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“Reading aloud is the most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read,” says Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams, a specialist in cognition and education. When we read out loud to our children, or the children we teach, we instill a love of reading.
But how we read to them matters. Now, we can’t all be as captivating as Ludacris when we read Llama Llama Red Pajama, but there are ways we can make it an exciting and interactive experience. Read on for 8 tips for reading aloud to children!
1. Read it yourself first
You might feel silly reading a picture book to yourself, but this is essential, especially if you’re reading aloud to a group. What can happen if you don’t read it yourself first? Here are some things that have happened to me: I’ve stumbled over words I couldn’t pronounce. I’ve mispronounced characters’ names. I’ve been taken aback by unexpected sad endings. I’ve even been surprised by naked characters in the middle of the book. (Eric Carle, I’m looking at you!) In short, I usually try to read the book myself first to make sure I’m prepared.
2. Choose great read-aloud books
Besides ensuring the book is age-appropriate, pay attention to how many words are on each page before reading it aloud. Avoid books that are meant for children to read to themselves. I typically avoid the “I Can Read” books, because the text is simplified and there’s usually very little dialogue. Also, make sure the book is captivating and has great illustrations.
3. Talk about the cover of the book
Build excitement before you even open the book. Let children make predictions about the story. “What do you think this book is about?” Give them time to view the cover and talk about the illustrations. Discuss the author and illustrator, and define what those new terms mean.
4. Introduce new words and their meaning
When you come across a word they’ve never heard before, pause to explain it in a way they’ll understand. For example, while reading Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak recently, I paused to define the word “ruckus.” I just spent a few seconds telling the children, “A rumpus is like a noisy party” before I turned the page to reveal exactly that. Sometimes, kids are able to decipher a word’s meaning with context clues–you could let them guess themselves.
5. Be expressive with dialogue and descriptions
Is a bear doing the talking? Well, by all means, talk like a big tough bear! Is the character feeling sad? Speak in a melancholy tone. (You should hear my version of The Pout-Pout Fish‘s “blub, blub, bluuuubbbb.” Gets ’em every time.) This keeps children interested and helps them differentiate one character’s voice from the next. When it comes to describing a scene, be emotive. Is the protagonist talking about his baby brother’s stinky diaper? Hold your nose and say “ew!”
6. Ask questions as you read
To make the experience more interactive, ask questions before, during, and after you read. Ask open-ended questions that make them think–for example, “How do you think Vashti felt when her teacher framed her artwork?” Help the children make connections with their own lives by relating the story to something familiar. “What color of apple is your favorite to eat?”
7. In repetitive stories, let children finish the sentence
By the third time you’ve repeated the same phrase, children might be able to say it along with you. For example, with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I stop when I get to the line “but he was still hungry” and let the children say it as a group. I do the same thing with my son. This gets them involved in the telling of the story, which is important for building those early reading skills.
8. Let children retell the story in their own words
Once you’ve read the book, help build their reading comprehension skills by discussing what happened. Ask questions like, “What kind of problem did the frog have? Who helped him solve it? How did he feel after he won?” Encourage them to use words like first, then, next, and last. Follow up by doing an activity based on the book (i.e. an art activity, a special snack, etc.)