Top Tips for Reading Aloud With Children.
Hello! I’m Jem, a children’s storyteller based in the North West. My favourite books are anything with bears in, and my favourite stories are ones that have been hidden or lost. I’m joining the team from a background in children’s literature, storytelling and community arts engagement. Reading with children and keeping them engaged can be a tricky task, so I’ve put together some top tips for reading aloud with children and young people, focusing on picture books. These suggestions work best outside of formal, structured reading and are perfect for story time.
Make sure you have read the book a few times, and you know it well. Tell your young learners you are excited to share this story with them, and that you have picked it out especially. This invites your listeners in and catches their attention. This isn’t just any old book; this is a book that’s been chosen especially for you!
Alternatively, collect a few books you know well and all fit the same theme. Give your listeners a quick description of each text and allow them to vote on which one you will read. In doing this, you are including your listeners in from the very beginning and ensuring their engagement in the text as they feel involved in its selection. Reassure those who voted for a different one that you will read their choice next time.
Beginning to Read
If your group are usually difficult to keep engaged, get their attention by making a few jokes before you start reading. Tell them you are really excited to read this book, and then begin reading it silently to yourself. Look up – ‘Oh! Was I supposed to be reading it with you?’ Open the book, flip through the pages quickly and mumble as if you are reading the whole thing at once – ‘Oh, was that too fast?’ In doing this your learners will end up encouraging you to read.
For younger listeners, ask them how does a story start? Once upon a slime? Once upon a nursery rhyme? Once upon a silent mime? until they insist it’s ‘once upon a time’. Get everyone to say it together: Once upon a time. If you have a fidgety group, get everyone to mime as if they are reaching to the highest shelf on the bookshelf and bringing down a heavy book. Blow the ‘dust’ off the ‘front cover’ and encourage everyone to say with you, as they open their ‘books’, Once Upon a Time.
Read slowly and clearly. If your book has characters, give them voices! Ask your listeners: how do we think this character sounds, what kind of voice might they have, are they softly spoken or loud or gruff?
If you come across new words or words that your listeners are not confident with, pronounce the word clearly and finish reading the sentence. Then go back to that word encourage your listeners to say it aloud a few times. Ask your listeners: does anyone know what that word means, what do we think, how does it sound, is it similar to any other words we know?
If your book has repeated sections, encourage your listeners to join in with you at those parts. For example – ‘Silly old fox, doesn’t he know?’ then all say together: ‘there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo!’ This helps your learners feel involved in the story and to take a more active role in the storytelling.
Know your book well beforehand, and you will find points within the book to stop and reflect. This could be on a page with illustrations. Stop and ask your learners: what’s going on here, what can we see, what is it showing us? Link this to arts and crafts activities after you have finished reading. Do you remember the page with the owl? Shall we paint/draw/build/create our own owls?
After your characters and settings have been introduced, pause and ask your listeners: what do we think of this character, what do we think is going to happen? Encourage them to use their skills to predict what might happen in this story.
If a child has already read the story, encourage them to keep the plot ‘secret’, and refer to them as if they are an expert on the book: did you think the same when you first read it, can you give your classmates a clue? This will help the child still feel engaged, even though they know what happens and by giving them the role of ‘helper’ they will be less likely to spoil the ending of the story for the other listeners.
Many children’s stories will have a ‘turning point’. Identify this in your book before you read with your young learners. For example, this could be when the mouse finally sees the real Gruffalo, or when Rainbow Fish realises he has no friends to play with, or perhaps when Pooh Bear gets stuck in Rabbit’s doorway. Use these turning points to pause and reflect with your listeners: what has happened here, what is going to happen, how are they going to get out of this situation?
What Would You Do?
Ask this question often, especially when reading books with real world parallels. Repeatedly bring it back to your learners: how do YOU think the character feels, how would YOU feel? If a character is dealing with a certain emotion, ask your listeners: what do YOU do when you feel sad, what makes YOU feel happy like the character? This approach works especially well if your character comes across a problem. Ask your listeners to use their problem-solving skills and figure out a way to solve the character’s problem.
As you come to the end of the story, refer back to some of the questions you have asked: will it end the way we thought it would, do we think the character is going to feel better by the end, do you think that was the best way to solve the problem? What might you have done differently?
After you have finished, encourage the children to put their palms together as if they are closing a book. Say, ‘And they all lived…’ and prompt your listeners to say together, ‘happily ever after!’
Allow some time to answer or ask questions. Was there any part of it we were a bit confused about? What parts did we like in particular? What was our favourite bit? Were there parts we didn’t like? While asking your questions, further your young learner’s responses by opening them to the rest of the class: do we agree, does anyone think differently, was anyone else going to say that as well?
Finally, thank them for listening and for joining in. Tell them where you are going to put the book and let them know it’s there if they’d ever like to have another look by themselves.