreign concept to Japanese secondary education, Hayashi saw quick results in his junior high school with just ten minutes at the start of the morning.  Unwilling to keep his enthusiasm to himself, he spent the next two years sending forty thousand handwritten postcards to administrators in Japanese public schools, urging them to visit his school and adopt the concept.  His personal crusade has won accolades from even faculty skeptics:  By 2006, more than 3,500 Japanese schools were using SSR to begin their day.”

Used by permission of the author, Jim Trelease, 2013, The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin)

These are the stories that make me continue to read aloud to children.  It is THE single most important thing I do in my classroom.  Children love it, read on their own throughout the day, and excel in school.  Not only am I growing readers, I’m opening the door to the world for them.  And, they jump in with both feet.

I am featured in this book.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in books, Early Education, Inspiration, Jim Trelease, reading, reading aloud, reading aloud, School, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

99 Responses to Reading Aloud & Reading – There’s a Big Difference.

  1. Ritu says:

    I heartily agree with this all! I ensure my class has reading time, where they can look at/read books alone or with a friend. The book corner is always available for them, too.
    And my favourite part of the day is the reading a story time, at the end of the day!

  2. Yusif Ahmed says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful message.

  3. Great job by Mr. O’Neil, and all teachers who instil reading in their charges. I can’t imagine life without a book on the go. Lovely post Jennie.

  4. beetleypete says:

    That’s a great story of turning a failing school into a success, and inspiring the Japanese to do something similar.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  5. Amen! I agree with this post with all of my heart.

  6. Darlene says:

    I so agree with all of this. My fondest memories are of my parents and my teachers reading aloud to me. Years later, at a company Christmas party, our boss read aloud to us. All those warm and fuzzy feelings came tumbling back. In the last 6 years of my dear mom’s life, I would read to her and she loved it. We even hired someone to come and read to her twice a week as we were not always there to be able to do it. Reading out loud is indeed a “vaccine” for all ages.

    • Jennie says:

      Three cheers for your wonderful comment and stories! It really is a free oral vaccine! I can picture the read aloud moment at your company Christmas party. When I retire I would like to add more reading aloud to my list- especially seniors in assisted living facilities.

  7. Norah says:

    I totally agree, Jennie. I used to love USSR, as we called it – Uninterrupted Silent Sustained Reading. It was great at one school I was at, when everyone did it. Sadly, some teachers didn’t ‘get it’ and used the time to do other things, but I looked forward to it all day. We usually did it straight after lunch, but I see the benefits of just before home time. Even when I was at schools that didn’t do it together, I still did it with my class. Sometimes we called it DEAR – Drop Everything and Read.
    I used to do the same thing with writing. The children would write and I’d write too. When it came to sharing, we’d all share – not everyday, but at least once a week.
    I think the important thing about both these practices is what Trelease says – modelling by an adult – also providing time in a busy program for them to read (and write) showing that both these activities are valued.

  8. quiall says:

    As a child my parents read to me, constantly. They opened up the universe to me through words and I was intrigued and enthralled. That simple action so many years ago coloured my entire world, my life.

  9. willedare says:

    A sublime post which I plan to share with many, Jennie! My older sister read the Harry Potter books out loud to her two children. One is working on her PhD at Old Dominion and the other is about to graduate from a joint program between Hobart-William Smith and Dartmouth with two undergraduate degrees related to engineering. Hurrah for reading AND reading aloud AND the great value of “monkey see-monkey do” to model reading for others! I also love one commenter’s acronym: “DEAR – Drop Everything and Read…”

    • Is that Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virgina! If so, that’s where I earned my bachelor’s degree in English.

    • Jennie says:

      Hi Will! I absolutely love your stories. Wow! More proof in the pudding. The statistics and research leave no doubt that it all boils down to reading aloud in order to grow readers (who also excel in school.) Jim Trelease’s book is half and half- stories and statistics. Yes, I love Norah’s DEAR in Australia. Just wonderful.

      When someone has a baby, my gift is always “Goodnight Moon” and “The Read-Aloud Handbook.”

  10. K.L. Hale says:

    Amen!!!!!! I cherish Jim’s book and appreciate you for all you do. My favorite part of teaching was reading time. Oh the cozy memories. We used to call it SSR and then DEAR time. Ms. Jennie, I’d give anything to sit and have you read to me. Is it crazy that I love to be read to at almost 51? It soothes my soul. I don’t think we ever outgrow it.

    • Jennie says:

      It is not crazy at all! There are always adults stopping in when I read aloud. When I retire, I want to read aloud at assisted living communities. I am SO glad that you have (and cherish) Jim’s book. Best book ever!!! What edition do you have? Norah from Australia commented on DEAR time. Just wonderful!

      When the pandemic hit last March and school went remote, the very first thing I did was set up a YouTube channel and read aloud to the children every single day. You can always hear me read aloud to you. 😊

      • K.L. Hale says:

        Oh yes! Your YouTube! I took my pup, Finley, into assisted living facilities in Little Rock, AR, as well as a few classrooms. It makes my heart so happy. I have Jim’s “New” version from 1989 that I bought in college. And then I have 6th edition from a friend. I’d like to have the newest. Take care and thank you for all you do! 💛❤️💜

      • Jennie says:

        I wish every school, library, and assisted living could have a dog! I have the 1989 book, too. Skip the newest 8th edition. Jim retired and passed the torch to another author. She deleted the stories that I found near and dear, like this one (and the kid from Russell, KY, and Cuban cigars.) Jim’s last one was the 7th edition, which I highly recommend. Best to you!

      • K.L. Hale says:

        Thank you, Jennie for the good advice! I had looked at buying that one and had a pause. Best to you too! 💛

      • Jennie says:

        You won’t be disappointed. 🙂

  11. Dan Antion says:

    I think you can teach children to read, but reading aloud to them instills a love of reading. The universe of what a child/adult has available to read is growing exponentially. Enjoying reading will benefit these children forever. You’re the best, Jennie!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank goodness you ‘get it’. You can’t build a structure without a foundation, and you can’t grow readers who love reading unless you read aloud. This is so simple, and I don’t understand why teachers… well, you know. Thank you so much, Dan!

  12. joylennick says:

    Looking back…I took on quite a few, different roles in life and one of my favourite, although brief, was coaching a couple of children with their reading. I found it particularly satisfying. Love reading…x

    • Jennie says:

      Reading aloud is very satisfying! I’m glad you got to coach children with their reading. Loving reading happens when someone read aloud to you. Thank you, Joy!

  13. Love Alone says:

    Reblogged this on Love and Love Alone.

  14. beth says:

    this is wonderful jennie –

  15. I 100% agree with everything you’ve shared here Jennie, and how wonderful that the importance, no, necessity of SSR and reading aloud has made it over to Japan!

  16. A wonderful post to share Jennie and what an inspiration Thomas P. O’Neill Jr is. Apart from learning French at school I also learnt Afrikaans when in South Africa 10 -12 years old. My teacher there gave me lessons after school to catch up with the others who spoke as a first language and read aloud to me from early readers then sent me home with them. I actually picked it up very much quicker than I would have just reading the books myself. The retention is amplified. hugs

  17. Don Ostertag says:

    Nice post, Jennie. Brings back memories of the one-room schoolhouse. The first half hour was alternated between singing or the teacher reading to us. The ‘library’ was small but when we wanted to we could go in and read when our ‘class’ wasn’t being taught to.
    My favorite pastime has always been reading aloud to my sons and later the grandkids.

    • Jennie says:

      Delightful, Don! I’m glad this post brought back those memories. Starting the school day with reading aloud and singing is perfect. And of course reading to our own children is the best of all.

  18. CarolCooks2 says:

    What a lovely story Jennie…My favourite time of the day is storytime/bedtime it used to be to my children and then grand children a magical time 🙂 x

  19. Great story, Jennie. I would love you to show us where you are in Jim Trelease’s book.

  20. I’m a believer in reading aloud to kids. I still remember my teacher reading to us. It was a time I looked forward to so much in school.

  21. frenchc1955 says:

    Hi Jennie, thank you for this excellent post!

  22. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    Here is an excellent post on reading aloud to children from Jennie, the extraordinary teacher!

  23. I once had a colleague read to me from Toni Morrison’s Beloved as we drove to an accreditation site visit, of all things. I remember being so touched that she wanted to read one of her favorite books to me.

  24. petespringerauthor says:

    I probably have shared this with you before, Jennie, but here it is again if I hadn’t. I always had someone (usually my mom) read to me when I was a child. I’m convinced that this was when I first developed a love for books. Then, when mom had slipped deeper into her dementia, I started bringing her diaries with me when I’d visit her. Most of it was mostly mundane stuff about whatever she was doing that day, but she’d sit patiently in her bed listening carefully. It was not lost on me that we had come full circle.

    • Jennie says:

      I don’t think you told me that story, Pete. Wow! You were giving her as much as she gave you. Yes, full circle. I hope to read aloud to seniors at assisted living facilities when I retire.

  25. I swear I’ve read about this before and 100% agree. I loved reading time in school. It was so calming before going back into the chaos of my life. I was the kid that went everywhere with a book attached to me. I don’t remember if anyone read aloud but I think it was likely. It’s why I read aloud to my children until they were in Jr high at least. I also had them read to me. It helped them develop their voice and tell good stories without a book.

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks, Marlene. I love your stories. Having children do the reading when they’re able to is excellent. Reading time is really delightful for children.

  26. jilldennison says:

    I began reading aloud to my granddaughter, Natasha, when she was but a few hours old, still in the hospital nursery. Today, she is 26 years old and one of the greatest joys we have is our ‘reading together’ time a couple of nights a week! In the past two years, we have read books by Frederick Douglass, James Patterson, Michelle Obama, Jeff Kinney, Colson Whitehead, and Erik Larson and many more. I believe that reading with your child is the single most important thing there is … no matter what age … that helps them relate to the world.

  27. I wish more schools still had their upper elementary, middle school and even high school teachers read aloud to the students. There is too much focus on reading for testing, reading and writing has become formulaic and the joy of reading is missing. Seeing adults read a book, hearing adults read a book… seeing and understanding the joy of reading is key to developing readers

    • Jennie says:

      You hit the nail on the head! The joy is missing in older grades. When teachers don’t have joy in reading, students won’t have any joy. It has really become robotic in older grades as the focus is on testing. That is so sad! I just came back from our monthly staff meeting, and one teacher presented how to bring joy into reading aloud. Hear, hear!

  28. I loved reading to my kids, and grandsons. I’m looking forward to seeing the boys this coming weekend and you know I’ll be reading to them. I’m going to pick up where we left off in the Wishtree for #1 and I’ll be reading all sorts of books to Littlest, but his favorites are the ones with cars, trucks, and construction vehicles. 🥰

    • Jennie says:

      I know how much you enjoy reading, especially now to your grandsons. Picking up where you left off on Wishtree?? I am in heaven! You MUST tell me how they liked the book! BTW, I suggested to school that we make our own wish tree, and we did! It is stunning. It’s my blog post in a few days.

      Of course the littlest one likes vehicles! “My Truck is Stuck” and “Little Blue Truck” are favorites. Honestly, the old Richard Scarry books on vehicles are as wonderful today as they ever were. “Otis” is a great book, but he may be too young. Is he over 3? “Are You My Mother?” is full of vehicles. Such a good book.

      • Oh, thank you for the book recommendations for Littlest. We have every Little Blue Truck book I think there are between here and his house. They’re great books!

        Yes, picking up where we left off in Wishtree. It’s getting really good now! We pick up the story again on chapter 15.

        I’m looking forward to your upcoming post and seeing and reading about your Wishtree! 🥰

      • Jennie says:

        Thanks so much, Deborah. There’s nothing better than truck and vehicle books for the little ones, especially boys. My own Wishtree book is in the hands of a fellow teacher who is excited to read the book. Otherwise, I’d be looking up Chapter 15 in a heartbeat!

        I have my Wish Tree post scheduled for first thing on Thursday. 🙂

  29. Right on track! Reading Rocks and so do you, Jennie. ❤ I read aloud to my students (grades 4,5,6,7,8 every day… This wonderful article explains why reading aloud to kids of all ages is so Fun-damental. Thanks!

    • Jennie says:

      Yes, it does! He has nailed it in his book since the 80’s, with many editions. This was the book I had as a mother of young children and a new preschool teacher. I hit my stride! While I adore my reading aloud to preschoolers, I also really love reading aloud to older children. I have a library reading group, so I get to read fabulous books. What were the best books you read aloud to your students?

  30. There is nothing better than #reading aloud to the students – particularly rewarding if you are reading your own book! I have read my book, Pixie Van Dimple and the Wrong Kind of Artificial Intelligence, to our y6,7 & 8 children ! It is also a huge bonus if the story carries a serious online safety message highlighting the need to stay safe whilst on the internet, knowing the risks and becoming digitally literate – as well as improving vocabulary and literacy skills ! So much to give! They were delighted, and even more so when I turned up transformed into …. Pixie Van Dimple !

  31. This is a superb post, Jennie. So good to read such a wonderful success story.

  32. A very interesting post, Jennie. Thank you for sharing it. Reading quietly and reading aloud both give the reader benefits – helpful for both children and adults. (And authors too!)

  33. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Tuesday May 11th 2021 – #Review D.G. Kaye, #ReadingAloud Jennie Fitzkee, #DogBooks Jacqui Murray | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  34. Thank you for recommending, Jennie! But honestly, we are awaiting your follow up on this. 😉 Have a beautiful week! Michael

  35. I love this post. It shows how powerful reading aloud is, and why wouldn’t it be? Words are magic. They’re meant to be heard! The writing part is just so we remember the stories. 🙂 Wonderful post.

  36. Roshni says:

    Great knowledge

  37. Jas krish says:

    The art of listening and reading are the two most ingredients of complete learning…most of the Schools overlook these aspects in the rush to complete the syllabus…
    Stay blessed 🙏😇

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