In praise of reading aloud (and some tips for the fearful)

I absolutely support the call by James Patterson and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall for more parents to read to their children. My Dad read to me when I was a kid and it didn’t harm me at all. I vividly remember him reading Peace At Last by Jill Murphy and he did all the sound effects. Loudly. When my siblings kids were just old enough to have the story read to them we bought Dad a fresh copy of Peace At Last and set him going with it. The kids loved it, my brother and sister and I loved hearing a familiar story being retold in the way we loved it.

Whenever I see my nephews and nieces one of them usually asks me to read something to them out loud. There’s lots of great kids books available very cheaply or for free on my kindle, there’s also a huge store of good books at home that my parents have kept. (Nothing better than a little bit of Dr Seuss read aloud)

There’s research that says children become better readers when someone reads aloud to them. It helps them prepare for reading; it helps model reading skills and broadens their vocabulary. All the research in the world won’t take away fear of reading aloud for some people. At school we don’t get taught the skill of reading aloud. The task of group reading tends to be an exercise in seeing who can hide under the desk quickest or who can not catch the eye of the teacher. Reading aloud in class seems to suck the joy out of reading for a lot of people. Silent reading is a solitary activity but reading aloud creates a special bond between people.

I was very lucky at school to have English teachers that were not only enthusiastic about books but also wonderful performers. Mrs Mills reading Oliver Twist, Mrs Blake reading Grinny, Mr Griffin reading Animal Farm, Mrs LaVadera reading Streetcar Named Desire. All through my school days I enjoyed reading the books out loud because I’d been read to at home but also because I’d been given space to read out loud as well. It’s a virtuous circle. It’s easy to think I find reading aloud easy because I’m used to getting up in front of people but reading aloud to someone is very different to performing Shakespeare or giving a talk. Similar skills are employed but it’s a different task. I’m not performing in a huge auditorium, I’m usually reading to someone who is sat right next to me and I’m not trying to communicate a well crafted point, I’m hoping to enable an imagination to run free.

Here are my tips for getting better at reading aloud:

  • Be familiar with the story before setting out. Check pronunciations of words you’re unsure about. Read your material before reading it aloud.
  • Read a little slower than you think you should and remember to breathe. Breathing is good.
  • Use the punctuation of a sentence to help tell you when to breathe and judge the speed of the reading. Head for the full stop and take a breath.
  • Read with expression. Try creating different voices for different characters but remember which voice goes with different characters, kids are unafraid of pointing out when you do the wrong voice. Don’t be afraid to do your own impersonations of famous people. On twitter my friend Nick uses a “Ray Winstone” voice when reading a teddy bear story to his son; he’s also said that his son has started mimicking that voice too.
  • If you’re not comfortable reading aloud to someone else, get practice by reading aloud to yourself. Read something, anything!, aloud where you won’t feel embarrassed and get used to doing it.
  • Try to find a regular time and a quiet, comfortable place for reading together. The people you’re reading to will pick up if it’s rushed or if you’re unhappy about having to do it.
  • Try and make reading aloud together a regular event.
  • Don’t attack a Harry Potter book or something huge as your first reading aloud project. Pick a short story or a short chapter. Choose something you’ll enjoy reading aloud too. Try and vary the genre and reading levels.
  • Talk about the story after reading aloud; reflect on the content, the words. Link it to other activities.
  • One interesting tip I’ve heard in the past was to get your child to read you the cooking instructions for a recipe or from a packet.

Here are a few books that are awesome to read aloud (not in any particular order or sorted for age):

Peace at Last by Jill Murphy

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

The Butter Battle Book by Dr Seuss

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

Grinny by Nicholas Fisk

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens


Do you have any tips for reading aloud?

What are your favourite books to have read to you or to read aloud?

This entry was posted in Ben Whitehouse, books, Weekly Blog Club and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to In praise of reading aloud (and some tips for the fearful)

  1. I saw Norton Juster last year: such a wonderful book. We did the whole of Harry Potter from Azkaban as it came out: still read aloud to her from time to time (16 last week.) Some favourites (no order): The Mousehole Cat: Antonia Barber; Owl Babies: Martin Waddell; Tove Janson’s Moomin series; Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking & Emil books; Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching/Wee Free Men series; The Once & Future King: TH White; The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman

  2. Pingback: In praise of reading aloud (and some tips for the fearful) | weeklyblogclub

  3. Poems are good for reading out loud. My mum read us poems from AA Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, and Edward Lear poems. I also enjoy the Lewis Carroll poems. As for books… I think Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could be a good one for older children and adults. Storytelling is a very ancient art. I would still love to have someone read aloud to me now and then.

  4. carolwoolley says:

    I couldnt agree more! I started my working life as a children’s librarian and reading aloud to various ages at storytimes was extremely rewarding. I also read to my own children and my nieces and nephews. Storytelling is sadly a skill that is being lost and should be encouraged as much as possible!

  5. Pingback: Comms, cake, camping and chat | weeklyblogclub

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