Books, Classroom Strategies

Read alouds aren’t only for English class!

Why does reading a novel have to be compartmentalized to English class?
There’s such a huge push for reading and annotating text in all content areas, and most of these are informational texts. While helpful, I can’t say my students are super excited by reading tasks (although the content might be interesting), and it definitely doesn’t foster a love of reading.
My students were shocked when I told them we would be doing a read aloud in 7th grade science. “Why are we reading a book in science?!” they immediately asked.

We Are All Made of Molecules
The book I chose was We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. I preordered it back in the spring, and when it arrived, I binge read it. It was that good.

The story comes down to Stewart and Ashley, two complete opposites who are thrown together when their parents move in together. It deals with social status and social perceptions, bullying, LGBT prejudice and unhealthy relationships.

If you’re planning to use this book (or any others) with your students, make sure you pre-read it, and decide if it’s appropriate for your students. There are some intense parts relating to Ashley and her boyfriend, which can be shocking or upsetting to some students. However, it all fit in perfectly for my class.

As part of our health unit, we have to incorporate information about LGBT identities, as well as healthy versus unhealthy relationships and dating violence. Even with my passion for teaching help, I was unsure how to approach these topics. The conversations that followed our reading were deep and emotional, and way more meaningful than any Slides presentation.

The Read Aloud
At first, I had no idea how to structure the read aloud. I tried reading at the very end of class, but I kept running out of time. My good friend, Doug Robertson, suggested that I start class by reading. I switched it up, and reading became a habit. It was really nice for students to decompress before moving in to science content.

Each day, my students begged for another chapter! Mind you, many of my students are highly reading-averse…sometimes I indulged their request, sometimes I would quietly close the book while they protested. It took us about 4 months to read the book, although it wasn’t until the last 2 that we actually read steadily.

After the Read Aloud
We finished the book with a huge round of applause. I created a Form for them to share their thoughts on the books, and ask questions to the author. As a class, we narrowed down the questions, and we posted them on our classroom Twitter account (I/we haven’t done much with it as of now, but I’m hoping to add more pretty soon).  Then, we waited patiently for our responses.

Here are a few of the tweets and responses:
Reflections on the Process
I am just in love with the read aloud. First of all, it was such a relaxing way to start class with my squirrely 7th graders. They were super engaged in the reading, and I rarely had anyone being a distraction. This could be a much more ELA-heavy activity, with reading and writing prompts: I opted not to, so my students didn’t feel like we were actually working. Instead, we had partner and class discussions after each chapter.

I’m also so extremely thankful for Susin Nielsen and all her support throughout this process. I reached out to her on Twitter when we first started our read aloud, and kept her updated on our progress. She has an excellent website with educator resources for her books! Thanks for letting us celebrate you!

What’s Next?
Now I’m deciding which book to read next…we’re going to be learning about ecology and the Earth. Considering Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen.  Suggestions welcome!

7 thoughts on “Read alouds aren’t only for English class!”

  1. Love this! We should always READ TO our students–those powerful images that arise in our minds when we hear words are one of the mind's most powerful learning tools. Great way to support your science teaching! I do read-alouds with my grad students too whenever I can. #sunchatblogger #imaginED


  2. Word Nerd is another great book by Dyson Nielsen. Touching Spirit Bear is amazing! Picture books about science topics are another great resource. We combine with non-fiction reading power strategies from Adrienne Gear.


  3. Are you familiar with The Last of the Sandwalkers? It's considered a 6th grade book, but I enjoyed it and learned tons about beetles. The author, a biologist, created an entertaining tale which revolves around a young (beetle) scientist named Lucy who dares to leave the known world in search of knowledge and adventure. It has a few plot twists that will keep your readers engaged. As a teacher you'll appreciate the end notes which are pages full of science facts. Check it out and let me know what you think.


  4. I teach 9th grade earth science in upstate NY. I have an annual book reading project every spring, but I love this idea. Any suggestions for how I could adapt this for ninth graders? I'd like to stick with fiction. Should I focus on young reader books with teenagers as the main characters or look at all compelling books? How about biographies like Homer Hickam's “Rocket Boys”?


  5. I think either would be fun! There are lots of good YA books out there, some with science ties. For us, it was less about the book, and more about the discussions we had. Less academic, more thought and personal growth. Definitely built community in class too. I might use Fish in a Tree this year. I've heard good things about Lab Girl, but I haven't read it yet.


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