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REL Central Ask A REL Response

Literacy: Read Alouds

April 2017


Do read alouds improve K–12 student reading skills and reading engagement?


Following an established REL Central research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles to help answer the question. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response, and we offer them only for your reference. Also, we compiled the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Bortnem, G. M. (2011). Teacher use of interactive read alouds using nonfiction in early childhood classrooms. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 5(12), 29–43. Retrieved from
Full text available

From the abstract:

“Children enter kindergarten in the United States with large differences in their background knowledge, vocabulary, and early literacy experiences. There is a strong relationship between language development during the early years and reading ability in the primary grade and teachers must understand the importance of developing vocabulary and its relationship to literacy. It is essential that teachers provide time and effort to quality language experiences. One researched based strategy to accomplish this is the use of interactive read-alouds. Teachers have traditionally used fictional literature in the classroom, but there is growing research that nonfiction or informational literature are also needed to provide children with quality vocabulary building experiences in the early school years. This research study examined the results of a survey that was given to childcare providers and preschool through 2nd grade teachers about the amount of time they read aloud to children and the amount of time they spend reading fiction compared to nonfiction text. Results showed that teachers in classrooms (pre- through 2nd grade) reported reading to children almost every day, though the time devoted to this activity was a small percentage of the total time spent in class. Also, nonfiction literature was a small percentage of the literature that was being read to children. The findings in this paper have implications for practice in the field. Because vocabulary development is a key ingredient in the learning-to-read process and is a predictor of success in future reading skills, teachers in the early grades should be aware of the benefits of using interactive read alouds and the genre of nonfiction literature in vocabulary development.”

Davis, L. (2010). Toward a lifetime of literacy: The effect of student-centered and skills-based reading instruction on the experiences of children. Literacy Teaching and Learning, 15(1-2), 53–79. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Educators agree that the teaching of reading is of critical importance in elementary classrooms. Debates swirl as researchers and educators alike attempt to determine the most effective instructional practices in developing student engagement and achievement. One side aligns itself with explicit instruction of discrete literacy skills, the other with a whole language, student-centered approach. Through practitioner-based research within her own classroom, the author examined how two different instructional approaches influenced 19 second-grade students’ attitudes and engagement in reading. Surveys, interviews, and observations assessed self-concept as a reader, perceived value of reading, attitudes about reading, and time spent actively engaged in literacy activities. An interdependent relationship was identified between instructional practice, student engagement, and interest in reading. Practices that support student choice, collaboration, and shared control of learning outcomes were linked to self-expressed interest in reading and engaged reading behaviors. The results suggest ways in which teachers can organize reading instruction to develop self-efficacy, competence, and engagement in young students.”

Kaplan, J. S., & Tracey, D. H. (2007). Teacher read-alouds at 2nd grade, with and without student companion texts: Unexpected findings. Paper presented at the 57th Annual National Reading Conference, Autin, TX. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Using an experimental research design, this project investigated the effects of teacher read-alouds when students did, and did not, have access to companion texts. Based on Connectionist theory, the researchers hypothesized that students in the Companion Text group would outperform students in the Listen Only group on the three examined variables: reading achievement gains, vocabulary scores, and comprehension scores. Twenty, Caucasian second graders from a NJ suburban classroom were randomly assigned to one of the two conditions. The IRI (Burns & Roe, 2002) was used as a pre-and post-test to measure reading achievement gains during the intervention. Additionally, teacher-made comprehension tests and vocabulary were administered for all texts. Students listened to teacher read-alouds for fifteen minutes a day, three times a week, for 12 weeks. All students simultaneously heard the teacher read-aloud, although students in the Companion Text condition sat on one side of the classroom rug while students in the Listen Only condition sat on the other. Results of independent t-tests indicated that students in the Listen Only group had significantly greater reading achievement gains following the 12-week intervention than students in the Companion Text group. Analyses of the comprehension and vocabulary measures did not reveal significant differences between the conditions. Results did not support the hypothesis and suggest that, for young children, companion texts during read-alouds may interfere with, rather than facilitate, reading achievement. Further investigation of this phenomenon is warranted as contradicting results have been reported at upper grade levels.”

Marchessault, J. K., & Larwin, K. H. (2013). Structured read-aloud in middle school: The potential impact on reading achievement. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 6(2), 241–246. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“Read-aloud is a technique predominantly utilized at the elementary level. This study was designed to research the effectiveness of this technique at the middle school level, specifically students who were not receiving special education or additional reading intervention services. For the current investigation, students in two middle schools within the same Virginia school district were assigned to receive the treatment of Structured Read-Aloud or received traditional middle-school reading instruction. These students were tested using the Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment (DORA), both in the fall before the intervention was implemented and again in the spring of the same year, to assess gains. Results indicate that the use of Read-Aloud instruction had an impact on student DORA scores, and implications of the research are discussed.”

Oliveira, A. W. (2015). Reading engagement in science: Elementary students’ read-aloud experiences. Internationl Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 10(3), 429–451. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This study examines student reading engagement with children’s science books in elementary classrooms. Reading engagement in science is conceived in terms of a Transmission–Transaction continuum. When centered on transmission, science reading entails passive reception of a textually encoded scientific message. By contrast, when science reading is transaction-centered, teachers and students actively engage in the negotiation of scientific meanings that transcend the text itself. Examination of reading engagement relied on a discourse-centered method whose analytical goal was to uncover and better understand meaning-making around textual artifacts. More specifically, it took the form of a discourse analysis across three science read-alouds. While meaning-making in one aloud reading was predominantly centered on transmission, the other two read-alouds were characterized by increasing levels of transaction. Further, adoption of transmissive or transactional strategies was consistent with how teachers perceived reading in the context of science instruction. This study underscores the multiplicity of ways that reading can be conceived by science teachers and approached in elementary classroom settings. It is suggested that a more sophisticated understanding of how to systematically engage young students with science texts can help elementary teachers effectively integrate reading with science instruction, meet literacy requirements of current science education policies, and recognize that science reading transcends passive reception of facts.”

Pegg, L. A., & Bartelheim, F. J. (2011). Effects of daily read-slouds on students’ sustained silent reading. Current Issues in Education, 14(2). Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“This action research project investigated the effects of daily teacher read-alouds on first graders’ ability to sustain silent reading for an extended length of time. Students’ enjoyment of silent reading was also investigated. The data on ability to sustain silent reading was collected from timed silent reading experiences, and a pre and post survey completed by students on their enjoyment and performance during silent reading time. The findings of the study suggest an increase in the length of time students silently read to themselves as a result of daily teacher read-alouds. Additionally, survey comments suggested an increase in enjoyment of silent reading as a result of the daily read-alouds.”

Swanson, E. A., Wanzek, J., Petscher, Y., Vaughn, S. Heckert, J., Cavanaugh, C., ... Tackett, K. (2011). A synthesis of read-aloud interventions on early reading outcomes among preschool through third graders at risk for reading difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 44(3), 258–275. Retrieved from
Full text available

From the abstract:

“A synthesis and meta-analysis of the extant research on the effects of storybook read aloud interventions for children at-risk for reading difficulties ages 3–8 is provided. A total of 29 studies met criteria for the synthesis, with 18 studies providing sufficient data for inclusion in the meta-analysis. Read aloud instruction has been examined using dialogic reading, repeated reading of stories, story reading with limited questioning before, during, and/or after reading, computer assisted story reading, and story reading with extended vocabulary activities. Significant, positive effects on children’s language, phonological awareness, print concepts, comprehension, and vocabulary outcomes were found. Despite the positive effects for read aloud interventions, only a small amount of outcome variance was accounted for by intervention type.”

Tracey, D. H., Rhee, J., & Abrantes, A. (2011). Teacher read-alouds with and without student companion texts: Quantitative and qualitative findings. Paper presented at the 61st Annual Conference of the Literacy Research Association, Jacksonville, FL. Retrieved from

From the abstract:

“The goal of this research was to investigate the effects of teacher read-alouds when students use, versus do not use, student companion texts during the read-alouds. Both quantitative and qualitative research data were collected based on an experimental design which randomly assigned 168 low SES, primarily Hispanic, students to either listen-only or companion text conditions during a 4-month intervention. The study was framed from a Connectionist theoretical perspective. Quantitative results indicated that no significant differences on two measures of reading growth were found. Qualitative data based on classroom observations, student interviews, and teacher interviews revealed higher attention, enjoyment, and comprehension for students that used the companion texts during the teacher read-alouds. Thus, the qualitative results of this study supported the research hypothesis although the quantitative results did not.”


Keywords and Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Read alouds AND student achievement OR student engagement OR reading achievement.

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and Google.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority was given to ERIC.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were used in the review and selection of the references: (a) currency of available data; (b) study types–randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, etc.; (c) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected samples, etc.), study duration, and so forth.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Central Region (Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Central at Marzano Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Central under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0005, administered by Marzano Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.