The benefits of reading to children includes genre exposure, vocabulary development and increased comprehension skills.
Educators know that being read aloud to is a strong indicator of future literacy.
When we model fluent reading, we are providing both direct and indirect instruction in all aspects of fluency: decoding, prosody and comprehension.
Reading lessons that include read alouds also improve our students vocabulary. The more often a child hears a word in a variety of contexts, the more s/he will internalize it to become a part of their working vocabulary.
These read alouds serve another purpose: to develop meta-cognition about reading.
Reading aloud is the foundation of literacy
There are only two ways you can get more words into a child's head: ears and eyes. If the child comes from an environment where little printed material is available, they rarely hear lots of different vocabulary being used (such as is the case with children from poverty-stricken homes), then you have to get it into them.
Reading to children will get them hearing enriched vocabulary, and when they revisit the story again and again during their reading time, they are working on their fluency skills.
This creates a text that is accessible for all kids to read even though some of the words may have been previously unknown.
Promotes comprehension and critical thinking skills.
Your discussion, questioning and scaffolding of background knowledge can tailor a read aloud towards any specific reading skill. Students who need reading help with comprehension absolutely must have books read aloud to them. Oral discussion of the text is critical for kids, and is a natural avenue to use is reading lessons (vs. a book report or project).
Allow the students to re-read the text many times after you have read it aloud. Even if the student cannot "read" all of the words on his or her own, remember that you have already made the text accessible by reading it aloud. The child can tell the story to a buddy from the pictures, which is working on summarizing (another key comprehension skill).
Reading aloud is pleasurable
Another one of the benefits of reading to children is that it is a bonding experience. It should be pleasurable for both students and teachers (or moms and dads).
Once we can get kids hooked on the idea that reading is fun, then we can do anything with them. In a perfect world, all of our students would come to us with a background of what I call "lap-time": being read to on a regular basis by a parent. That is not true. In your own classroom you will have a number of students every year that never got to experience this.
I have found that these students must have "lap-time." No, I don't mean hold them on your lap (can you imagine?). I mean frequent read alouds that are just for fun, are engaging and have words that are above my student's independent level (make it even better by having a dedicated space for gathering together in your room for these special times). Two of my standbys that I read every year are Tikki Tikki Tembo
and The Witches
Model oral reading fluency and techniques
Children will emulate what they hear, and that includes how they are read to. Teacher modeling of how to scoop phrases, use expressive intonation and fluently pause at punctuation is invaluable.
Reading help for children who lack fluency needs to focus on these aspects of reading, not just speed. Somehow the idea has invaded that our faster readers are the better readers, and this simply is not always the case. Teachers everywhere (under the pressure from administration) are pulling out their timers and forgetting how to teach reading.
Of course a child who reads quicker has a greater chance of becoming a better reader, but how about the kids we all know (and love!) that read like lightning yet sounded like a robot and have no clue what they just read? Faster isn't always what it's cracked up to be.
It makes quality literature accessible for all students
There are many students whose homes do not have much literature in them. You need to fill that void through exposure, and make it fun for them. You have to get them on board with you, because students from poverty stricken homes do not count reading as their number one priority.
They are concerned with where they will sleep tonight, if mom or dad is ever coming home, if they will have dinner and breakfast tomorrow, if someone will be there when they get home...that's your competition when you ask them to focus on reading, writing, math...anything. So make authentic literature accessible for these kids through read alouds.
Better vocabulary comes from books, not general conversation
Think about how we converse with each other. Our spoken language is much different than the language used in books (and be sure to tell your students that!). This is one of the benefits of reading to children that you can't get with just talking to them!
Your students will encounter a richer, more expanded vocabulary through reading than they will any other way. If you teach them how to clarify the meaning using reciprocal teaching of unknown words and phrases through read alouds, you are providing them with a lifelong tool they will use when they are ready to step out more onto their own.
It introduces a variety of genres that students might never be exposed to
Reading aloud to children is not only confined to a fictional picture book. There are so many reading instruction strategies today for reading aloud.
Just within the category of picture books you can find mysteries, historical non-fiction, poetry, biographies, fantasy, narratives, science fiction, science non-fiction, and more.
As children become more mature readers, include chapter books that have visual imagery in the words. You may need to spend some time teaching how to visualize words, but it pays off.
This is when you still start seeing your students using reading strategies that make meaning.
The next time you are looking for reading help for those hard to teach children, try one of the simplest techniques of all time: read to them.