The Power of the Mentor Reading Aloud, Part 1

Sammy is quick with a smile and quick on his feet. He’s in 3rd grade but his teacher only occasionally reads aloud to his class. He heard more stories in the first few years of school, but those memories are growing dim.

Before school, he hadn’t really ever sat on someone’s lap to hear a story. He finds reading on his own taxing and avoids it as much as possible. The whole reading thing hasn’t really captured his imagination yet.

But one day his Kids Hope USA mentor Jennifer shows up in their usual meeting place with some books. Jennifer asks him which one he’d like to hear. He’s happy to choose from among the beautiful books, but he’s drawn to an odd one, The Book with No Pictures.

Jennifer starts reading it and in a matter of seconds, Sammy is grinning wider than she’s ever seen. Thus begins Sammy and Jennifer’s journey of sharing great books with one another as part of their mentor hour.

What Jennifer has dedicated her time to–reading aloud–has been called the “single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading” (from a national report, Becoming a Nation of Readers). Reading aloud builds knowledge of the world, vocabulary knowledge, social-emotional skills and empathy, and even attention and focus.

Despite these remarkable claims of its power, many children in our country are not being read to much, or at all. Indeed, a recent national survey revealed that over 60% of U.S. parents of young children read aloud to their children about once a week or less. Our schools are not aggressively picking up this slack, either. In my experience working with elementary teachers, I find that many are reading aloud less than they did in past decades. This should give us pause, as over 60% of American 4th graders on national reading assessments are found to not be proficient, with many minority groups achieving at even poorer levels.

If reading aloud is the best activity for preparing children for good reading achievement, then the Kids Hope mentor has a unique opening to turn the reading achievement status quo on its head by reading aloud to his or her mentee. When the mentor picks up a book to read to his/her mentee, like Jennifer did, s/he is embracing a powerful agent of change in the life of the child.

Not only that, but the read aloud time often builds a bond between the adult and child. A shared reading experience also gives the opportunity for rich connections to propel many a rich conversation. For National Literacy Month, I’ll be sharing more about the power of the mentor reading aloud for the mentee. There are seemingly innumerable benefits to reading aloud, but for this series, I’ll focus on 3 major beneficial areas.

First, the brain. Reading aloud gives the developing mind the cognitive tools to understand the world better. As students engage with a read aloud, they learn about different cultures, places, people, and times. They also hear novel vocabulary words that they don’t hear in everyday speech. These language developments pay off in spades in reading, in school, and across the life span.

Second, the relationship. Most kids find being read to fun, so they may be grateful to the person who reads aloud to them. Researchers (for example) find that parents and children create strong emotional bonds through read aloud times. The mentor/mentee relationship may not be so strongly impacted, yet it can similarly be a catalyst for deeper emotional connections. In addition, books open doors to rich conversations that may be much harder to initiate through other conversations.

Third, the heart. Reading aloud increases the likelihood that the child will develop an affinity for reading itself. When children struggle with reading themselves, they rarely learn to love reading. However, if we share rich read aloud times with our mentees over many months and years, they may develop a love of reading. Such a love is associated with greater reading practice and reading achievement. That’s power!

Have these 3 reasons stirred something inside of you? Are you feeling more called to try reading aloud with your mentee? Or, perhaps, recommit to the habit? Upcoming blog posts will go into greater depth about the power of reading aloud and give you suggestions and resources to help make read alouds successful.

But for now, perhaps you may want to check out one of these short, fun, interactive books that can serve as a gentle bridge into a new habit of reading aloud:


Dr, Marnie Ginsberg is a literacy specialist and consultant who has worked as a classroom teacher, university reading researcher, reading tutor, and school staff developer. When she was a middle school teacher, she read aloud almost every day to her students and it was the best part of the school day. She developed the KHUSA Read Together program and also supports Kids Hope mentors who are trying out Read Together components.

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