TRC Read to Kids

Welcome to The Reading Connection’s blog, where you’ll find the best guidance on reading aloud to kids. Whether you are a TRC Read-Aloud volunteer, parent or student, the book themes and crafts ideas, child development guidelines and recommended websites will expand your world. For 25 years, The Reading Connection has worked to improve the lives of at-risk kids by linking the magic of reading to fun experiences that inspire a passion for learning. Visit our website at

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Setting the Stage for a Book

What you do before you begin reading is just as important to a Read-Aloud as the book itself. Setting the stage for whatever book you're going to read is a critical part of a Read-Aloud, and for a young reader it can make the difference between a good time and a depressingly school-like experience. One of the immediate goals of a Read-Aloud is for the kids to enjoy themselves. For that to happen, they need to feel comfortable and get excited about the story. 

This is another reason that it's important to be familiar with the book you're going to read. What is the setting of the book? What decisions do the characters face? What are some themes that young readers might relate to? Here are some techniques for setting the stage and getting kids involved before the first page is turned.

Set the stage, literally.
ARHA volunteers set the scene for an ocean themed
Read-Aloud with a fishing game and beach visors.
At a Read-Aloud at ARHA last summer, one team announced that the theme of the day was going to be the beach and then emptied a bag full of brightly colored towels on to the floor! The kids had a blast choosing towels and spreading them out on the floor to sit on. They even put on sunscreen!

Doing something special to get prepared for a story goes a long way toward putting kids in a story-time mood, and sitting on a beach towel while listening to a story about the beach gives them something to relate to. The technique of saying, "We're going to read a story about the beach, so we'd better get ready to go to the beach!" creates a sense of anticipation for the story.

This technique can be recreated for many different themes, and you can take it as far as you want to.

Ask questions.
"Have any of you ever been to the beach?" "What's your favorite thing to do there?" "Do you like to swim?" "What happens when a wave hits you?" "What kind of food do you eat at the beach?"  Asking the kids questions not only gets them involved intellectually and makes them feel valued, but also leads them directly into the story.

Don't be afraid to talk about the subject before the story has even started--a good book makes it easy to strike up conversation! It'll get the kids thinking about the topic and their natural curiosity will lead them to listen as you read about it.  Getting the kids thinking about the Read-Aloud topic before you start reading will also increase their understanding of the story.  It's called "activating background knowledge" and it is a key part of reading comprehension.

Introduce the activities before you start the story.
If your theme is baking and you're planning on decorating cupcakes after the story, say that at the beginning: "How many of you like cupcakes? Well, we're going to hear a story about a boy who makes the most beautiful cupcakes and then we're going to decorate some ourselves!"

All of these techniques are about getting kids engaged with the theme. Everyone is more likely to listen to material they're interested in, and having something to look forward to will help young readers get excited and engaged. For kids who are unfamiliar with or apathetic toward reading, knowing there are interesting stories out there and learning that reading isn't something that you only do in school will make them feel more positive toward books and reading in general. So: set the stage, get in the mood, and have a great time reading!

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

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