Reading aloud is an overlooked way to build reading ability. As a college student, I often struggled to understand difficult texts. I noticed, though, that when I read aloud, I often instantly understood those passages. Why such a dramatic impact? I have a few thoughts.
First, reading aloud forces you to focus. You have to think about how to pronounce words, how to link them together into sentences, and how to adjust your voice for questions and interjections. You can’t simply pass your eyes over the words while dreaming about the latest video game. You can’t skim the passage, trying to pick out the selections that answer study questions. You have to be 100% focused on bringing the text to life. And focus is a big part of reading comprehension.
Second, reading aloud instantly exposes weaknesses in comprehension. Struggling to pronounce a word? That’s a word that you need to look up! Stumbling in the middle of a sentence? You probably need to understand it better! The faster you address reading weaknesses, the sooner you become a better reader.
Third, reading aloud also encourages you to read expressively, building your emotional connection to the book. This emotional connection makes it easier to understand a book and remember its content. In addition, reading aloud helps people build fluency, comprehension, critical reading skills, and an understanding of cause and effect. All that benefit from so little work!
A final point: during oral reading, one of the most common mistakes that developing students make is not ending sentences properly.
When they hit a period, they plow right into the next sentence; when they see a question mark, they don’t change their tone. This is a big mistake because it prevents the mind from taking advantage of “chunking.”
Chunking is the grouping of data into chunks that are easier to remember. Which is easier to remember: 112063542 or 112-063-542? The second one, by far. We chunk number groups by splitting them into groups, and we chunk word groups by letting the voice fall at the end of a sentence. Without these endings, the text seems like a wall of words—hard to understand, and even harder to remember.
Parents should read aloud to their children well into their high school years. According to Jim Trelease, author of the million- copy bestseller The Read-Aloud Handbook, research shows that “reading aloud to children improves their reading, writing, speaking, listening—and, best of all, their attitudes about reading.”
So if you want your kids to value reading, read aloud to them daily. You can save a lot of money on test prep too—one small-town boy got a perfect score on his ACT, without doing any prep work, after 14 years of listening to his family read to him for half an hour a night.