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7 Benefits of Reading Aloud to Multilingual Learners in School

by Judie Haynes |

What are your most beloved memories of elementary school? One of my most poignant recollections of my early school years is that of my teachers reading books aloud to the class after recess. My parents didn’t read to me as a child, so the fact that nearly all my teachers in K–8 did so was crucial to my development as a reader and led to my lifelong love of reading.

When I became a teacher, I believed that reading aloud to multilingual learners (MLLs), and encouraging parents to do the same, has multiple benefits for their academic learning, and I've since found that this belief is supported by research—in addition to my own experiences over time. In this blog, I discuss seven benefits of reading aloud to MLLs in school. 

1. Sustain Cognitive Development

Reading aloud to MLLs helps maintain their cognitive development. According to Ellie Collier (2019) in an article entitled "Why Is Reading so Important for Children?", Collier wrote the following: "By reading to children, you provide them with a deep understanding about their world and fill their brains with background knowledge. They then use this acquired background knowledge to make sense of what they see, hear, and read, which aids their cognitive development.”

2. Improve Working Memory

Dr. Tracy Alloway from Durham University’s School of Education describes working memory as a mental notebook. Good working memory eases students' path to learning. Working memory helps students pay attention. It is a way to store information in your brain while you complete a task. When teachers read aloud to MLLs and discuss what is read, it allows them to practice using their working memory. Students with a good working memory understand what is read to them and will retain what is read at a higher level than those students who have a poor working memory.

3. Increase Vocabulary Development

Vocabulary is increased when teachers read to their students. It is also associated with a higher level of reading comprehension and word recognition ability. Note that when reading aloud to MLLs, teachers need to teach words and concepts that are crucial to the comprehension of the book before reading. Though you don’t want to explain every word that MLLs may not understand, it’s important that they know the key vocabulary.

4. Model Reading Fluency, Automaticity, and Expression

Automaticity is developed when MLLs have plenty of opportunities to hear and practice English. When you read to them, MLLs are exposed to the rhythm of English, including intonation and variations in pitch. In a previous blog, "5 Activities to Improve Reading Fluency in Pre-K-5 ELLs," I talk about choral, echo, partner, and performance reading, which all help MLLs practice fluency, automaticity, and expression.

5. Foster a Love of Reading for Pleasure

According to the National Literacy Trust, students who read for pleasure have greater self-confidence as readers, develop positive attitudes about reading, and are more apt to become readers later in life. It must be emphasized that MLLs should be encouraged to read in their home language as well as in English.

6. Strengthen the Bond Between Teacher and Student

I always felt that the bond with my students was reinforced when I read aloud to them. All eyes were on me, and student concentration and attention were increased. This is an activity that appealed to all students, from high achievers to those who struggled. Every day, students would ask me if I was going to read aloud to them. I also found that they were motivated to find books that they could read on their own, and that they subsequently viewed themselves as readers.

7. Enhance Imagination and Creativity

When MLLs hear stories read to them, it sparks their imagination and creativity. Listening to different stories and hearing about diverse characters and distinctive settings can open up varying possibilities in MLLs’ minds and inspire them to think more creatively. It also exposes them to a wide range of books and an abundance of new vocabulary. Teachers can have students do  follow-up activities that enhance imagination and creativity when a book is completed. For example, my students wrote a different ending to The Three Little Pigs and illustrated that ending.

Do you read aloud to your MLLs? Have you found other, additional benefits to doing so? Please share in the comments below!

About the author

Judie Haynes

Judie Haynes taught elementary ESL for 28 years and is the author and coauthor of eight books for teachers of ELs , the most recent being “Teaching to Strengths: Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence and Chronic Stress“ with Debbie Zacarian and Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz. She was a columnist for the TESOL publication "Essential Teacher" and is also cofounder and comoderator of the Twitter Chat for teachers of English learners #ELLCHAT.

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