A simple, but surprisingly effective strategy for improving student writing is having them read their words aloud.
This technique is so effective, that asking students to read their work out loud is a standard part of most sessions at the UWC. While students are often surprised by the request, most quickly come to realize the value of giving voice to their words.
Why does reading aloud improve writing?
- Reading out loud gives students a chance to hear the sound of their words. That may seem simple, but it’s significant. Good writing flows. It has a compelling rhythm. Students often fail to understand that—until they hear themselves speaking aloud the words they’ve put on the page.
- Reading out loud helps students hear what they can’t see. Sometimes students have been looking at a paper so long or writing so fast that they fail to see what they’ve actually written down. When students read out loud, they usually find quite a few errors all on their own. Most are obvious mistakes like misspellings or omitted words, but sometimes students also spot bigger concerns like paragraphs that veer off tangent or evidence that doesn’t say what they thought it did.
- Reading out loud slows them down. The brain is faster than the mouth, so when students read silently, they tend to zip right along. But when they say their words out loud, they’re forced to read more slowly. That can help them pay attention to things they’ve been speeding past and give them a fresh perspective on their efforts.
- Reading out loud is multi-sensory. People tend to remember more about a subject—and engage with it more deeply—when they involve more of their senses. When students see and hear their words, those words resonate more loudly with them.
- Reading aloud makes students more accountable for their work. When students turn a paper in, the idea that someone—the instructor—is actually going to read it can be pretty remote—and easy to dismiss. But when their reader is right there in front of them, it’s harder to gloss over the fact that they didn’t put much effort into a paper or didn’t bother to proofread.
Five Ways to Use Reading Aloud with Your Students
- Encourage students to read aloud when proofreading their papers. If you mention this in class, most students won’t bother with it. If you mention it repeatedly, though, a few of them might at least give it a try. For instance, when you find lots of simple surface errors in a completed paper you might ask in your comments, “Did you read this aloud to yourself?” Eventually, students will get the idea.
- Incorporate reading aloud into a peer response session. After you describe the procedures for the peer review, students can break into small groups and read their work aloud to each other before discussing it. (If some students are especially uncomfortable with reading in front of others, you might allow them to let someone else read for them.)
- Read examples of professional writing aloud to students in your class. Let them hear the smooth cadence of an effective paragraph and the jarring disconnects of a clunky one. (This activity could also be part of a video or audio podcast you produce for students to access outside of class.)
- Assign students the task of finding examples of good writing to read aloud in class. The assignment will encourage them to consider what they believe constitutes good writing and can also be a way to familiarize them with some of the books and journals that are part of your discipline’s canon.
- Ask students to read their writing to you when they come in for a conference. It will remind you to listen to what your students are saying and it will encourage students to put more thought into what they’re writing.