5 Effective Habits of Reading Aloud

Raise your hand if you are trying or have tried every strategy imaginable to get children to put down their screens and pick up a BOOK?  Most adults would agree “reading is important”, so the magic question is: how to we catch the attention of a child and persuade them to listen to a book? How do you make a book irresistible? What are the most effective habits for reading aloud?

5 Effective Habits of Reading Aloud

How to Read Aloud

  1. Wait time
  2. Facial expressions, hand gestures, and sound effects
  3. Role Play and Props
  4. Pre-read Books
  5. Building Suspense

Wait Time

If you do not read anything else in the post, please read this paragraph.

One of the best strategies and the HARDEST thing to do while reading aloud is called “wait time”. I joke with my fellow elementary school teachers that “wait time” could also be called “patience building time”. Even as trained professionals, it is SO HARD to not fill the silence when you are reading to a child or they are reading to you.

It seems painful and awkward, but starting when your child is only 1 year old, you need to wait 5-8 seconds for your child to respond to your question. I remember counting to 8 in my head with my 1st grade classroom (before I had my own child) and it was so painful for me to allow 8 SECONDS of silence that I would often forget what I asked them when someone finally raised their hand to answer.

Their little sponge like brains are absorbing so much of the content on the page; the texture, the colors, the pictures, the letters, the sizes, and they need adequate time for their brain to focus in on what you are saying as well as formulate a response.

I say this because even most formal educators have an average wait time of 2-3 seconds in lower elementary classrooms. This should tell you just how DIFFICULT it is to do. However, what we as adults see as awkward silence, the child sees it as respect for their developing thinking and speaking skills.  Know that you are in good company if you try this strategy and it is a struggle at the beginning. 🙂

5 Effective Habits for Reading Aloud | Habit #1: Wait Time


Facial Expressions, Hand Gestures, and Sound Effects

This is the most important time to develop a child’s attention span and stamina for reading.  If you are teaching multiple languages, remember that a read aloud should be translated so a child is hearing the world in each language. I promise this will not be confusing for a growing multi-lingual child.

The art of reading aloud is in over-expression.  The more animated you are, the more you keep their attention. The over-exaggeration may seem awkward, but for children, it is deepening their understanding with every facial expression, movement, and noise. You are the artist, so paint a vivid and memorable picture with language. When you have read that same book 100 times, change your voice. When reading to children with language delays, using expression and voices is especially effective.
With my daughter, my underwater voice was always a hit. A few other popular voices are:
Zoo voice (choose your favorite animal)
Volcano voice (get louder as you read each word)
Mouse voice (squeak as you read)
Pirate voice (adding lots of “arrrgghhh” and “matey” between words, sentences, and questions)

Using prosody (a sing-song voice) on pages with rhyming words will help your child start to recognize patterns and rhymes.  Using sign language or gestures to connect a kinesthetic movement to vocabulary is also very important for cementing long-term memorization of the vocabulary words. You can also label the words on index cards and have your child draw pictures when you finish the book.

If you think that you don’t have what it takes to engage a child or a group of students for an entire book, you absolutely do.  I repeat myself here, but you must PRACTICE.  Any adult is capable of mesmerizing a child with a quality book and the right strategies.

5 Effective Habits for Reading Aloud | Habit #2: Use Facial Expressions, Hand Gestures, and Sound Effects

Role Play and Props

spiritweekA great example of using role play and props while reading aloud is Neil Griffiths at Early Learning Centre. When he is reading aloud to ages 4 and up, he has them all eating out of the palm of his hand. Like in my own classroom, we get dressed up to start a new theme or introduce new books. Puppets, stuffed animals, and props are a STAPLE in an elementary classroom (and should be a home as well).

Most teachers and parents can agree that having props or dressing up will engage kids.  Ask any dad in the world if they have dressed up as a ninja or a princess at tea party, and they will probably answer with a resounding yes. The same goes for the classroom.

However, I want to point out a tool that may or may not be in your class or your home.  In the video, you see Neil uses a pointer for vocabulary words is both fun for kids and helpful for searching for words and repetition. What is modeled in class is what children will do at home. Kids WILL copy what they see you do when it is their turn to read aloud to other kids or parents.

For example, in my 2nd grade classroom, when the kids role played “teacher”, the first object they all grabbed was my pointer stick.  I tried this at home with my 4-year-old daughter and bought her a pointer.  It is now a running joke with my husband and I because she uses it for EVERYTHING.  We will be in the middle of eating and she will run to get her pointer to read the label on the juice. She makes us role play with the map on the wall and answer her questions while pointing to different countries.  Fact: kids LOVE pointer sticks because it “gives them all the power”. Do not skip this valuable tool.
You can see Neil reading aloud HERE. His accent is amazing by the way!:)

5 Effective Habits for Reading Aloud | Habit #3: Role Play & Props

Pre-Read Books and Set the Scene

This strategy is a gut punch of accountability for myself.  Know that am as guilty as anyone when it comes to NOT reading the book beforehand. Because of the statistics, I always assume the kids will not read anything out of school, so if they don’t, they get their 30 minutes a day from me at school.  I tell parents all the time that if they read to their child at home, they make the job of a teacher that much easier.

At home with my daughter, I read anywhere from 3-20 books per day.  I ask myself and others, how can you possibly read every book before you read it aloud?  Especially into the older grades? I think it goes without saying that sometimes it just is not going to happen because of a multitude of factors. You should feel no shame in that game. However, if you are one that NEVER or RARELY pre-reads a book, you are missing a piece of reading magic you can easily grab onto.

When you pre-read a book, you can set the scene to allow students to step into the book and listen as if they were transported into the story. The scene you set will get your students in them mood for funny, mysterious, rhyming, gross, silly, thought-provoking, etc..  The suspense will grow and you will have children begging you to finally open the book. I have read so many books and thought afterwards, wow, if only I had read this, I could have done _______. (Fill in that blank with 100 different things).

Now there is something to be said for open-ended questions after reading aloud and having children make those connections.  They will come up with connections to other stories, other events, news, etc.. But being prepared should never be underestimated.  I have taught in traditional classrooms as well as inquiry-based.  To let the unit be student-driven is valuable, but having an arsenal of books to further the student inquiry and investigation into your unit/topic/theme is crucial.

Read Aloud Habit #4: Pre-Read Books and Set the Scene

Building Suspense

This is a popular topic and I see teachers, librarians, and parents doing this effectively all the time.  How do you build suspense and see children actually physically lean in to hear the next page? The answer is to use the four strategies I have listed above.

  1. Painting a picture through facial expressions and gestures will get children to eagerly await what happens next
  2. Using engaging props, puppets, and role-play will engage your listeners to feel empathy for the characters.
  3. Wait time of 5-8 seconds builds suspense as they see the potential for the next few words to shock them or change the outcome they were expecting.
  4. Setting the scene through pre-reading could pique the children’s curiosity through knowing something bad (or good) is about to happen to one of the beloved characters you have been reading about.

P.S. For even more transformational strategies for reading aloud, click HERE for your FREE ebook “The Importance of Reading Aloud”. 

5 Effective Habits for Reading Aloud | Read Aloud Habit #5: Build Suspense

Bonus: 20 Read Aloud Picture Books

Your bonus for reading all the way until the end are my top 20 books for read aloud books for young children in no particular order (Ages 5-8).  I can find 1,000 articles with recommended books to read aloud and they will all be different… Here is one more opinion for you!

e293092c-2879-4539-a60a-c1eb2e3b0dd9NO! David by David Shannon
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina (this book is almost 80 years old and kids still love it)
Harry and the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Sciescka and Lane Smith
Are You My Mother? by P.D Eastman
Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin
Llama, Llama Red Pyjama by Anna Dewdney
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems
The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, Guy Parker-Rees
Chicka Chicka 123 by Bill Martin
The Lady with the Alligator Purse by Nadine Bernard Westcot (just promise to sing and not read this oneJ)
Russell the Sheep by Rob Scotton
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
Miss Mary Mack by Mary Ann Hoberman
The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams
The Animal Boogie by Debbie Harter
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs Retold by Mo Willems

Read Aloud Habit #1: Wait TimeRead Aloud Habit #2: Use Facial Expressions, Hand GestuRead Aloud Habit#3: Role Play and PropsRead Aloud Habit #4: Pre-Read Books and Set the SceneRead Aloud Habit #5: Build Suspense

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