5 Benefits of Reading Picture Books Aloud to Secondary Students

Katy Tessman

by Katy Tessman, New School Services Project Manager and Makerspace Specialist


Words are powerful, especially when words are shared from one person to another. Reading aloud to students is a unique opportunity to share words. Reading picture books out loud to secondary students is just as valuable as when they were read to in grade school. In addition to the illustrations adding to the magic of the spoken word, vocabulary skills and comprehension are strengthened. Here are five additional benefits of reading aloud to your secondary students.

1. Strengthens Community

Stories can connect people and build a great sense of community. Reading together creates a positive culture in the classroom and develops a unique bond among the listeners. The time secondary classrooms spend together reading a picture book aloud promotes bonding and strengthens relationships. Children’s book author Kate DiCamillo said, “We humans long not just for story, not just for the flow of language, but for the connection that comes when words are read aloud. That connection provides illumination.”1

2. Gains Exposure to Diverse Themes

More and more picture books are using diverse themes and characters. Increasing students’ exposure to stories about social responsibility, socioeconomic diversity, and different cultures and beliefs offers an opportunity for a class to interpret diversity together. Exposing secondary students to these books gives them the chance to see reflections of themselves and opens doors into their classmates’ lives. These picture books can spark discussion between secondary students that a traditional novel read independently doesn’t generate. These conversations allow for deeper understanding of diverse issues.2

3. Creates a Safe Space

Research has shown that secondary students’ stress is increasing, and more and more of them are suffering from anxiety.3 When a story is read aloud, students become more comfortable discussing their emotions with others. Exposing students to stories that explore particular emotions allows them to feel supported socially and emotionally. The result is the class that is read aloud to becomes a safe space where students can accept their own feelings and understand how others feel.

4. Increases Attention Span

It may be surprising to see how engaged and interested secondary students become when a picture book is used to introduce a new concept. It is important to keep things fresh in the classroom, and a read-aloud is a great way to capture secondary students’ attention. Unlike watching a video, reading aloud provides an opportunity to model learning strategies (i.e. thinking aloud, questioning, and applying). This slower discovery of ideas encourages students to listen and focus which will increase their overall attention span.

Reading aloud also gives an opportunity for secondary students to fidget, move around a bit, or use flexible seating. Family counselor Dr. Michael Gurian has studied children’s behavior while being read to. The scientific evidence discovered demonstrates that many kids not only need to move while being read to, they actually retain information better when they are allowed to do so.4

5. Provides Enjoyment

Students of all ages enjoy being read to. Reading aloud reinforces the enthusiasm we, as educators, have for books. It gives students a chance to enjoy a book without struggling to decode words or to activate background knowledge.5 Picture books also provide an opportunity to interpret the illustrations as text features. Stories connect us to each other, and reading together is a shared joy. Hearing stories allow students to experience other worlds and situations in a safe space. Reading is fun. Reading is powerful. Reading can spark a lifelong love of learning.

“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” — Maya Angelou


Custom Title Lists

The following is a curated collection of new picture books that are excellent read-alouds for secondary students when introducing new concepts, exploring diverse themes, and sparking a love of learning.

One of Mackin’s many free services available to teachers and librarians is book collection development. Mackin’s in-house librarians and classroom specialists are here to assist educators’ particular needs. We love working with teachers and librarians to create custom title lists to meet the exact needs of each unique school community.

HUMAN RIGHTS
CIVICS
MEDIA LITERACY
CONSERVATION

UNDEFEATED
by Kwame Alexander
Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
VERSIFY 2019

Presents a poem honoring the troubles and triumphs of African Americans through history.

VOTE FOR OUR FUTURE!
by Margaret McNamar
Illustrated by Micah Player
SCHWARTZ & WADE 2020

A powerful picture book about voting, elections, and finding our voices for change.

FACTS VS. OPINIONS
VS. ROBOTS

by Michael Rex
NANCY PAULSEN BOOKS 2020

A hilarious, timely conversation about the differences between facts and opinions.

ONE LITTLE BAG:
AN AMAZING JOURNEY

by Henry Cole
SCHOLASTIC 2020

An incredible journey of one little bag that is used and reused and reused again.

SCIENCE
ACTIVISM
FEELINGS & EMOTIONS

NESTING
by Henry Cole
KATHERINE TEGEN BOOKS 2020

A stunning picture book about robins: their homes, their lives, and their families.

UNSTOPPABLE
by Adam Rex
Illustrated by Laura Park
CHRONICLE BOOKS 2020

Perfect read-aloud book for children interested in animals, the environment, and political action.

GOOD EGG
by Jory John
Illustrations by Pete Oswald
HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS 2019

A funny and charming story that reminds us of the importance of balance, self-care, and accepting those we love.

LOVE
by Matt de la Pena
Illustrations by Loren Long
PUTNAM PUBLISHING 2018

Love is so many things to so many different people. This book celebrates love and the way it connects us all.

STORYTELLING
KINDNESS

OLD ROCK (IS NOT BORING)
by Deb Pilutti
PUTNAM PUBLISHING 2020

Great storytellers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, and Old Rock’s stories are sure to inspire questions that lead to wonderful conversations about the past and the natural world.

ALSO AN OCTOPUS
by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Illustrated by Benji Davies
CANDLEWICK PRESS 2016

Even the most totally awesome story starts with a little bit of nothing. What happens next is up to you! A delightfully meta picture book that will set imaginations soaring.

POWER OF ONE: EVERY ACT OF KINDNESS COUNTS
by Trudy Ludwig,
Illustrated by Mike Curato
KNOPF BOOKS 2020

One small act of kindness can change the world. From the author of The Invisible Boy, comes a tale as simple as the Golden Rule.

SNAIL CROSSING
by Corey R. Tabor
BALZER + BRAY 2020

In a book that is as cheerful and charming as Snail himself, Corey Tabor tells a winning tale of slow but steady Snail, whose determination and kindness bring him the best reward of all: friendship.

LOSS and GRIEF
LEARN THROUGH FAILURE/PERSEVERANCE

ROUGH PATCH
by Brian Lies
GREENWILLOW 2018

A breathtakingly beautiful book that is pitch-perfect for anyone of any age who has experienced any type of loss or disappointment.

DON’T WORRY BOOK
 by Todd Parr
LITTLE, BROWN BOOKS 2019

This book reassures kids everywhere that even when things are scary or confusing, there’s always something comforting around the corner.

MOST MAGNIFICENT THING
by Ashley Spires
KIDS CAN PRESS 2014

An exploration of character education, this funny book offers a perfect example of the rewards of perseverance and creativity.

BOY WHO HARNESSED THE WIND
by Wm Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer
Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon
DIAL 2012

The true story of how a 14-year-old taught himself how to build a windmill, giving electricity and a means for transporting water to his people.

DIVERSITY & TOLERANCE

BE YOU!
By Peter H. Reynolds
ORCHARD BOOKS 2020

A joyful reminder of the ways that every child is unique and special. Tells kids to be patient, persistent, and true.

AND TANGO MAKES THREE
 by Justin Richardson, Illustrated by Henry Cole
SIMON & SCHUSTER 2005

This noteworthy story on family diversity helps define the meaning of family.

LITTLE SOCK
by Kia Heise & Christopher D. Park
SLEEPING BEAR PRESS 2019

Little Sock wants something more so he bravely sets out on a scary journey to discover a new and different world.

RED: A CRAYON’S STORY
by Michael Hall
GREENWILLOW 2015

This funny, heartwarming, and colorful picture book is about finding the courage to be true to your inner self.

BIOGRAPHIES

EXQUISITE: THE POETRY AND LIFE OF GWENDOLYN BROOKS
by Suzanne Slade
Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
ABRAMS BOOKS 2020

This picture book biography explores the intersections of race, gender, and the ubiquitous poverty of the Great Depression — all with a lyrical touch worthy of the subject.

FRED’S BIG FEELINGS:  THE LIFE AND LEGACY OF MISTER ROGERS
by Laura Renauld
Illustrated by Brigette Barrager
ATHENEUM BOOKS 2020

Illustrated children’s book about the life of Fred Rogers and the creation of his children’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

OUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE:
GRETA THUNBERG’S CALL
TO SAVE THE PLANET
 

by Jeanette Winter
BEACH LANE BOOKS 2019

Learn the story of Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist who is demanding action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change.

NO TRUTH WITHOUT RUTH:
THE LIFE OF RUTH BADER GINSBURG

by Kathleen Krull
Illustrations by Nancy Zhang
HARPERCOLLINS 2018

An introduction to how the second female Supreme Court Justice faced discrimination and how her fight for equality changed the way the law dealt with women’s rights.


Resources

Mackenzie, Sarah. “RAR #121: Kate DiCamillo on Reading Aloud for Connection – Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie.” Read, 15 Nov. 2019, readaloudrevival.com/121/.

Eggs, Reading. “7 Important Benefits of Reading Aloud.” The Reading Eggs Blog, 5 Mar. 2015, blog.readingeggs.com/2015/03/03/7-important-benefits-of-reading-aloud/.

McCarthy, Claire. “Anxiety in Teens Is Rising: What’s Going On?” HealthyChildren.org, 20 Nov. 2019, www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Anxiety-Disorders.aspx.

Mackenzie, Sarah. “RAR #82: Why Fidgeting Is a Good Sign (and What Brain Science Has to Say about Reading Aloud), Dr. Michael Gurian – Read-Aloud Revival with Sarah Mackenzie.” Read, 7 Aug. 2019, readaloudrevival.com/82/.

Short, Kasey. “Reading Aloud to Middle School Students.” Edutopia, George Lucas Educational Foundation, 14 May 2019, www.edutopia.org/article/reading-aloud-middle-school-students.

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