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Literacy Building through Enhanced Read-Aloud & Storytelling

Storyteller John Weaver

Avoid the monotone! Add some excitement to your classroom read-aloud time, and you AND your students will reap the benefits!

Introduce the authors

People make books. We can make books. Introduce the listener to the people who made the book: the author (who wrote the words), and the illustrator (who drew the pictures). Are their photos in the back? Where do they come from, and have they made any other books? If we love the book we are reading together right now, perhaps we would like to find & read more books by these people.

Bring the book to life!

We know a book is more than just words on a page; when you read to another person, you need to express that fact! Your pace, tone, volume help bring meaning to the text.

 Give the characters voice!

An elephant probably sounds different from a pig probably sounds different from a kind grandmother probably sounds different from a grumpy neighbor. Make that clear by trying on some different voices for each character. Even the narration of the book might be delivered most effectively in a voice different than your normal, everyday tone.

Read-aloud time is a 2-way street.

Talk it out!

Boost comprehension by asking questions, and inviting the children to make predictions. Talk about the book afterward, as well. Ask “what if” questions. Ask open-ended questions; discuss your favorite characters, and whether you know anyone like them in real life. 

Notice the art.

Again: A person made this art. How did they do it? In the art of Ezra Jack Keats, one can clearly make out elements of painting & collage, with frequent use of newsprint & even the occasional photograph. The “Pigeon” series by Mo Willems features simple line drawings utilizing basic shapes. I’ll often ask children, “do you think you can picture like this?” Some will say yes, others no, and I will say, “you can if you practice!” With the Pigeon books, I’ve often paused to draw the character on the board, discussing as I go: “there’s a circle for the head, a circle inside that for the eye, a black dot inside that, and then two triangles for the beak…” Tie art lessons into your reading!

Notice the text.

Point at the words of the title as you read it. The print means something. Sometimes pre-readers will challenge me on what I’ve just read in a book, because they think the picture is hinting at something else. I can say, “well, I know it’s an ape, because right here it says ‘a-p-e,’ which spells ‘ape!’” In some books, the text can hint at how the book is to be read: “oh, this character must be yelling, because look how THE WORDS ARE ALL IN CAPITAL, OR UPPER-CASE, LETTERS!”

No fear!

Surely you’re not afraid to make a fool of yourself while you read. “Funny” voices, differences in volume & pace, wild gesticulation—heck, you are going to be a hero, not a fool! Do it for the good of the kids.

Take turns.

If you have the opportunity to have other people read for your class, take advantage of that. It’s great for kids to see multiple people reading to them; they get to see & hear different styles, and they grow to appreciate that reading is a valuable & enjoyable practice for many people. Other teachers, parents, the principal, older students—get them in there with a book in their hands! Also, if there’s a book that you just don’t love (to put it mildly), this is your opportunity for someone else to do the dirty work. On the other hand, in some cases it can be valuable to share a book you don’t care for, and then talk about why you do not like it.

See where the story takes you.

There are the lessons you might plan around a book: math, art, social studies—or no plan at all, just pure enjoyment—and then there’s the emergent curriculum, which the children suggest based on sparks they pick up from your reading. Pay attention to the discussions that follow the reading of a book, and consider how you can use the students’ enthusiasm to boost your educational goals.

How about storytelling? Ask the students to put themselves in the place of a character from the book, or to create a “further adventure” of that character. Take turns telling the story before it is time to write it down & create a book to share. Storytelling before writing helps the student organize their thoughts & gauge audience reaction—it’s a great pre-writing step!

Keep the books around—and listen.

Make the book—and extra copies, if possible—available for free-reading time. Give the kids the opportunity to share the book aloud, and listen to the dynamic performances!

Share with families.

Keep families abreast of classroom reading. Share links to the book on the local library website, and encourage families to read the book together at home. Get the children talking about the stories, and their own writing, at home. It’s all about sharing the love, and the benefit, of reading.

Try Storytelling.

Pick up some folktales from your libraries. Try trickster or “noodlehead” stories, or “how and why” stories, which kids love. Find a favorite simple enough for you to learn, and share it with your class, using your engaging skills you demonstrate as a reader. Have the kinds of discussions you’d have after reading a book—and then invite your students to be storytellers and authors. What do you think the character looks like? How would you make her sound? Have the children work on making their own stories of these genres. When it comes to writing time, pair up students as authors & illustrators to create an amazing classroom library to share!

You can tie storytelling to just about every area of your curriculum (stories don’t have to be fiction), and you can almost without even trying tie storytelling into the Common Core Standards. The practice boosts comprehension of language and content, introduces vocabulary and tropes, and is a great pre-writing exercise. For an in-depth look at how to take advantage of all of the benefits storytelling offers in meeting Common Core goals, read “Storytelling and the Common Core Standards,” created by the Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance, and available at

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