Monday, February 20, 2012

Reading aloud

The impact of even one good book on a child’s mind is surely an end in itself, a valid experience which helps him to form standards of judgement and taste at the time when his mind is most sensitive to impression of every kind.

Lillian Smith
The Unreluctant Years

Books are objects to be enjoyed;
they bring pleasure.

Jim Trelease
The Read-Aloud Handbook

Reading aloud is one technique for introducing books to children. It can take placei n a variety of settings including public or school libraries, daycares or classrooms. It may be part of a longer story-time program.

This module provides you with the skills needed to effectively read aloud a children’s book.

Reading aloud borrows from the art of storytelling in many ways: you use the same basic presentation techniques whether you are reading or telling a story. However, reading aloud differs from storytelling in one significant way: when reading aloud you hold and display the book you are sharing,

Reading aloud serves as a way of introducing children to books. It demonstrates that reading is a pleasurable experience and serves as a way of sharing the best of children’s books with young children, “It is a potent means of influencing the reading tastes of children.” (Baker and Greene, 76)

It also provides the perfect opportunity to introduce new authors/illustrators to children. At the same time, you’ll want to use some of the classic books that children might miss on their own.

Choosing books
Choose the books you use for a read aloud with care. Reading aloud provides the opportunity to positively influence children’s developing tastes in literature by exposing them to the best:

Do not waste your time and children’s time by reading ordinary, dull, uninspiring, vocabulary-controlled stories. Select books and stories of literary merit that may be a little beyond the reading ability of the listeners – they can listen and perhaps be motivated to grow in their ability to read. Read only what you enjoy, so that your enjoyment is transferred to the listeners. One of the main purposes in reading aloud is to give the listener a pleasurable experience.

Keep the following points in mind when choosing your selection:
  • Choose books that you like.
  • Don’t be fooled by award winning books
  • Awards are given for the quality of the writing or illustrations
    o Not for the books read aloud qualities
  • Vary the subject matter by choosing non-fiction and poetry occasionally
  • Don’t go by the book’s copyright date
    o A book is new if the children have not heard it

Look for the following qualities in a good read-aloud book:
  • Bright and large illustrations
  • Engaging characters
  • Memorable language
    o Including rhyme, rhythm and repetition
  • A strong storyline
  • And a satisfying conclusion

The illustrations also need to be considered. They should be uncluttered and large enough for the group to see. It’s important to consider the book’s size as well. Books smaller than 8 inches by 8 inches don’t work well as read alouds because their illustrations are too small to be seen by a group of children. Avoid books that have been made into movies or television shows. In addition, books that contain long descriptive passages or too much dialogue do not work well as read-aloud books.

Remember, too, that children will gain much from the reading aloud experience. Some of the things that children will learn include –
  • The sound of standard English
  • The rhythm of our language
  • An interest in reading
  • Familiarity with good literature
    o Including literary elements
  • A standard for measuring future books
  • To associate reading with pleasure
In addition, children may expand their vocabularies, improve their listening skills, meet interesting new characters who become friends and be exposed to new situations – all from listening to you read them, “Children may come to realize that reading is the key to wealth they can gain for themselves through books.” (Baker and Greene 76)

As Dr. William F. Russell explains –
Hearing a story or a poem about travel to the stars...can excite young minds to learn about the wonders of the night sky, perhaps to study aviation, perhaps to read or write about space and time. (1-2)

It’s important to also consider the age of your audience when choosing books for a read-aloud. Children three years of age or under like books with simple pictures and text. They enjoy stories about animals with predictable or repeating storylines. Use the rhythm, rhyme or refrain to encourage children to encourage audience participation. From ages four to six, children are ready for more complicated stories, perhaps books that contain characters who solve problems. Books may be gently didactic, but should not be too preachy.

Folk and fairy tales or traditional literature is always popular. Consider the age of your audience when choosing literature. Simpler tales, which often involve repetition, are good for preschool audiences. For example, The Three Billy Goats Gruff works well; the children are delighted to provide the troll’s voice. Children’s interest in traditional literature peaks around the ages five to six, and they are ready for more developed versions of stories such as The Sleeping Beauty. Older children are often interested in comparing different versions of the same folk or fairy tale. They also enjoy the many parodies of folk tales that are now available.

Children of all ages enjoy books that contain humour. Wacky, off-the-wall humour seems to appeal best.

Children like to be scared and often enjoy books that contain monsters and witches. Consider your content carefully though, and don’t choose a really scary book for a very young audience.

Caroline Feller Bauer offers these tips:
Try to vary the mood and type of material each time you read aloud. Don’t always read funny books or dog books. Each story should fill a different need for your audience. Fantasy provides a departure from reality and takes the listeners on a voyage to a new and strange world. Humorous books are usually very popular and give your group a chance to sharer in laughter. (91)
If you are reading to a mixed group, choose a book that is more appropriate for the older children. The younger children will still understand enough to enjoy the story.

Bauer explains why you shouldn’t dismiss picture books if you are reading to older children:
[they are] often suitable for an older as well as younger groups of children. Picture books are usually short enough so that they can be completed in one session. The fine illustrations should be shared with the children while you’re reading, and introducing a worthwhile book in a format often considered “for babies” might overcome some of the prejudices these books face at the check-out desk. (91)
When choosing a book for a read aloud it’s important to preview the book and practice with it. Previewing will help you identify any difficult passages. You can check the pronunciation of words and determine where to pause for emphasis. Do remember that reading aloud comes naturally to few people and practicing will help you become familiar with the book you have selected.

Preparing with your book
Practice, practice, practice! The old advice still rings true:
Reading aloud is an art, and like storytelling, requires practice to be effective. Know your material so well that you do not struggle over words and ideas and can look frequently at your listeners in order to involve them in the story. Strengthen your technical equipment: use a pleasant, flexible voice, clear enunciation, skillful pacing that captures, the rhythms and conveys the mood.(Baker and Greene, 77)
You’ll want to read your book a number of times before presenting. Be sure to read it out loud. As you read your book note the following:
  • Any key words or phrases that might be repeated
  • The climax
    o Pause before this
  • Any awkward phrasing
    o Watch for any words/phrases that you stumble over
  • Breathing spots
    o Plan where you’ll stop to take a breath
Bauer offers these tips:
Read with expression. There is no point in reading aloud at all if you are going to rush through the reading, mumble, or skip passages ... Remember, your competition is television. If you don’t take your role seriously, your audience might choose mechanical over live entertainment. (92)
As you read, time your selection. Choose books that can be read out loud in three to five minutes. Don’t worry about the odd difficult word. Practice holding the book so that all the children will be able to see it when you are presenting.

Planning your setting
Plan the setting for your read aloud carefully. Provide a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere for the children. If you’re in a library setting, try to find a quiet corner where the children won’t be disturbed. Place yourself at the front of the group. You may sit or stand. Make sure that all of the children can hear you and see the book.

Begin the read aloud with a quieting activity for the children. You may begin by welcoming the children and saying a few poems to get them settled in. Be prepared for comments from children; simply acknowledge them and carry on. For example, if a child says, “I’ve heard that story before,” you can reply, “then don’t give away the ending.” Sometime simply making eye contact with a restless child will help to settle that individual down. Begin only after you have the children’s attention and their eyes are focused on you.

Tips for the presentation
Start by telling the children your name and then introduce the book you will be reading:
  • Draw attention to the cover illustration
  • Point out the photos of the author and illustrator
  • Explain why you choose the book
Be sensitive to the children’s facial expressions and body language. Sitting perfectly still is difficult for some young children; just because they are fidgeting doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention. Speak in a voice that helps children listen. Read with expression and enthusiasm. Be sure to pronounce words correctly.

Convey the emotions in your book through your face by smiling, frowning, or showing surprise or anger. You may wish to change your voice when you are reading dialogue. Try leaving out the “he said, she said” to add interest to your reading. Be careful about skipping or altering parts of the story to keep the children’s attention. You may have someone in the audience who has heard the story before and will tell everyone that you are not telling the story the right way. Make lots of eye contact with the children and give them time to study the illustrations before turning the page. You should glance down at the book merely as a reminder of what words come next.

Be especially careful not to read in a condescending manner. Children are quick to recognize when they are being patronized and they will let you know that they don’t like it.

After you have finished the book, do not force comments from the children. Some may wish to share their thoughts about the story; others may prefer to simply sit quietly.

Above all, remember to have fun. Enthusiasm is contagious and the children you are reading to will respond in a positive fashion.

Works cited
Baker, Augusta and Ellin Greene. Storytelling: Art and Techniques. New York, NY: R.R. Bowker Company, 1987.

Bauer, Caroline Feller. Caroline Feller Bauer’s New Handbook for Storytellers: with Stories, Poems, Magic, and More. Chicago, IL: American Library Association, 1993.

Russell, William F. More Classics to Read Aloud to Your Children. New York, NY: Crown Publishers Inc, 1986.
Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook. Markham, ON: Penguin Books, 1985.

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