Read aloud! (due April 19th)

Revisitng Read Aloud:  Instructional Strategies that Encourage Students’ Engagement with Texts

By:  Vanessa Morrison and Lisa Wlodarczyk

Morrison and Wlodarczyk explore the benefits of engaging students in text to increase motivation to read, increase content knowledge by applying various literacy strategies and using social collaboration before, during and after a literacy event.  During their study, they looked at the benefits of read aloud and gave reasons why students should be engaged to read and incorporate three literacy strategies into their first grade classroom.

In 1978, Rosenblatt began to change the perception that reading comprehension comes only from reading the text itself and that reading is more of a transactional process.  Reading is multifaceted.  In order for a student to be a successful reader, they must be taught various literacy skills and how to apply these skills effectively.  Some of these skills are prior knowledge, making connections, question answering, question generating, and be able to interpret text through various perspectives.  Another important part of the transactional process is reader’s being motivated to read.   One way to motivate reader is through social interactions to allow students to share, discuss and learn from each other through peer collaboration.

Reading aloud allows students to practice literacy skills.  It also increases student’s vocabulary development by exposing students to stories they are not able to read independently, but are able to comprehend when read aloud.  Listening to good readers helps encourage and motivate readers to want to read more.  Reading aloud to students will also help improve their listening, speaking and overall language skills.

In their study, they read aloud to students to allow them to build comprehension skills and used the following literacy activities:  alphaboxes, making connections, including text to self, text to text and text to world, and discussion webs.  These literacy activities were done at various times and with appropriate text in the lessons, but all techniques used the transactional process that incorporates peer collaboration to enhance reading comprehension of the teacher’s read aloud of a selected text.

The use of the alphaboxes encourage students to take information that was read aloud and collaborate with other students to come up with student initiated questions, grasp important concepts, make connections to text and help identify and discuss unknown words and analyze text from various points of view.  The use of alphaboxes has to be modeled by the teacher before it can be done independently.  This technique can also be modified to meet the needs of varied levels of diverse students.

Good readers are more automatic in being able to make connections to what they are reading.  This ability to make connections is based on a reader’s schema, which is prior knowledge for a reader.  The larger schema a reader has about a topic, the easier time the reader will have reading or listening to stories on the topic.  When students can make connections to readings, this also helps facilitate discussion and interactions with each other about a common topic.  Any time readers can make connections to what they are reading or listening to being read, their comprehension skills improve also.  Students can make connections through text-to-self, text-to-text and then text-to-world.  The first connection skill taught should be text-to-self, which should be the easiest for students because they are making a personal connection, which seems to be easiest for students to do.  All connection strategies have to be modeled and practiced first in order to students to understand how and when to use these literacy skills.  I know I have a student who pipes up almost every time we read and say, “I have a connection to this story.”  And she always does.  She does very well with all three types of connections.

Discussion webs are conducive to students being able to learn by engaging and participating in social activities such as sharing ideas, problem solve and discuss information either through small groups or whole group discussions.  Discussion webs begin with open ended questions to be explored and discussed by the students.  Discussion webs encourage productive communication with groups that may or may not agree with a certain point of view.  This strategy must also first be modeled by the teacher.  It can also be modified for diverse learners and across the curriculum.

In order to be able to comprehend material that is either read aloud or read independently, readers have to be taught effective literacy skills as early readers.  Through this article, three such literacy skills were explored and explained how they can be implemented successful to increase reading comprehension through read alouds in a first grade classroom

Introducing Science Concepts to Primary Students through Read-Alouds:  Interactions and Multiple Texts make the Difference by:  Natalie Heisey, Linda Kucan

In their study, Heisey and Kuan they explored the importance of using read aloud with non- fiction text as well as using multiple text to explain the same concept to help increase students reading comprehension skills.  Research is showing that read aloud of informational text can help students understand and learn difficult content and vocabulary as well as explain text features most commonly found in informational text, such as table of contents, bold and italic print, glossary and indexes.  The National Science Education Standards reiterate the need for students in the earlier grades to begin develop a foundation and understanding of scientific ideas in order to have something to build on in later grades.

Their main focus of the study was to determine if comprehension is affected by teaching questioning during reading compared to teacher-questioning after reading. The two groups tested were first and second grade students and the following books were read aloud to the groups: Snowflake Bentley, Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and her Remarkable Discoveries and the Boy who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon.   The focus of the questioning was to help the students understand what a scientist does.  One group was questioned by the teacher during reading; the other group was questioned after reading.

The results of the study show that when students were questioned during reading and allowed to discuss material as it was read, they were able to recall information and answer post test questions with more details than when compared to the after-reading group.  One important aspect of this study is that the group who were able to interact and communicate as a group about what they were listening to during the read aloud seemed to have better comprehension of and understanding of reading.  The during reading students were also able to make text-to-text connections with the books read because they were being cued numerous times to think about important information as it was presented and discussed instead of having to wait until the end of the story when some information may have already been forgotten.

Both of these articles stress the importance of read aloud to students, especially during primary grades in order to help build literacy foundations that they can build on in later grades when students begin to reading to learn instead of learning to read.  Another important factor that these articles point out is not only the importance of being able to read and comprehend information, but the ability to communicate and socialize in order to learn from each other.  Social learning in both of these studies seems to be vital to increase comprehension in various genres.  Teacher modeling through read aloud is important not only to allow students to understand what a good reader does, it also allows interaction with the teacher, allowing the teacher to informally assess student’s prior knowledge and skills acquired, what they need to work on, as well as how to discuss and agree/disagree with others around them.

I thought about how to apply these strategies to my teaching.  Even though I do not often have the opportunity to always read aloud to my students, I do occasionally make the time, especially with my kinders.   I usually read at least one book a week to them to work on rhyming words.  Even though I only read once a week,  I am always impressed how just this once a week strategy helps them pick up on this skill (along with regular classroom work also).   I read I Broke my Trunk aloud to my kinders.  I questioned them about the title, questioned them during the reading about things such as how could Gerald have broken his trunk, making predictions, and studying the pictures to look for clues as to how Gerald felt as he was holding up his friends on his trunk.  They enjoyed it of course, especially the part where Piggie screams at Gerald to find out what happened to his trunk.  They all just giggled and thought that was hilarious.  One thing that I quickly realized about my students is how they could easily be looked over in a classroom with 20-22 students.  They needed more response time and had much less of a schema as to how Gerald may have broken his nose.  They needed much more prompting in order to answer questions and catch on to my pattern of questioning.  I also read the story to my first graders using similar questions.  They too, enjoyed it and their favorite part was when Piggie screamed at Gerald about his trunk.    Their response as far as needing extra think time and ponder was similar to my kinders.  I observed that my questions helped both groups think more about what the story was explaining and especially the comprehension the illustrations were adding to the story.   I even read this story to my 2 year nephew who was visiting from Charleston.  He was able to quickly figure out that his trunk was “broken”.  He seemed to enjoy the story also, and quickly wanted to turn the pages so I could keep reading.  He has always been read to and I could tell because he easily sits through three or more books at a time.  Often I ran out of air before he lost interest in books.

The Graveyard Book

By: Neil Gaiman

            “… because it’s only in the graveyard that we can keep you safe. This is where you live and this is where those who love you can be found.  Outside would not be safe for you. Not yet.”

-Silas from The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This novel was written over a 25 year time span by Neil Gaiman, who ironically thought he had an idea that was better than he was a writer.  It is a story about Nobody “Bod” Owens; a young boy who ends up being raised by ghosts and lives in a graveyard after his family is killed one night by an evil man named Jack.  (I thought about the saying Jack of all trades, master of none). It tells his story of how he grew up in the graveyard and the struggles he went through as a young boy.  Some of the struggles Bod experienced were the same but different than what a normal human child may have dealt with, such as rebelling against having to complete school work that he does not see the benefit in learning, making friends and trying to find out how he fits into the world. One challenge that Bod confronted was the evil man who killed his parents.  The man named Jack turns up in usual places and at unexpected times throughout the story.  Bod must defeat Jack in order to have revenge for his family as well as closure and safety for himself.

At the beginning of the story, the young toddler, Bod managed to escape that deadly night when the rest of his family was viscously killed by silently slipping through the thick fog that enveloped around him as a protective barrier and lead him to the graveyard.  When Bod made it to the graveyard, he was quickly adopted by the Owens, a ghost couple who had no children while they were alive hundreds of years ago.  The reader is also introduced to Silas, a mysterious member of the graveyard family who agrees to be Bod’s guardian since Silas is the only member of the graveyard that is neither alive nor dead so he is able to leave the graveyard to get Bod the necessary items he needs as a living human who has been given Freedom of the Graveyard.  Silas proves to be Bod’s lifesaver throughout the story and seems to show up just in the nick of time, such as the time Bod is rescued by Silas and Miss Lupescue, the hound of God, from the ghoul folk after Bod tries to rebel from Miss Lupescue’s demands of his learning what Bod thinks is pointless material.

Eventually Bod has to venture out into the real world. His first experience with the outside world is when attempts to get a headstone for the young witch who is buried without one.  He tries to sell the valuable snake stone that he took from the sleers to Mr. Abanzer Bolger, a business man who runs somewhat of a pawn shop whose “business was an iceberg” which I interpreted to be a shady place where more deals are done under the table than what is visible from the top, because 90% of an iceberg is below the water.  Mr. Abanzer senses he may be on to something delightfully evil and contacts but who else than the man named Jack.  Silas again comes to Bod’s rescue.  Later on, Bod tries to remain invisible and unrecognizable in the world of the living when he tries to go to school for a limited time.  Eventually, Bod must come face to face with the man named Jack who killed the rest of his family. With the help of the knowledge gained in his years of growing up in the graveyard and the sleer, he defeats Jack.

At the end of story Bod decides to move on and move out of the graveyard after a conversation with Liza who says “Truly, life is wasted on the living, Nobody Owens.  For one of us is too foolish to live, and it is not I.” Bod decides that it is time to move on and begins to quickly loose his powers that he had used in the graveyard throughout his life.  After a touching scene between Silas and Bod, where Silas gives Bod his blessings and sends him out on his own with some money, a passport and a trunk, Bod walks into his life “with his eyes and his heart wide open.”

When I listened to the Gaiman read one of the chapters, I think I was surprised to hear his British accent.  I did not do any research on the book before I read it.  I did look at the pictures of the graveyard where the story was supposed to take place.  I think it is funny how the voices in my head, did not match Gaiman’s voice at all when I was reading the book at first, but if I go back and re-read parts, I can hear Gaiman’s voice instead of mine.  I should have caught on that it was an English graveyard, but I think sometimes I am so narrowed minded, I forget there are places other than America that this story could have taken place.

I enjoyed listening to him reading and I think he did a good job reading his own story.  I listened to the question and answer sessions that he had at the end of reading each chapter.  I thought it was very interesting that he said he did not decide what audience he was writing for.  He wrote and let the publishers decide what audience it was written for.  He also commented that in England, the Graveyard Book was marketed towards adult audiences while in America it was marketed toward adolescent readers.  What does this say about American youth and their appetite and/or tolerance of murder and dark stories?

I will have to honestly say that this would not have been the first choice of reading for me.  I thought it was going to be a very dark gloomy story.  I used to really like to read Stephen King and Dean Kootz when I was a teen ager, but I no longer like to be scared and read about death and destruction.  I thought the beginning of this story was very gruesome and disturbing to me, and too much like what I see on the evening news.  I am not sure that I would want to use this story in a classroom.  This story would definitely be too difficult for my students.

But as far as an interesting read, this story certainly is that.  While the story line is dark, there are also good traits that are portrayed in the characters.  The Owens are the willing adopted parental caretakers to the orphaned Bod and loves him regardless of his differences and try their best provide for him.  The mysterious Silas is willing to rescue Bod on several occasions and always seems to be everywhere when Bod needs him to get him out of trouble.  It seems that Bod is redemption for Silas for the evils he committed in the past.  The various characters throughout the graveyard accept Bod throughout his life in the graveyard and become fond of him despite his being of the living world.  Bod’s life is a lonely one with only having two true friends, Scarlett, a real girl Bod’s age and Liza, a young witch buried in the graveyard hundreds of years ago.  As Bod grows up, so does Scarlett, while the other inhabitants of the graveyard stay the same age.  The story moves along throughout Bod’s life beginning with him as an infant and continues until he is a teenager getting ready to become a young man and venture out on his own outside of the protectiveness of the graveyard that he has only known his whole life.  Another interesting aspect of the story is that the story also takes place in the present day because it talks about Scarlett wanting a cell phone of her own after her adventures with Mr. Frost and her experience with the bus route.  I had the impression that since the inhabitants where so old, this story also took place long ago.

“Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story.  Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person.  And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness or comfort.  And that is why we write.”

Quote from Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery medal acceptance speech

            When I read Gaiman’s acceptance speech, I decided that he is not only an accomplished writer, but an entertaining speaker.  I thought the speech was very honest when he said he did not write to make people feel better, to help ease their misery, or spark interest in non readers, but he wrote because they were stories he was interested in and he wrote to feed his family. He discussed how he felt almost unworthy of accepting their award because of this fact.  I got the impression that before his award he did not fully realize the impact a story, especially a fictional story could have on his readers.  He began to reflect about his literacy history, and how his hours in the library reading had helped make him the person and writer that he has become today.  By accepting this award, he began to realize writers and stories do have an impact on the people who read them.


The bookdrum website would be a great way to introduce a book if had been reviewed by the website.  It would be a good resource to preview vocabulary with students.  There are many adult titles on this website.  Bookdrum would also be a good website to preview books that I may be interested in reading.  The only thing is that if you read too much information about the book it kind of ruins the point of reading it.  It is a nice companion website to help with comprehension and clarification of the story.  I also explored other books such as Brave New World, which I read several years ago and of course The Graveyard Book.  The way it breaks up the book like summary, map, glossary, review, helps develop a better picture of what the book is about.

Neil Gaiman’s mouse circus website is a site devoted to his books, especially The Graveyard Book .  The highlight of the website is Gaiman reading the entire book, which provides a new insight to the story.  It would also allow readers to enjoy the book who read below grade level or just to experience the story through a different media.  In the case of Gaiman reading it, I felt that it added to the reading experience.

The scholastic book wizard website is one that I plan to use and share with other teachers at my school.  I did not realize such a helpful site existed.  This is a good resource for me to use especially when I would like my groups to read books on similar topics, but I struggle to find books on each student’s level.  I found the following books that seem to be similar to The Graveyard Book.

Ivy and Bean and the Ghost that had to Go

By:  Annie Barrows/ Illustrated by: Sophie Blackall

Murder at Midnight

By: Avi

City of the Dead. The Haunting of Derek Stone Book #1 (Grade level equivalent 3.2/Interest level 3rd-5th)

By:  Tony Abbott

Bayou Dogs. The Haunting of Derek Stone- Book #2 (Grade level equivalent 3.1/ interest level 3rd grade)

By: Tony Abbott

The Ghost on the Stairs  (Grade level equivalent 3.2/Interest level 3rd grade)

By: Chris Eboch

Evil Star (Gatekeepers Book 2) (Grade equivalent 3.7/ interest level 6th grade)

By:  Anthony  Horowitz

Nightrise- (Gatekeepers Book #3) (Grade equivalent 3.8/ interest level 6th grade)

By:  Anthony Horowitz


6 responses »

  1. Lori,

    After watching the Q & A videos by Gaiman, I too was very surprised that even he didn’t know what audience the book was targeted for. I thought it was very interesting that the publishers were the ones to decide who to market it for rather than the author himself. I loved the question you posted: “What does this say about American youth and their appetite and/or tolerance of murder and dark stories?” I would like to know exactly why the American publisher thought it was appropriate for a younger audience while the English publisher thought it was more appropriate for an older audience. I have to admit, when I read the very beginning about Bod’s family getting murdered, I was a little taken aback that it was NOT an adult book with an opening scene as harsh as that!

    • Erin,

      I am afraid we of becoming a little too desensitized to murder, blood and gore party because we are bombarded by it on the internet, TV and the video games children play.

      • I agree with both of you! My students always want to write about the bloody type stories and murders and I know it has a lot to do with TV and their video games…which is also where I know they get some of their bad language from too. Question is, what can we as teachers do about it? Can we turn it to literature to help give it support, or will they only write about the TV shows and games they play that relate to the murders and stuff? I have gotten a few to write about The Graveyard Book in relation to their games and how they are similar and different. This has opened their eyes to the fact that what they play on their XBOX can be quite similar to books they read.


  2. Lori,

    I also appreciated the good traits within the characters despite the dark story line, a bit like a silver lining in a cloud. During Neil Gaiman’s interview with Stephen Colbert he said the moral of this book is, “life is worth living”. Although the book started out very dark, I felt good after reading it. This was because so much had been sacrificed and many bad things had happened, but despite all of that, something good came out of it. While reading his acceptance speech, I also found it interesting that he was not aware of the impact his writing had on others. I couldn’t help but relate that to educators and the impact we have on students each and every day even when we aren’t aware of it…no pressure! 🙂

    – Stacy Durham

    • Stacy,

      I got the impression from Gaiman that he truly writes because he feels he has a story to tell and he enjoys writing.

      I agree about the impact we have on students. We have to be careful as educators what impression we give to our students. I think we can help make or break their futures.


  3. Lori,
    Thank you for bringing up your moment of surprise when Scarlett mentioned wanting a cell phone and you realized the book was set in the modern days. I felt the same way! This got me thinking about how it never mentions Bod using a camera, cell phone, or computer because those types of things would obviously be of little use to the inhabitants of the graveyard. But then I wondered how that played out when Bod went to school. Bod’s teachers mention how he handwrites everything and says he doesn’t have a computer at home, and his teachers find this to be very peculiar. I wonder if they ever had technology class in Bod’s school…what a shock I’m sure that would be to Bod! I know you teach students that are too young for this book, but your comments just made me think that while reading this book it would be interesting to engage older students in conversations about how they think their life would be different without the technology that they seem to depend on so much today.

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