Choose a story you will enjoy reading aloud. Your enthusiasm (or lack of it) will be contagious. Your reading choices and reading style should fit your personality.
You will get better and better at reading aloud with practice.
Select stories that have an interesting plot, dialogue, some suspense and/or adventure, suitable emotional content for the age and background of the students.
Look for books that support and extend the students’ special needs and interests.
Ask students for suggestions to read aloud.
Read the tried-and-true but also stretch your audience to experience new types of literature – challenge but don’t overwhelm them, move beyond what is safe, i.e. what children will choose themselves – go beyond Paul Jennings, Roald Dahl…
Read children’s and young adult books yourself, and explore children’s literature review journals, websites and join relevant organisations / associations to become knowledgeable.
Prepare for reading aloud
Pre-read the book! You need to preview it thoroughly before you read it to students to identify any possible pitfalls, e.g. unexpected themes / plot developments, character’s names etc and to identify good “stopping points” with cliffhangers.
Match the length of the story with the children's attention spans and listening skills. Begin with short selections, increase story length gradually and try using two or three short books in place of a longer story.
Choose appropriate material
Books heavy on dialogue or dialect are harder to read and listen to.
An award-winning book isn’t necessarily a great read-aloud.
Don’t choose a book which is very well known (for example has been made into a film or been on television) – once the plot is known much of the interest is lost.
Avoid long descriptive passages until the listeners can handle them.
Look for books that represent a variety of cultures in both content and illustration.
At the start of the read-aloud session
Show the cover and read the title and author / illustrator of the book. “Name drop” if you have information, e.g. others by the same person, similar titles etc. You might like to share the dedication, any notes from the author or illustrator, or information about the illustration technique.
You might want to suggest things to look or listen for during the story.
Allow a minute or two to settle and for everyone to get comfortable – some students may need an activity to keep their hands busy while listening – e.g. sketch to stretch.
During the read-aloud session
Try to set aside at least one “traditional” time each day to read aloud, and don’t leave too long a gap between read-aloud sessions of a serial novel – keep it regular, and remember you can read quite a lot in 5 minutes!
Extend the duration of the read-aloud sessions as your audience becomes better listeners.
Read aloud every day – first thing in the morning after roll is a good time. If you read at the start of the lesson, it isn’t a reward for good behaviour, and doesn’t fall off the agenda because of pressures of time. You might find students arrive quicker to class to avoid missing the story.
Set up a listening culture – make the first session long, e.g. up to half an hour, to get into the story.
If you allow the students to draw while listening you may like to set parameters, e.g. only one piece of paper and one pencil or pen, and the image has to be about what is being read.
Make a note of interesting words that come up in the text, with a brief note about what they mean, and these words will transfer into the students’ own writing.
Decide if you want to have multiple copies of the book being read so that children can read along if they wish.
Have a bulletin board display to go along with the book being read – e.g. words, author information, related works, others in series, artwork…
How to read aloud
The most common mistake in reading aloud is reading too fast - read at a varied and moderate pace and allow listeners to create mental images of the words.
Make eye contact with your audience.
Change your voice to fit the mood or action. See Mem Fox’s website for great guidance on this.
Don’t use withdrawal of read-aloud time as a threat.
When choosing what to read aloud, booktalk 4 or 5 possible options and ask the class to vote which one they’d choose.
When a book isn’t working…
Don’t persevere with a book if it has become obvious that it was a poor choice, though make sure that you have given it a fair chance to get going. If the book you've chosen to read aloud is not suiting the audience, talk about options with them, or stop the reading saying something like “This doesn’t seem to be the right book for us at the moment…” and move on to another book or activity. Better to acknowledge a mistake than spoil the reading-aloud experience. Make the book available for those that do want to continue with it.
If unsure, one approach could be, “We’ll start on Monday if by Friday the consensus is that it isn’t working then we’ll stop”, or giving a book a “50-page test”. If the students are not hooked after 50 pages, there is a discussion as to whether to keep going or start a different book.
After the read-aloud session
Make the book available for students to borrow when you have finished.
Expect the students to have favourite books. Honour their requests to read them over and over again, as well as introducing new selections.
Reading aloud can involve “warm ups” and “follow ups” – allow time for discussion after the story (and during the story, as appropriate) but avoid quizzes and tests.
You might want to share your own thoughts about the story or have some discussion about aspects in the story – sharing a “reading response”, such as:
Does this book remind you of another book? Why?
What is your favourite part of the story and why?
How did the story make you feel?
How might you feel or act if you were one of the characters in the story?
Has anything that takes place in the story ever happened to you?
Reading to older students
Although older, they too may well need to develop their listening skills and stamina.
Reading aloud provides an opportunity for them to hear stories that they have missed out on, e.g. myths and legends, or stories beyond their comfortable reading level.
As well as novels, you could read short stories, poetry, magazine articles, newspaper columns or editorials, Young Adult books and books that might have been missed from childhood.
With novels for older students it is even more important for you to preview read the book.
Read a chapter or a good “chunk” each day – keep the momentum going.
Read books that suit students intellectually, socially and emotionally. Semi-literate readers do not need semi-literate books.
Reading aloud – are students ever too old?
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