Reading Aloud to Children
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Listening comprehension is vitally important if students are to achieve reading comprehension. Children who come from homes with minimal language enrichment need to hear new words if they are to become proficient readers. Reading aloud to children, even if only for a short time each day, enhances their language skills, as well as their love of literature and learning.
In 1983 the Commission on Reading was created and funded by the U. S. Department of Education to study the best way to increase knowledge and reading in children. The commission evaluated ten thousand research studies over the course of two years and reported their results in Becoming a Nation of Readers. Among the findings: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” The study supported reading aloud in classrooms throughout all grades.*
Experts agree that the way to motivate children to read on their own is by arousing their interest and curiosity. Reading exciting stories to children helps them associate reading with pleasure. When the teacher and children share suspense, emotions, and enjoy fascinating characters, their relationship is strengthened. In addition, when children listen to a teacher read, they learn grammatical form and story structure. Reading stories, poems, books and factual texts to children builds their vocabulary, attention span and knowledge base so that they can speak, read, and write more fluently.
Students need to be exposed to nonfiction, as well as fiction. Teachers may begin with simple nonfiction books to introduce science, math and social studies concepts and then move on to more difficult texts. Model reading for information and investigation by stopping and asking the children to review, define and/or comment on the material. For example, stop reading and say, “Let’s see, what did she say about insects that only live twenty-four hours?” Let the children respond and then say something like, “I wonder what insect she will tell us about next?” Sometimes teachers have the children make a picture dictionary to go along with a story, chart what happened, or create graphics to further understanding. Involving students reinforces inquisitiveness and cognitive skills. Listening to teachers read nonfiction material increases student’s ability to read and comprehend newspaper articles, directions, complicated writings, as well as to perform well on tests that require an extensive vocabulary.
Another method teachers can use when reading aloud is to pause and have their students pair off to discuss the material. When children participate this way, they practice their listening, thinking, and speaking skills. They also pay closer attention to what is read so that they will be able to talk about it. When the teacher stops, the students turn to their partner and relate what they heard, as well as listen to their partner’s thoughts. After a few minutes, the teacher begins to read again.
Ideas to Enhance Reading Picture Books Aloud to Children
1. Choose stories that you have read and that you enjoyed reading.
2. Read a variety of books.
3. Choose a colorful book that is large enough for the group of children to see.
4. Reread favorite books.
5. Read some stories that lend themselves to children repeating a phrase or filling in a word.
6. Practice reading aloud if necessary.
7. Pick an area in the room that is quiet and comfortable.
8. Sit higher than the students so that they can see the pictures and hear you.
9. Help the children settle down before you begin by leading them in a calming game or song.
10. Hold up the book and call attention to the author and illustrator.
11. Ask a question that will spark their interest.
12. Move the book back and forth so that the children can see the illustrations, or show the pictures after you read each page.
13. Read with expression and enthusiasm.
14. Let your facial expressions reflect the emotions of the characters.
15. Use character voices.
16. Pace your reading to fit the story, but read slow enough so the children can understand it.
17. Use puppets or other props.
18. Accept children’s comments or questions unless they interrupt the flow of the story.
19. If the children become distracted, stop and ask, “What do you think will happen next?” You could also do a “finger play” or have them stand and sing a song before continuing to read.
20. Allow time to review the story and/or have the children act it out.
Ideas to Enhance Reading Aloud to Older Children
1. Pre-read and select a book you think they will enjoy.
2. Read books above the average reading level in your class.
3. Select books that are appropriate for the emotional, social and intellectual level of the students.
4. Choose some books or stories that are related to the curriculum.
5. Read literature that represents a variety of writing styles.
6. Select stories with recurring conversation and some drama or suspense.
7. Aim for quality and variety, alternating books or stories that feature boy and girl characters, and those that represent various cultures.
8. Select unfamiliar stories.
9. Allow enough time to create interest in the story before you must stop reading.
10. Read the title and ask the students questions that will arouse their curiosity.
11. Name the author and illustrator and if possible tell something about each one.
12. Sit or stand so that your head is above the students and they can easily hear you.
13. Make sure your posture and facial expressions reflect interest in the story.
14. After reading a chapter, if the students appear disinterested, choose a different book.
15. Read slowly enough for the students to have time to picture the words and assign meaning to them.
16. Add props.
17. Before you begin to read another chapter in a book, ask the students, “What was happening when we finished reading last time?”
18. Have the students make predictions about outcomes.
19. Accept some questions during the reading and when finished, encourage the students to verbalize their reactions, thoughts and emotions.
20. Read intriguing books at the end of the day as a reward for hard-working students.
The classroom teacher is a powerful role model for the enjoyment of reading. When teachers demonstrate a love of reading, their students will more likely become avid reader themselves.
*Richard C. Anderson, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, Judith A. Scott, Ian A.G. Wilkinson, Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading, (Champaign-Urbana, IL: Center for the Study of Reading, 1985), p. 23 and 51.