Skip to main content

Reading aloud

Do you ever get pupils to read aloud in class? In font of the whole class? Or in pairs or groups?

Does reading aloud have any value as an activity in the ML classroom?

I occasionally got students of all ages to read aloud in front of the class, but I confess that my reasons for doing so may not have been as clear as they should have been. What are the pros and cons of reading aloud to the whole class?

  • It's a scary activity for most pupils and may put undue pressure on them. It is often claimed that we learn a language (or anything for that matter) best when we are comfortable and not under threat.
  • It may open a pupil to ridicule from their peers.
  • When one pupil is reading the rest of the class may be doing nothing. This becomes apparent when you ask questions after someone has read. I found that the person quickest to respond was the student who had just read. Their mind was more focused than the that of the rest of the class
  • It provides an inferior model to the rest of the class when compared with the teacher (usually). It is therefore relatively poor comprehensible input.
  • It is an artificial way of communicating in the classroom.There are far better things you could be doing.
  • If you want students to read let them do it in pairs. There is more participation and performance may even be better.
In favour
  • It allows the most confident students to perform. Some enjoy showing off what they can do and this may reinforce their motivation.
  • It is an acceptable source of comprehensible listening input to the reader and the rest of the group.
  • It makes a change from the teacher talking or reading aloud.
  • It provides an opportunity to focus on aspects of pronunciation and intonation. I found getting students to read was an effective and fun way to practise French intonation patterns
  • It is a good activity for class control. I found that classes would listen respectfully to their peers reading aloud.
  • It allows the student to focus on pronunciation and lets teacher correct and perfect it.
  • It helps develop a student's confidence in speaking in front of others. It is a good life skill.
  • It is a challenge. Why not challenge students in the classroom to overcome inhibitions?
  • It is an AfL opportunity. After someone has read others can comment on what was good about it. This works when handled carefully.
As far as reading aloud in front of the class goes, therefore, I think you can make a case for it. I suspect it is very much down to the class you have in front of you and whether some students at least would be up for some reading aloud. I don't see an issue with putting students "on the spot" to some extent and if it is sensitively handled (e.g. inviting sensible applause after someone has read) it can be motivational. You would avoid putting the very shy student on the spot. The issue of the rest of the class being inactive can be overcome if you warn them that anyone can be chosen at any random point, or if you get them to follow the text with their finger or a ruler.

You may decide that reading aloud should have a very specific purpose e.g. focusing on pronunciation or intonation patterns. In French it is useful for teaching the final syllabus stress and rising pitch pattern. You may also prefer students to read quite short sections of text.

Getting students to read aloud "around the class" in a predictable order is probably poor practice, but is not totally without merit. It may have been favoured at one time because it meant that at some point in the term everyone would get a go. In a sense, it also resembles random "no hands up" questioning in that it is not the best students who get to speak all the time. But students calculate when they will have to read, get anxious and may not listen to the person currently reading. Some will work out that they will not have to read at all and may put their feet up. There is no expectation that you may have to perform at any moment.

Reading aloud in front of the group may be a stepping stone to paired reading aloud, which has other advantages: everyone is active, students can assess each others' reading and there is no need to feel inhibited, so performance may be better. Paired reading aloud is great as long as the quality is good. If you let pupils perform badly errors will become fossilised.

What do you think? Did I miss anything?


  1. Here in the US, there is a researcher named Anita Archer whose conference I attended a few years ago. She has some really good strategies for teaching reading and comprehension. Though some of them are hard to adapt for foreign language, I did take away some of her reading strategies. My favorite is to do reading but to do so as a whole class (short passages, after they are able to sound things out reasonably well) or in small groups. Usually when I have students do a reading, I will have them take turns in their group reading aloud as the first step. I stress that it is for practicing pronunciation, not for comprehension. Then I listen as they read and if I note any systematic errors, we talk about it as a class. This works a little better than one student reading in front of the class because then multiple students can read at one time, and since it's not otherwise silent, nervous students don't have to worry about the whole class hearing their mistakes. After that, then we can move into the comprehension activities.

  2. Hi. Thank you for commenting. Whole group reading aloud is something that works in modern language teaching. Establishing a good understanding of word-sound relationships is important and reading aloud from the board, all together, can help with this in my opinion. It's certainly an activity I would use with beginners and near beginners.

  3. Great post! I was just discussing this very topic at Parlez avec Pauline. While I do not agree with having students present individually in front of the class, (in my experience as a teacher, students absolutely abhor this activity), the benefits to student achievement with paired and group choral reading cannot be understated.

  4. P.S. Shared your post on my FB page and group! It resonates so well with my AIM teaching philosophy and practice!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Delayed dictation

What is “delayed dictation”?

Instead of getting students to transcribe immediately what you say, or what a partner says, you can enforce a 10 second delay so that students have to keep running over in their heads what they have heard. Some teachers have even used the delay time to try to distract students with music.

It’s an added challenge for students but has significant value, I think. It reminds me of a phenomenon in music called audiation. I use it frequently as a singer and I bet you do too.

Audiation is thought to be the foundation of musicianship. It takes place when we hear and comprehend music for which the sound is no longer or may never have been present. You can audiate when listening to music, performing from notation, playing “by ear,” improvising, composing, or notating music. When we have a song going round in our mind we are audiating. When we are deliberately learning a song we are audiating.

In our language teaching case, though, the earworm is a word, chunk of l…

Responsive teaching

Dylan Wiliam, the academic most associated with Assessment for Learning (AfL), aka formative assessment, has stated that these labels have not been the most helpful to teachers. He believes that they have been partly responsible for poor implementation of AfL and the fact that AfL has not led to the improved outcomes originally intended.

Wiliam wrote on Twitter in 2013:

“Example of really big mistake: calling formative assessment formative assessment rather than something like "responsive teaching".”

For the record he subsequently added:

“The point I was making—years ago now—is that it would have been much easier if we had called formative assessment "responsive teaching". However, I now realize that this wouldn't have helped since it would have given many people the idea that it was all about the teacher's role.”

I suspect he’s right about the appellation and its consequences. As a teacher I found it hard to get my head around the terms AfL and formative assess…

Sentence Stealers with a twist

Sentence Stealers is a reading aloud game invented by Gianfranco Conti. I'll describe the game to you, then suggest an extension of it which goes a bit further than reading aloud. By the way, I shouldn't need to justify the usefulness of reading aloud, but just in case, we are talking here about matching sounds to spellings, practising listening, pronunciation and intonation and repeating/recycling high frequency language patterns.

This is how it works:

Display around 15 sentences on the board, preferably ones which show language patterns you have been working on recently or some time ago.Hand out four cards or slips of paper to each student.On each card students must secretly write a sentence from the displayed list.Students then circulate around the class, approaching their classmates and reading a sentence from the displayed list. If the other person has that sentence on one of their cards, they must hand over the card. The other person then does the same, choosing a sentenc…

The age factor in language learning

This post draws on a section from Chapter 5 of Jack C. Richards' splendid handbook Key Issues in Language Teaching (2015). I'm going to summarise what Richards writes about how age factors affect language learning, then add my own comments about how this might influence classroom teaching.

It's often said that children seem to learn languages so much more quickly and effectively than adults. Yet adults do have some advantages of their own, as we'll see.

In the 1970s it was theorised that children's success was down to the notion that there is a critical period for language learning (pre-puberty). Once learners pass this period changes in the brain make it harder to learn new languages. Many took this critical period hypothesis to mean that we should get children to start learning other languages at an earlier stage. (The claim is still picked up today by decision-makers arguing for the teaching of languages in primary schools.)

Unfortunately, large amounts of rese…

Dissecting a lesson: teaching an intermediate written text

This post is a beginner’s guide about how you might go about working with a written text with low-intermediate or intermediate students (Y10-11 in England). I must emphasise that this is not what you SHOULD do, just one approach based on my own experience and keeping in mind what we know about learning and language learning in particular. Experienced teachers may find it interesting to compare this sequence with what you do yourself.

You can adapt the sequence below to the class, context and your own preferred style. I’m going to assume that the text is chosen for relevance, interest and comprehensibility. The research suggests that the best texts are at the very least 90% understandable, i.e. you would need to gloss no more than 10% of the words or phrases. The text could be authentic, or more likely adapted authentic from a text book, or teacher written. It would likely be fairly short so you have time to exploit it intensively, recycling as much useful language as possible.

So here w…