In Australia, at 11.00am on May 22, hundreds of thousands of children will be listening to The Wrong Book by Nick Bland read aloud. This wonderful initiative is called National Simultaneous Storytime and it not only promotes literacy, but it’s lots of fun for young listeners and the librarians, teachers and parents who read aloud to them. If you’re interested in learning activities linked to The Wrong Book, check out my suggestions at The Book Chook.
Contemplating NSS prompted me to think about reading aloud, and my own beliefs about it. I’d like to share them with you.
First of all, I believe that stopping every page or so, during an oral reading, is a sure-fire way to ruin the listener’s enjoyment. Imagine if you were watching a movie, and they stopped frequently to check on your understanding, or asked you what colour hat the schoolboy wore. I like to read to the end of a section before I interrupt the flow. That means to the end of a picture book, to the end of a chapter in a chapter book, or the end of a sequence. Sometimes, before the page turns, it’s just begging for a question like “What do you think might jump out of the box?” Of course there are no hard and fast rules. But I’ve seen stories ruined for little listeners by someone constantly trying to “teach” or “preach”. Often it’s because that person has a different agenda to the reader.
Above all, reading aloud is supposed to be enjoyable for the listener, and that’s best encouraged by not interrupting the fictive dream. If I want to guide the reading, I tend to do that during a second read-through. We might discuss the pictures, look at some of the textual features, share opinions. But I try to make the first read-through as dramatic and interesting a performance as I can. My aim is to turn kids ON to reading.
I use facial expressions, particularly my eyes, and engage my audience with them when I read aloud. A child’s gaze will swing from the illustration to me, back and forward. My dramatization, my expressions and voices, will all contribute to his enjoyment of the story.
I look for clues from the text and illustrations when I choose a voice for each character. I sadly admit to forgetting or swapping voices during a reading, and did I ever hear about it from my son and my students! Fortunately, experience and concentration improved my skill. It’s not necessary to have voices for book characters, but I think they’re fun.
Racing through a story was often a real temptation for me as a young mum, especially if I was tired, or it was the 43rd time I’d read that book aloud. I believe it’s crucial to allow children time to reflect a little about each page. If you’re reading a picture book with complex illustrations, or a book that’s new to your audience and not an old favourite, it’s even more important. If I’m nervous, I notice I tend to speed up, so I always take a deep breath and consciously slow my reading speed down.
I enjoy adding props to my read aloud performance. I’ve worn flippers and goggles for stories about the sea, pyjamas for bedtime books, and silly hats just because I’m silly. Sometimes I have a puppet or toy to help me read. Sometimes I bring in an interesting box that contains something related to the book’s subject matter. Often we’ll play a guessing game about what’s in the box. Later, we’ll pass around whatever used to be inside it. Props are just my way of adding a bit more fun to reading aloud, maybe giving some kids a focus, or providing a way in for kinaesthetic learners.
Some children find it difficult to sit still for a story. Giving them something to do while you read might help them to be more comfortable. Maybe kids can play quietly and listen, or build and listen, or row a box boat and listen. They are still listening to the story and absorbing it, even if their eyes are focused out to sea!
*** If you’re looking for resources to support your child’s reading, check out my Gallery: Websites that Help Make Reading Fun. You’ll find more ideas at The Book Chook blog in the category, Reading.***