Reading Aloud to a Group of Children: Tips and Tricks
Reading aloud to a group of children – especially young children – can be challenging. Not only is the storyteller tasked with engaging children in a book, she also has to manage group dynamics and various behaviors. When I first started reading aloud to classrooms, I worried: How was I going to engage a large group of 3 and 4 year olds in a book? How would I keep them interested and listening? What would I do when there are disruptions?
Luckily, a friend and teaching mentor taught me her strategies for reading aloud to groups of young children. Those lessons have come in handy over the years – from when I Read for the Record in Olivia’s preschool to my recent experience as the Mystery Reader in her 1st grade classroom.
There are many articles offering storytime tips for reading to children but not as many about how to manage a group of chatty and wiggly toddlers and preschoolers. Here are some of the tricks that I have learned from my friend and through practice over the years:
- Use a simple game or movement activity to get children’s attention prior to reading the book. This will both get children focused on you and also provide a nice transition into the reading activity. I like to use Simon Says. I start with some movement requests (“Simon says wiggle around.” Simon says clap your hands.”) and end with ones that get them ready for listening (“Simon says sit in your reading spot.” “Simon says put on your listening ears.”).
- Establish a listening signal. There may be times when chatter breaks out and the storyteller finds himself on the verge of losing the group. Listening signals such as a simple hand clapping pattern or holding your fingers in the shape of a “listening L” in the air tells the children that their attention should be on you.
- Point out good listeners and sitters. Early in the story, point out the behaviors you want the children to use throughout the story. “I like how Maggie is looking at me ready to listen to my story.” “I like how Mark is sitting nicely with his legs crossed.” It’s a great way to set your expectations in a friendly and encouraging way.
- Start questions with “Raise your hand and tell me.” Most young children don’t know or can’t remember the universal classroom law of raising a hand before speaking. A little direction prior to engaging in conversation goes a long way with young children. It sounds so simple but, trust me, it works.
- When everyone wants to share, take a poll. The scenario: One child says something like “I have red pajamas like llama llama.” and before you can blink, all the kids start sharing their pajama colors. The answer: take a poll. Simply say, “raise your hand if you have red pajamas.” Continue with a few other “popular” colors. End with “Thanks for sharing. You can share more with me after the story.” Most times, this brings the focus back to you and your book.
- Use movement activities or interactions strategically. Young children like to get involved in the story. Usually about halfway through a book is when children need a mental break. Time for some interaction! When I read “Where the Wild Things Are” I like to have a little “wild rumpus” or parade around the room. Or I do something simple like “show me how Papa Bear’s face looks when he discovers someone’s been lying in his bed.”
- Make disruptive children the story helpers. There may be times when even your best tricks don’t work on an especially wily child. I don’t typically like to reward bad behavior but…sometimes giving the child a job such as turning the page (young children) or holding the book (older children) works.
- Have fun. No, really, I mean this one. It’s very important. Reading to young children is meant to be fun – for you and them. Don’t worry about the noise level (it may get loud at times) or stress about getting every child to understand the moral or theme of the story. Simply enjoy reading the book and enjoy them. They’re going to pick up on that vibe and, in turn, engage with you and the book.
I know there are a lot of great teachers and parent out there. Don’t be shy – share your storytime tips with us!