Thursday, October 25, 2018

Read-Alouds and Classroom Novels, Ranked

I've been a classroom teacher for a loooong time. And during that time, in all my iterations (ELD teacher, sheltered history teacher, language arts teacher, reading teacher), I've read to and with students. Right now I'm reading Refugee to four classes and Salt to the Sea to one. They are both great books, but I'm not 100% sure they are great read-alouds. Which got me thinking about the hits and misses of books I've read to my classes.

So I've come up with a highly scientific, color-coded method of evaluating each title on a 100 point scale.

CLIFFHANGINESS: (Which should be a word.) Does it make the kids groan when you stop reading and beg you for the next chapter? Or is it a quiet book where setting and character development are the main attractions? Read-alouds need excitement. 10 points

FAMILIARITY: Do I have to stop every paragraph and explain stuff that most of my kids aren't familiar with? Or can they understand and picture the action pretty easily? It's fine to do some schema activation, but I don't want to have to choose between interrupting narrative flow or leaving half the class in a confused fog. 10 points

HUMOR: Books don't need to be humor books per se, but if a book has a least a few chuckles along the way, it's a definite bonus. 5 points

OUTRAGE: There are many way to make high stakes, but for middle school readers, any time they are appalled on behalf of the protagonist, they will care about what happens next. 5 points

TEACHER ATTITUDE: If I love a book, it shows. If I dislike a book, that also shows. 5 points

SENSE OF PROGRESS: Big-ass books read a tiny bit at a time take forever, and it's hard to maintain enthusiasm that long. 5 points

RISQUE BUSINESS: There is no way I'm going to read even a subtle sex scene to my class. Nor am I going to go all out with cussing. On the other hand, if a book is too juvenile, middle schoolers will resist. Some degree of edginess or snark is appreciated. 5 points

ENTICINGNESS: Is this the first book in a series? One of many books by a prolific author? A great introduction to a lesser known genre? Or even just a book that will hold up to repeated re-reads? A great read-aloud will entice kids to do more reading on their own. 5 points



Now that I've explained the system, let's test it on a book. One of my first read-aloud experiences was with Holes. It was the late 1990s, I was teaching intermediate ELD students who understood a lot more English than they could read, and I scrounged enough copies that they could follow along as I read. I will always remember how impressed we all were when one of the kids figured out that Stanley Yelnats's name is a palindrome.

C Medium. More at the beginning and end. 7/10
F Also medium. The jumping around in time can be hard to follow. 7/10
H Classic. From the nicknames to the general ridiculousness of the situation. 4/5
O It's clear from the get-go that Stanley is getting a raw deal, and we come to empathize with Zero as well. 5/5
T I love it. 5/5
S There's a lot that goes on in a not very long book. 4/5 It 
R Other than taking place at a prison camp...? 3/5
E I just had a kid read the sequel and love it, but a lot of Sachar is either more juvenile or just kinda weird. I liked the one about bridge because my husband plays and I have a working knowledge of it, but how many kids do? 2/5
G This book does not age. It's just a delight. 47/50
TOTAL 84/100


So far, so good. Let's see what the rating scale makes of another book I read to a class in those early days, Gary Paulsen's Nightjohn. My stand-out memory of that is a kid (my first of five or six Jose Sanchezes I've had over the years) saying, "We're learning about the Civil War in history, and this is actually making me care." 

C Toes get cut off, a girl is raped, and young Sarny breaks all laws. 9/10
F Oooh, this one is hard. I always have to read this out loud, because Sarny's dialect is hard for struggling readers to make sense of. I also have to explain quite a bit about slave life and help them read between the lines in some parts. 6/10
H It's not funny at all, but it really shouldn't be, so I won't take off too much. 3/5
O Oh yeah. We are ALL outraged when we read this. 5/5
T One of my favorites. 5/5
S Short, punchy book. 5/5
R Not only does Sarny call the master some well deserved names, there is that rape as well as an implied consensual sex scene. 5/5
E There is a sequel, and there are about 150 other Gary Paulsen books, and there's also Jefferson's Sons, which I'd love to see a student move on to and compare to Nightjohn. 5/5
G When it works for a group, it works really well, but sometimes it just doesn't work. 40/50

TOTAL: 83/100


These are actually scoring a bit lower than I'd expected. I'm going to close this round out with an example of a really good book that didn't work as a read-aloud. When I read Belle Prater's Boy, I loved the old timey quality, the friendship, the mystery, and the characters. When I read it to my students, they hated it, and I had to stop part-way through. 

C There is some element of mystery, as I said, but the stakes just didn't feel high to my students, and there weren't big moves every chapter. 4/10
F Turns out turn of the century Latinx kids in rural Oregon didn't know a lot about turn of the previous century life in rural Appalachia. 3/10
H Nor did they get their sense of humor. 2/5
O Nor did they get the classism and sexism. 2/5
T But I really like this book! 5/5
S Too long, too slow. 1/5
R Squeaky clean. 1/5
E There's a sequel, but nobody was clamoring for it, and I'd have to check to see if she's written other books. 2/5
G I maintain that it's still a good book. It was a Newbery honor book, so it's not just me. 40/50

TOTAL: 60/100 
Boy, that awful 90s cover is not doing this book any favors.


Coming next time: some of the books I've had good success with in more recent years. C

What read-alouds do you remember from school? Any really riveting ones? Any truly terrible ones?


  1. I’m trying to remember what my teachers read us. I remember a lot of Roald Dahl. Charlotte’s Web; Shiloh; Stargirl; The Giver; Bud, Not Buddy. My seventh grade teacher read us Animal Farm and To Kill A Mockingbird while we followed along. In high school we did Shakespeare read-alouds. I wish I remembered more of the books we read, but I wasn’t always the greatest at paying attention. These are the ones that stood out to me.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. Wow! Your system is really well thought out. I went to Catholic school, when I was a kid, so I know my teacher read Bible stories to me, but I cannot think of any books that were read aloud (it was in the 70s). And I agree, Holes will always be a fantastic read.

  3. Sounds like a solid system, except I'm going to point out one tiny (possible) flaw: The higher the score, the better it is to read aloud, but for the RISQUE BUSINESS category, you gave a higher score to the book with a lot of things you might not have enjoyed reading out loud to the class (rape, etc) and a lower score to the squeaky clean book. I'd think those would be flipped based on what you said at the top. Unless maybe I'm misunderstanding? Maybe those scenes were written in ways that they had impact but weren't too graphic? I'm second-guessing it now. :-)

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction


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