Reading to Children: A Read-Aloud Guide for Teachers and Parents
This book covers many facets of reading aloud. Both novice and pro will appreciate the information inside!
One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is reading to children, especially a captive audience of young children who beg you not to stop and who hold onto every word you say. Reading to children of all ages can be a rewarding experience for both sides of the spectrum—the reader and the listener. It can also be a ho-hum activity that is dreaded by both parties and avoided at all costs. My hope is that this guide will help make your own read-aloud experience an active adventure instead of a passive activity.
ATTENTION: If you read to children on a regular basis I recommend you skip the first three steps. They are the basic stages for setting up a read-aloud.
Step One: Book Selection
There are millions upon millions of books to use in a classroom and at home. Sometimes this makes it seem like a daunting task to choose a piece of literature that children will be captivated by. However, if you keep in mind a few tips when choosing your literature, then selecting the right book will be a breeze.
Know your audience. Nothing kills the mood more quickly than reading a book that either nobody is interested in, or that nobody can understand, or relate with. Avoiding one of these pitfalls is easy if you pay attention to what your children are interested in. Choose literature that they can understand and enjoy by watching what they do and hearing what they say. You will be surprised at how much you learn about your students or children if you just take the time to watch and listen.
Read it first. This may not always be possible but it is highly recommended. Try your best to read the book yourself before you read it to your children. Not only will this allow you to catch any unwanted surprises before you read them out loud, it will also give you a chance to get used to the author's style for structuring sentences—giving you better prosody when you read it aloud.
Browse pictures and think of questions. If you have the time to complete this step, it is well worth it. Often, illustrators hide bits of information within the pictures, it can be fun to point them out to children. Also, knowing when you are going to stop and ask a question or make a comment makes the entire reading process more fluid.
Step Two: Positioning Yourself
If you are reading to just your own children at home this step is easy, your children just sit beside you. If, however, you are reading to a group of children, you will have to make a few decisions. There is really no correct way to sit or hold the book, but if you don't let every child have a chance at seeing the picture, you will get several complaints.
Some teachers like to read everything on the page before they show the picture. They hold the book as if they were reading to themselves. Only after reading the page contents do they share the picture with the class (assuming there is a picture). The reasoning behind this is twofold, it allows the student to imagine the situation before they see the picture, and it is easier to hold for the teacher.
I prefer the stereotypical holding method where the teacher reads the book while holding it open to the class at the same time. Just make sure that you hold the book at an angle where everyone can see or else pan it across the audience after you finish. This method allows the children to study the contents of the picture and find those intricacies left by the illustrator, all before the page is turned.
Step Three: Introduce the Book
It is often tempting to delve right into the good stuff without properly introducing a text. But please, don't give in to temptation! At the very least, share the title of the book, the cover, and the first end page (those first and last pages with nothing but pictures on them). It is also helpful to share the name(s) of the author and illustrator.
Children also need to have a reason for listening to the book, as the adult you should set the purpose for reading. The purpose can be as simple as reading for pleasure, but it is more meaningful for the child to listen for something specific. This can be posed through a question or statement about what you expect from the listeners. For example, "This book is full of information about dinosaurs. I want you to listen to, and share some of the information you learned, or already knew about, after we finish reading."
Step Four: Reading the Book: Tips for Beginner and Pro Alike
This of course is the most crucial step in reading aloud. Often you will find yourself reading aloud fiction books because they are exciting to read and tap into the imagination. But remember that when children select literature for themselves they often choose non-fiction. Be sure to keep this in mind when making your selection. Since I tend to read fiction and non-fiction very differently, I have broken this tips section into fiction and non-fiction categories.
Character Voices. Each character in the book you are reading should have its own unique voice. Too often I hear teachers just reading the book with no (or very little) change in their voice, even for different characters! When you read aloud you should try to mimic life. In real life nobody has the same voice, this should be the same in the books you read.
Onomatopoeia. The word buzz is not supposed to be pronounced /buzz/! Instead, it is meant to be a representation of the sound a bee (or anything that buzzes) makes. The person reading the book should replace the word buzz with a real buzzing sound in order to create a more life-like experience. In real life bees do not fly around saying buzz, buzz, buzz, neither should we read onomatopoeia as they look. This is true for all words that are meant to represent sounds. Don't really read them, make the sounds they represent.
AHH! If someone screams in the book you are reading (or a loud noise occurs) then scream yourself! Yes, it causes a jump in your students but after years of reading aloud and storytelling, I have found that children frequently refer to this as their favorite part of the story, even above the plot or theme of the book! It may be stepping out of your comfort zone a bit, but the giggles, laughs, and smiles you will get are well worth it.
Use Your Voice. When reading aloud, your voice is your most powerful tool. If the story is moving fast, speak quickly with a rising tone. If the the plot is moving slow, add a drawl to your words and drag them out a bit. If a character just ran a mile, speak through his voice as if you were out of breath. Don't be afraid to pause if the situation calls for it, allow suspense to build before moving on. Use your voice to create a rushing wind or a crashing wave, even if not called for by the words in the book. Try your best to make the situation seem real through the power of your voice.
Face and Hands. Often during a dramatic pause children will shift the focus from the book over to your face, use this opportunity to express without words. If the situation calls for it, raise your eyebrows, wrinkle your nose, or look puzzled.
While you are reading you normally have one free hand. Use this hand to sweep, pinch, dust, and motion. Just make sure it is adding to the story, not distracting from it. Another dramatic way to use your hands is during parts of a story where a character is feeling cold or scared. Make your hands tremble—in effect making the book shake. Don't forget to add in a "Brr!" (if you just read that word as "burr", smack yourself on the forehead and reread Onomatopoeia) or add a lip tremble to help display the emotion. If the character is scared, act like you are afraid to turn the page while trembling, this is a sure way to get a giggle or two.
Reading non-fiction is often drastically different from reading fiction. There is no building suspense or drastic plot, very few emotions and onomatopoeia, people typically don't scream and the characters are few. Instead you have to rely on the information in the book as well as using your voice, hands, and face to make a non-fiction book a successful read.
Information. Thankfully, non-fiction books are normally full of information and facts that children will widen their eyes at. Make sure you present any shocking information with a louder (or sometimes softer) voice. We as humans tend to tune in and out of what we are listening to. A change in voice will almost guarantee that anyone who is straying will turn their attention back toward you to hear the interesting tidbit.
Voice. Although your voice is still powerful as illustrated above it should be quite downplayed when reading non-fiction. The rate and sound should be much more consistent than when reading fiction. Read as if you are carrying on a normal conversation unless the text calls for any dramatic change.
Hands and Face. With a stripped down repertoire of reading technique, your face and hands play a much larger role when reading non-fiction. A good time to make facial expressions is after amazing information and as you are turning a page. These are natural pauses in which children will tend to look at your face. You can use your hands much the same way you do with fiction. But remember, find a happy medium, children do not want to be distracted from the book to watch your hand move the whole time.
Step Five: Extending the Experience
After finishing a book your job is not quite finished. Allow children to see the last end page and then open the floor for questions and/or comments. If you want to go further, design an activity that uses the book as a springboard. A book can be a great way to begin a unit, begin a field trip, or just for the pleasure of reading itself. However, do make sure that both you and the children are enjoying it. If you aren't, find a different book and play around with the techniques written here until you find something you both enjoy.
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