Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How to Read Aloud and Wow Your Audience

Book Chook confession: I don't think of myself as particularly skilled.  I can't sew for peanuts, my dust bunnies all have names, and I have the uncanny knack of turning white socks pink. The only musical instrument I can play is a whoopee cushion. And my artwork? Puh-leaze!

But one thing I love to do is to read aloud. I reckon I'm pretty good at it too. When I tell or read a story, kids mostly hush and and hang on my words. I taught drama for many years, so I can use my voice, facial expressions, and body language to add to a story's message. I know I enter deeply into a story, sometimes having to blink tears away, often rejoicing with my listeners when the hero gets what he wants. 

What with reading to my son, and reading to my students, I calculate I've read thousands of stories aloud over the years. I've developed my own way of doing it. Unlike others, I think of reading aloud as a performance, and I don't like to interrupt my first reading with questions or comments. Some people feel differently, and they have developed their own way of approaching a read-aloud. During my "performance", I'll speed up or slow down, raise or lower my voice as I think is appropriate for the text. I know another reader will take the same story and present it differently. Does it matter? Is my way the Right Way?

Of course not! The best way to read aloud is Your Way. Observe other people doing it, experiment on your kids (who'll think whatever you do is great!), borrow ideas from Mem Fox,  President Obama or even The Book Chook, and practise every day from the moment your babies are born. You'll develop your own style of reading aloud, and I guarantee your kids will love it. 

Here are a couple of Book Chook suggestions that you might choose to incorporate into your own Read Aloud Method:

Book Chook Suggestions
or Read Aloud, the Book Chook Way

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? (Wait, isn’t that just like the ad breaks on TV??)

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?” So, of course, there are no hard and fast rules. But I have seen stories ruined for little listeners by someone constantly trying to “teach” or “preach”. Often, it’s because they have a different agenda to the reader. I believe that, above all, reading aloud is supposed to be enjoyable for the listener, and that is 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 kinesthetic learners.

Giveaway!!!!  Do you have any tips for reading aloud your way? Please share them in the comments. I'll be choosing one commenter at random to receive a copy of the fantastic Bubble Homes and Fish Farts, by Fiona Bayrock and illustrated by Carolyn Conahan ( Charlesbridge Publishing). See this and more of the books generously donated in support of Share a Story - Shape a Future on our dedicated blog. 

WON!!!! by Amy @Literacy Launchpad. Congratulations Amy, and thank you again Fiona!

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