How to Read Aloud to Children (page 6)
The following techniques can help teachers and parents read aloud successfully to children. Effective oral reading is not simply a matter of opening a book and giving voice to the words on the page, hoping that children will listen. Rather, it involves making deliberate choices about how to prepare children for active and critical listening. Frequently, when children listen to a text read aloud, they may enjoy the experience, but their minds may not be as fully engaged as possible. Our goal is to engage the minds (and hearts!) of children as fully as possible when we read aloud (Fox 1993). One way to help children bring more mind to bear when they listen to us read to them is to let them know the kinds of things they should listen for-things they would most likely not think of on their own. By using the following techniques, we can help children discover many new ways to listen actively and critically to texts. When children learn to listen actively and critically, they will also find new, dramatic, and meaningful avenues into the world of spoken literature.
While it is always a good idea to read a text straight through from beginning to end, it is also a good idea to stop occasionally to reread a passage and to stop and alert listeners to upcoming passages (Whyte 1994). When we stop to reread or to alert listeners, we are helping our listeners become aware of how language works to create a setting, describe a character, describe an object or action, or present ideas in new ways. In other words, we might think of ourselves as tour guides (Pressley 1998). As we lead our listeners into the world of the text, we need to sometimes stop and point out to them things they might miss if they weren't invited to look for them. If we fail to stop and reread, to point out word-vistas along the tour, we are not giving our listeners the opportunity to catch sight of the interworkings of language.
When children listen to texts read aloud, it is sometimes like watching a train pass at a railroad crossing: if the train is moving too fast, the viewer doesn't have a chance to see the cars whirring by. When we stop and reread, we are giving our listeners a chance to look carefully at some of the wordy "railroad cars" that just flew by.
The same is true when we stop and point out a passage that we are going to read. By letting our listeners know that an important passage or a passage rich in description is forthcoming, they can alter their expectations and change their perspectives. Through such alterations, the listeners can ready themselves to listen more carefully and more critically.
Tour Guide Process No. 1
- Choose a passage (or an entire text); read aloud for a few moments.
- Stop and say something like, "You know, that sentence (or paragraph or stanza) that I just read was so wonderful that I want to read it again." For instance, if you are reading Zeke Pippin by William Steig, you might stop after you have read the description of Zeke making his way through the dark, tangled forest after his escape from the trio of villainous dogs, and say, "Wow, that description was so powerful that I just have to read it again!"
- Read the passage again.
Tour Guide Process No. 2
- Choose a passage (or an entire text); read aloud briefly.
- Stop and say something like, "This next sentence (or stanza or paragraph) is really wonderful; it contains a great metaphor (or simile, or alliteration, or onomatopoeia, or hyperbole, etc.). For instance, after reading the title, "Zeke Pippin," we might stop and say, ''I'd like you to really listen to the opening sentence of this story. It contains some vivid verbs (i.e., 'moseying' and 'rumbling')."
- Read the passage, emphasizing the elements you want listeners to pay particular attention to.
Tour Guide Variation
Invite your listeners to stop you occasionally while you are reading aloud and ask to hear you reread a passage or bit of dialogue. Also, ask your listeners to make predictions as to when they think a particularly noteworthy passage is coming.
Another variation is to use books on tape; play the audiotape of a text while children follow along silently in their books.
One way to help all children develop stronger reading skills is to acquaint them with the thought processes that effective readers use when they read (Harvey & Goudvis 2000; Temple & Gillet 1996). Most children, who are still developing various cognitive abilities, need to acquire a variety of comprehension strategies if they are to be able to read and understand ever more sophisticated stories, poems, and nonfictional works. The Think Aloud technique shows children that reading is a process that requires the reader to think about the text and to construct meaning as she or he reads (Early & Ericson 1988). When using the Think Aloud technique, the oral reader says what he or she is thinking about while reading; by expressing his or her thoughts aloud, the reader demonstrates how the process of comprehending and making meaning is achieved. During a Think Aloud, the oral reader is also able to talk about those things that all readers need to consider while reading: free and personal associations, discoveries, predictions, mental images evoked by the text, key text features (titles, headings, words, sentences, figurative language), the way the text connects with prior knowledge, and ways to overcome problems encountered while reading (Bruner 1979).
Think Aloud Process
- Choose a text; begin reading aloud.
- Stop reading after a few moments and voice some personal associations. They need not be connected with explicit reading skills or with the interworkings of the text; they should be wholly personal and random. Making personal associations lets children know that as we read, we all make connections that have little or nothing to do with the text-and that it is okay to have and to acknowledge such associations.
For instance, if you are reading Heckedy Peg by Don and Audrey Wood, you might introduce the book by making free associations with the title: "I've never heard the word 'Heckedy' before, but it reminds me of a boy I knew in grade school whose last name was Reckedy. And the word 'Peg' might be short for Peggy, but it also makes me think of a wooden peg."
- At this point, ask the children if they have any personal associations to add to yours. Accept all answers, no matter how random or peculiar.
- When you arrive at a spot in the text that is troublesome (one that is ambiguous or has a difficult word or sentence) or that requires further thought, stop and think aloud by focusing on ways to make sense of the passage in question. For instance, after reading the opening lines from Heckedy Peg, you might stop and make such comments as: 'The opening line reminds me that nearly all folktales begin with a standard, formulaic opening. This kind of opening lets the reader know that he or she is entering the world of folklore." You can continue with: "Since I know that Heckedy Peg is a folktale, I need to remember what I know about folktales: they are usually short stories; they usually have brief introductions; they present the action immediately; they usually have characters that are exact opposites of each other; they sometimes have magic; they were originally handed down orally; they don't have lengthy description of characters or settings; characters are not like real people; and the problems in these stories are usually a conflict of person versus person." As you continue reading the story, you might stop after the section where the children disobey their mother's wishes. Then state: "In folktales, there are many examples of characters who disobey strict orders or instructions." As you continue reading, stop when you arrive at the section where the mother enters the dark forest; you might say: "Now the mother is entering the forest; I wonder how the forest looks? I'll bet it is thick with trees and that the trees blot out the sky and that their branches reach down as if to grab you!" Invite the children to add descriptions. Finally, when you get to the part of the story where the mother is given a chance to redeem her children, who have been turned into food, you might stop and say, "Wow, I wonder how the mother will solve this problem?" Then invite the children to speculate.
- Put the children in groups of three or four and ask them to perform a Think Aloud with books they have chosen. Remind them that they should focus on the following:
- personal associations
- prior knowledge
- mental images
- key text features
- ways of making sense of difficult passages
Think Aloud Variation
As you are reading aloud, sometimes it will be beneficial to stop and ask your listeners what they are thinking about a particular passage (sentence, paragraph, or stanza) that you just read. Invite them to talk about their associations, prior knowledge, predictions, mental images, key text features, or ways that they made sense of the passage.
If children are to make gains in reading enjoyment and in comprehension, they must learn to generate mental images, especially as they read fiction and poetry (Gambell 1993). Not only do readers remember more of what they read when they construct mental images, but they also lay the ground for using inferential thinking skills. Children also discover that, through the construction of mental images, reading is a personal and creative activity (Sinatra 1994). For instance, no two readers will construct the same images based on a story or a poem; consequently, as readers discuss the images they created (and discover that all images, even if they are different and connected to the text, are correct), they will see how critical imagination and inferential thought play key roles in the creation of image-based meaning (Iser 1990).
Picture This Process
- Select a passage that contains a strong and vivid description of a person, place, or event. The passage should be brief; it should take one to two minutes to read aloud.
- Before you read aloud, ask the listeners to get ready to create pictures in their minds of what is going to be described. Remind the listeners that creating mental images is an essential part of reading comprehension and that each person will make a slightly different picture or will focus on different aspects of what is being described.
- Read aloud; pause briefly after each sentence.
- When you have finished reading, ask the children to describe what they saw in their minds.
- Record the descriptions of what the listeners imagined. Make note of the similarities and the differences.
- Ask the children to work in pairs or groups. Using the same book, or different books, invite the children to share among themselves the images they created as they read. Remind the children that it is important to create mental images whenever they read fiction and poetry.
Picture This Variation
After you have read a passage, invite your listeners to act out the scene without using any words. Remind them that in their scenario they must display pertinent ideas and emotions.
Another idea is to invite children to use images to convey their understanding of new vocabulary. Ask them to draw or find pictures (in magazines, newspapers, or catalogues) that display the meanings of the words they have looked up.
While many children read fiction and poetry to gain an understanding of the surface elements—content and events—it is important for them to develop an appreciation for the language that conveys those events. Such an appreciation will deepen their understanding of the texts they are reading and move them to the connotative level of reading. When children regularly read with an eye toward the rich language of a text, they will also strengthen their own writing. Reading aloud and asking children to listen not only for plot and action (event) elements, but also for the rich language used to convey those elements, will go a long way in helping children enhance their sensitivity to language (Sanders 1995).
Rich Language Process
- Select a text that contains many examples of rich language: concrete (not abstract) words, parallel constructions, similes, metaphors, hyperbole, alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, repetition, etc.
- Ask children to jot down (in their writer's notebooks) or note the rich language in the text that you will be reading.
- As you read, stop and point out a few initial examples of rich language. For instance, if you read Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, point out the richness of the opening similes and metaphors.
- Continue reading aloud; read slowly enough so that children can catch the rich language.
- Ask children to share their discoveries.
Rich Language Variation
As children read self-selected texts silently, ask them to record in their writer's notebooks examples of rich language that they encounter. This type of recording can be done throughout the year.
To help children learn how the proper deployment of punctuation marks helps readers process the language of a text so that they can more easily make meaning, use the Punctuation Power technique. Children may not know, for instance, that a comma signals a pause; that a period signals a longer pause (and the end of a complete thought); that a question mark signals the need to raise the pitch of the voice at the end of a sentence; that an exclamation mark signals the need to raise the volume of the voice at the end of the sentence; and that underlined, italicized, or bold-faced words require special emphasis. The Punctuation Power technique will help children learn the purpose of various text signals.
Punctuation Power Process
- Choose a brief paragraph to read aloud.
- Read the paragraph aloud without pausing at commas or periods; do not change the inflection or volume of your voice for question marks or exclamation marks or words that require special emphasis.
- Ask the children if the passage made sense.
- Read the passage aloud again, this time more slowly. Ask children to raise their hands at points where they think you should pause and add a comma; stop and add a period; or change the pitch or volume of your voice to add a question mark, an exclamation point, or to place special emphasis.
- Display the passage, without punctuation marks, on an overhead transparency. Go through the passage, phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence, and invite the children to tell you where and why to insert punctuation marks. (You might want to present minilessons, if necessary, on punctuation marks at this point.)
Punctuation Power Variation
As you read aloud a text that has no punctuation and is displayed on the overhead projector, invite children to use hand signals to indicate where punctuation marks belong: one hand in the air for commas, arms folded for periods, two hands in the air for exclamation marks, arms extended in front with palms upturned for question marks, and arms extended to the sides for special emphasis words.
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