Wednesday, October 08, 2008

How is Your Read Aloud Voice?

Sometimes mothers voice concerns that their children don't seem to care for some of their school books. These moms relate how they have tried to read the book aloud in hopes that it will help create interest, but to no avail. There are many factors that can contribute to this dilemma, but recently, while visiting a friend's home, I was reminded of one of them in particular. Fortunately, it can easily be remedied.

I happened to be visiting a dear mother's home and chanced to hear her read aloud to her children. I noticed right away that she was reading very quickly and using a monotone voice. I seriously doubt her children could keep up with her words. It was evident that they had no interest in a classic tale that should have held them spellbound.

A few weeks later, I was reading aloud to my dear son and out of the corner of my eye noticed he began to fidget and let his attention wander around the room. "Oh dear! I am losing his attention," I thought. It dawned upon me that I was speaking way too fast for my little listener and using that boring voice that I promised myself I would never use on my own kids! Usually, I'm a pretty exciting reader. However, this time, because I was behind schedule, I just wanted to finish the day's reading. I remembered the other mother's mistake and began to think on this a little more.

When I was a little girl, my father read aloud to us regularly. He was always an interesting reader. He naturally passed this on to all of his children. I have several siblings. We all homeschool our children and we all tend to read slowly and with feeling. I've taken this little gift he passed on for granted, but now I am beginning to wonder if some teachers and parents might not realize how important it is to use this skill when reading aloud to the children.

I thought I might mention this today to others because sometimes we fall into a habit that we, ourselves, don't even notice. However, when someone else brings it up, a light bulb comes on inside our heads. Here are a few ideas that may be just what you need to grab waning attentions while reading aloud:

Always remind each other briefly where you left off from the previous reading.

Slow down. Make sure you are not reading too quickly.

Become your characters as you read their lines. This doesn't mean you have to use your body. Modulate your voice to reflect emotions. When your characters shout, raise your voice. When they cry, put on your crying voice. Whine at the appropriate time. etc... Sometimes you may not be in a frame of mind to alter your voice as much as other times, but it is always helpful to do it to some degree.

When you want to create mystery or come to a part you want to emphasize, lower your voice and lean forward. Kids love this and it often will be the deciding factor between a favorite book and a boring book for them.

Lastly, if you find that you are reading a book that you, yourself are not enjoying, Don't tell your kids, not even with your body language- no sighs. Your attitude will most certainly rub off on your children and then all is lost. I have learned to be positive about all our schoolbooks. There have been times when I haven't been thrilled about a book, but I didn't let on and kept reading with emotion. Some of these books have turned out to be among my children's favorite stories.

one step at a time...

artist: Dentist McDonald


  1. (We don't have any children yet, but we do babysit)

    My husband has an excellent read-aloud voice. He does all the voices, down the accents. He really gets into it when he reads. I try to, but my voice doesn't do all the variations his can. That's okay. I do my best to be interesting, like my parents were when they read to me when I was little.

    Great post. I've really enjoyed your blog.

  2. My kids love it when my husband reads aloud. He is one that does all the voices. I do find myself reading very quickly. One thing that also helps me, is if I read ahead so I know what is going to happen. A lot of our books I have never read. My parents did not read to me very much as a child and I never got around to reading any of these wonderful classics on my own. So, I am getting to enjoy them all for the first time with my kiddos!:)


  3. I agree 100%. I would always bring my daughter to a library branch that was further away because they had a great reader. I was mortified when my 4, maybe 5 year old daughter, was at the closer library listening to the children's librarian read a (very good) children's book, when she looked up at me and in her loudest, whiniest, "you're killing me" voice exclaimed, "This is sooooooo boring, can we please leave?" Well, that was the last time I made her sit through one their reading programs. It was boring and it was boring me, too, great children's classic or not.

    A great book for homeschooling parents, which I think should be mandatory reading, is Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook. It is packed with information and great suggestions. In fact, I just checked his website and he has 40 chapter excerpts.

    Here is the link to Chapter 4: The do's and don'ts of reading-aloud.

    Here is the website for the main page.

    Thanks for this post.

  4. Great ideas! Thanks for posting the reminder.

    I think I'm pretty good at reading with expression. I love "shouting" when a character shouts because it surprises my kids. I don't do different voices, just can't get my voice to do that, but I try to vary the tone and expressions I use with the different characters in a story.

    I've also found that a good way to remind myself to slow down is to actually stop and take a big breath at every period. It's especially nice after a long sentence, or after a statement that you want to have a special impact.

  5. Great tips :-)
    I think we can all relate to the boring reader somewhere in our lives, and none of us wants to be that to our own kids!

  6. I just clicked on the link for the story of your father and it is so beautifully written. Sounds like he left an exquisite legacy with his family!!

  7. You are SO RIGHT!
    My Mom held us spellbound for years with readaloud. My son hated it. I remembered, almost too late for him, that I wasn't reading a report in a meeting and should SLOW DOWN. It helped so much. I've always hammed it up with voices--just at too fast a speed!

  8. Wonderful read-aloud suggestions!

    It is easy to forget about creating excitement when you're falling behind schedule.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    Shannon@Song of my Heart

  9. I had the same experience of visiting a mother and listening to her destroy a classic by reading it in a low monotone. But I kept it in my heart that at least she had gathered her children about her and was reading to them, even with a visitor present - their time together was a priority to her. I'm sure those children loved her reading to them, boring voice or not, because she was doing it for them. The mother did apologise to me for being a dull reader, and to be honest I was staggered at her monotone - but I was also staggered at the love of the six children of various ages cuddled up around her, all enthralled by her gift to them.

    However, I took away the lesson of keeping my voice interesting. I've always done this anyway, but oh boy my readings of Tom Sawyer after that were extremely lively! So much so that I lost my voice for a week afterwards ;-)

  10. This reminds me of what I learned when doing plays with my 8th grade Sunday School class. Our teacher was a theater major and had some great advice. One thing I remember the most is to speak much slower than you think you should.

    I had never thought of translating that to reading aloud. I sometimes read so quickly that I completely miss that I need to put particular inflections on the sentence. I have to back up and read it again. Slowing down would help with that.


  11. Anonymous9.10.08

    Thank you for the reminder :-)

  12. I guess since I have been doing the read alouds for so long,even before I had kids, it's second nature to me. Excellent point.

  13. Good advice!
    I had my hand over my mouth today as I was reading ... to sound like a knight in shining armor speaking!

    p.s. Somehow, my Blogroll is gone from my nature you know about it?

  14. Keri,
    Blogrolling has been hacked and is not working right now. I suspect it will be fixed soon.

  15. I love-love-love to read aloud! I do all the voices. ;) I was into drama before teaching and have continued to use those lessons when I was a classroom teacher and now as a mom/teacher.
    This is the reason we don't go to the local Storytime at the Library. The lady who runs it is sweet enough, but b-o-r-i-n-g to listen to. A little excitement goes a long way!

  16. Good reminder! I've always read stories aloud like this, but it made me think that maybe I should pull some of it into our history text. It really should sound more exciting. We're still reading about it after hundreds or thousands of years, aren't we? Maybe, cliff-hanger ending on what happened to the Nubians of the Kush. How many of the Pilgrims can possibly survive this first winter? Will Henry VII behead his third wife? Find out tomorrow... at school. I can hear the dramatic music in the background!

    It was also nice to hear about your dad reading to you. I think so many (but maybe not enough)people have this most lovely memory of our parents spending that special time with us. Lovely post.

  17. Excellent post! Can I pat myself on the back for already doing these things? ;-) I've been reading aloud to the kids at bedtime for more than 10 years now - I think it's my favorite time of day. (Okay, knowing that the kids are just about to go to bed *might* have something to do with it, too, LOL.) I think reading together every day is a great thing to do for your kids.

  18. really great ideas. We need to get back to doing read alouds.

  19. When I started homeschooling, I asked my Aunt, a voice teacher how to preserve my speaking voice. She advised that I be sure to breath at comas, not go very long with out a breath, not push for volume, and use a higher register of my voice for long passages, that, that part was actually stronger than a low voice. I now read aloud about 4 long chapters a day without loosing my voice. Even if we aren't doing regular school, so I don't get out of practice.