Choral Reading: Performing Text to Deepen Understanding
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Choral readings are short and sweet, and when done right, will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Teachers who do this cooperative reading activity report that their students always say it was the highlight of the year. Try it out with your child and she will be nagging you to do more.
When you and your child read aloud together, your voice guides her toward increased fluency and expression. If she is shy about reading aloud, reading in unison can help her feel more comfortable. Choral reading takes reading aloud several steps further, turning a story or poem into a play. Instead of reading every word together, each reader takes a part. The script of a choral reading can be fiction or nonfiction. It can come from a published work or an original piece of writing. The story your child wrote about getting her first flu shot, for example, can be arranged for multiple voices and performed to great dramatic effect.
Lisa Kirkwood Bean, Ph.D., provides professional development training for elementary teachers in Utah County, Utah. In her experience, using choral reading with elementary students produces “magical” results. “Every literacy specialist and classroom teacher should be trained in how to use this simple technique,” she says. In addition to increased confidence when reading aloud, choral reading heightens awareness of reading dynamics and deepens comprehension. It provides opportunities to be creative and have fun with language. There are just three simple steps to follow: Choose a text. Set up the script. Rehearse. Then you and your child and the family members and friends who join in the choral reading are ready to perform.
Choose a Text.
When you first try choral reading with your child, select a text that is already a familiar favorite. Short stories and poems work well. Look for a story or poem that makes interesting use of language through word choice, image, sound and rhythm. Once your child is familiar with the choral reading concept, be fearless about using it with texts that are more difficult. For example, Bean used the “Preamble to the United States Constitution” as a choral reading script. Choral reading is a master key that opens doors to understanding and enjoyment of reading.
Set Up the Script.
A choral reading text gets assigned to multiple voices just as a song would be arranged for singers with different vocal ranges: soprano, contralto, tenor or baritone. Younger children will need your help to set up the script. Older children will quickly get the idea and be able to organize a script on their own. To set up the script, indicate how the text should be read with bold, capital letters and italics. Each performer will need a copy. Double-space the final script so it’s easy to read. Here’s a poem called “Dream Variations” by Langston Hughes, set up as a choral reading script.
Bold = Emphasize
CAPS = Read in unison
Italics = Use a soft voice
Movement adds to the energy of the performance. The choral reading becomes even more powerful when a little choreography is included. Ask your child what she wants to do in response to each line. Chances are good that she’ll want to fling her arms wide, whirl and rest as suggested by the poem.
Choral reading isn’t just about performing a text with multiple voices—it’s about understanding that text well. Each reader needs to comprehend the text, know how to pronounce words correctly and come in on cue, so the performance moves along smoothly from one line to the next. Each word of each line must be articulated clearly, expressively and with appropriate emphasis. As the words become familiar, there will be a tendency to rattle them off too fast. Readers need to slow down and practice, practice, practice!
Working on a choral reading in the classroom and at home with family and friends has many benefits for early readers and those who are learning to work with more complex texts. Give choral reading a try and get ready for those magical results!
Want more examples of choral reading? Click here to check out three scripts set up by Lisa Kirkwood Bean.
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