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Reading Aloud to Tweens and Teens

I once got a classroom full of struggling 8th graders to finish a complicated assignment by promising to read a Dr. Seuss book to them. A high school English teacher reduced tardies to zero by beginning each class with a short chapter from a children’s book. I’ve finished conference talks with a read-aloud, and at the close there’s a contented sigh from the entire audience. We’re never too old to enjoy a read-aloud.

We read aloud to our kids well into their teen years, alternating which adult was reading with which child when their tastes became quite different. Yes, sports events and other commitments got in the way in those later years, until reading aloud happened three times a week instead of every night, but neither we nor our children wanted to quit. If you’re not in the habit, try it! Here are a few ways to get started.

  • Choose the “right” book. Not all books are created read-aloud equal. Find a copy of The Read-Aloud Handbook (Trelease), a resource we relied on for years, especially for identifying something all of us would like on family trips. There’s a great list, too, in The Book Whisperer (Miller). Ask friends. Query on Twitter and Facebook. Check with your local library.
  • Read things you like. While your child’s interests come first, it’s hard to read night after night if you really don’t like a text. Sometimes my daughter and I would find three possible books, read a few paragraphs or pages from each, and then decide.
  • Listen to your child. Sometimes a book is, well, a read-aloud dud. As Madeleine L’Engle, the Newbury Award-winning author put it, “Life is too short to finish any book you don’t like.” So that your child learns to give books a decent chance (a valuable skill since in school they may indeed have to finish books they don’t like), set a rule such as, “We read three chapters before anyone can say they do/don’t like a book.” Try out a bit of literary discussion. Is it characterization, lack of realism, too much detail, or something else they aren’t enjoying? But then, be willing to set it aside. You can always finish it on your own if you were enjoying it!

Just last summer as we headed off to a week in a cabin, my daughter, now in college, asked, “Did you pack a read-aloud? That’s one of my favorite memories of the cabin—what we’d read.” So we tucked in Twilight. Find a copy and try reading it aloud if you truly want to have a great laugh—and a better understanding of why reading aloud is a great way to bond with your kids!

Jane is an educational consultant, specializing in teambuilding, coaching, and school staff development. She is also the coauthor of more than 20 books. Jane’s website  is