Article #68
Keeping Sight of the Read-Aloud Purpose
Cheryl M. Sigmon

These were recent comments made by teachers on the mailring related to the daily Self-Selected Read-Aloud:

"I mostly read chapter books to my students during Self-Selected Reading."
"I think students need to be exposed to higher level books during this time, especially those that they're unable to read independently."
"I want to use the SSR read-aloud to stretch my kids' vocabulary, and I generally choose materials that are at least two reading levels above the class average to accomplish that."
"I think the read-aloud time is ideal for teaching students to concentrate on text for an extended period of time--even over multiple days."

Yes, all of these teachers certainly provide good rationales for using the read-aloud for reading longer, more difficult texts to children during the Self-Selected Block read-aloud. We do need to read some longer more difficult texts to students. All teachers have a favorite chapter book that we want to read aloud. Often, students will make requests of chapter books that they want read aloud to them. Lately, many teachers have read the J. K. Rowlings' Harry Potter series to students after being begged to do so. After all, there are many students who are curious about some of these books but who realize that the books are beyond their grasp as readers. In the case of Harry Potter, the teacher can make these students feel more a part of the phenomenon that has swept the country. Another teacher reported to me that at my recommendation in a seminar, she bought the chapter book, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, and read it aloud to her students. She was most gratified that upon completing the book over a series of days, the students gave the book a round of applause! Never had she had a read-aloud book receive an ovation!

We definitely don't want to miss these opportunities with our students. However, let me now attempt to make a case for not having a steady diet of this kind of reading.

First, I'll mention that I do think that many teachers, unfortunately, move almost exclusively to reading aloud chapter books and to using chapter books during guided reading. This seems to apply most often to teachers at upper grades who, for some reason, feel that the age of the students and the length of the texts should grow proportionately. Even though there are wonderful, enriching chapter books that should be used in the classroom, teachers should keep in mind that our main instructional goal is not to prepare students for a future of reading novels. (That may sound odd coming from a person who loves reading novels as much as I do!) Our instructional goal should be to prepare students to comprehend texts of all lengths and all genres through the skillful application of appropriate skills and strategies. So, teachers need to use a wide variety of text lengths and types to accomplish this.

A few years back, research drove teachers to feel that all read-alouds should be with materials approximately two years above the readability level of the students. This was supposed to stretch the listening potential of the students while increasing their vocabularies. There is still validity to this theory which might encourage teachers to have another read-aloud time during the day when possible. However, the Self-Selected Block read-aloud acts as an invitation for students to read. They should be convinced by the read-aloud that reading these classroom books is attainable for them.

Next, teachers should remember that the read-aloud time is a wonderful opportunity to motivate students to read during the approaching time that the students are expected to make their own choices of texts. The read-aloud time might be likened to the locker room pep talk that a coach gives the team before a game. "Go out there and give it all you've got!" Teachers read aloud with enthusiasm during this time that becomes contagious among the students.

Teachers should view the read-aloud time as their greatest opportunity to advertise and market books to students. This is when students will learn what's in the room that they might want to read. "If you like reading about bizarre mistakes and experiments that end up being great inventions, you'll love the section I'm going to read today from a book called Mistakes that Worked, by Charlotte Foltz Jones. We're going to discover how a volunteer fireman being called to a fire led to the invention of brown-and-serve rolls!" On some occasions, teachers might read short snippets from a book out of each of the book baskets or might do a short book talk about those books. Teachers must embrace the idea that there's a book for every student--a perfect book that they'll love--and that teachers must be relentless in finding the books that might the key to unlock that door for students.

Maybe most importantly, too, teachers must remember that many of our students need some validation during the read-aloud time--validation that it's okay to read the lower level books. If students are coming to the Self-Selected Reading Block conference with books that are obviously too difficult for them, then the teacher might want to consider adding more easy books to the read-aloud time. Sometimes peer pressure may account for the fact that students feel compelled to choose books that they know are too difficult. Almost any book read enthusiastically by the teacher will be a "hot" commodity for weeks to come. When everyone in the class desires that book, it's okay for the lower-achieving students to reach for it!

So, yes, read the longer, more difficult chapter books, but realize the tremendous benefits of reading from a much wider range of materials. Read snippets, chapters, and whole books. Read stories, poems, biographies, fables, historical fiction, science fiction. Read from books, magazines, letters, and pamphlets. Read it all to them!

**Hope you'll read about the Balanced Literacy Conference--Block Style! coming up in September listed below. It's going to be a blast in one of my favorite cities in the US--Charleston, South Carolina! Wonderful concurrent sessions, round-table discussions and general sessions are planned along with a big Block Party on Saturday night with music and food! We would LOVE to have YOU join us! There'll be a strand for everyone--kindergarten, primary grades, upper grades, and for administrators and support personnel--something for each of those groups throughout the entire conference. Hope you'll go to and download the registration blank today! There's only room for a limited number of participants. Hurry!

Training Opportunities:

Below are seminars (some 1 day and some 2 day ones) that I have coming up in the future. Please know that I have a small group of really excellent folks who work along with me, too. We do site-based work in schools and districts at your request. They did not come from a train-the-trainer program. Their expertise with 4-Blocks evolved over many years of training, teaching and support. For their services, you can simply call 843-539-1213, fax 843-539-1214 or visit ERG's website at We offer various types of staff development: classroom demonstrations, on-site presentations, classroom observations and feedback, and exploring 4-Blocks in more depth, among other offerings.

My seminar presentations:

Charleston, SC      September 22-23  ERG (Conference/Block Party-Southern Style!)
Kansas City, MO     October 25       SDR
Denver, CO          October 26       SDR
Cincinnati, OH      October 30       ERG (upper grades)
Dallas, TX          October 31       ERG (upper grades)
Lansing, MI         November 13      SDR
Springfield, IL     November 14      SDR
Silver Springs, MD  November 29      SDR
Hartford, CT        November 30      SDR

For ERG workshops on 4-Blocks and Building Blocks, call 843-549-2684 or go to For SDR workshops, call 800-678-8908.

Hope to see you at a workshop soon!

Personal Journal:

Hope many of you will start making plans to join us in beautiful Charleston, SC, September 22-23 for a Four Blocks conference. Many experienced Four Blocks teachers and consultants will be on hand for sessions of all descriptions--technology and 4-Blocks, conferencing skills, grading/assessment, report cards, alignment with standards, helping low-achievers, etc. The Block Party on Saturday night of the conference will be one you won't want to miss! This one is going to be FUN (and, of course, educational!) with music and food. Sign up as soon as possible since registration will be limited! See for details.

I've discovered more wonderful places around the US that I didn't know about over the last couple of weeks. First, I visited McAllen, TX--at the southern-most tip of Texas, almost off the US map. It was 106 degrees when I stepped off the plane! Whew! McAllen is beautiful, though. By the way, I crossed paths with one of the hometown celebrities as I left town--Vickie Carr (or is it Karr?). From Texas, I headed to St. Louis to work with Gena Seibee, Jim Barlette and the wonderful teachers and administrators in Ferguson-Florissant School District.

Last week I had a most special treat! I had a quick trip to southern California-Riverside. I stayed in the most fabulous place ever--The Mission Inn. And, I had one of those once in a lifetime opportunities, one of those truly lucky days. When I checked in to this palatial hotel, I was informed that they were not able to give me the room that was reserved for me. This happens to me on occasions, and I brace myself as I realize I might end up sleeping on a pullout sofa! But, again, it was my lucky day! Instead, I was informed that they would have to put me in the Presidential Suite! I had no idea exactly what that meant, but the suite was fabulous with the most incredible views ever from all different vantage points--even from my upstairs sitting room! Wow! It really pained me to have to turn in the keys the next day. I was ready to move in forever! Thanks to Luz Mendez for being a great host!

I'm at home now preparing for the Charleston Conference. I surely hope you'll be there! You won't want to miss it!

For those of you who know Cathy Bell (head of ERG), she's now beginning the long process of preparing for her bone marrow transplant. Please send thoughts and prayers her way! She's a special person!

Hope to see you September 22 and 23rd in Charleston! Best wishes getting your 4-Blocks year underway!

4 Blocks Goodies