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

Monday, March 26, 2012

This ain't your ninth-grade English class: How to do poetry with kids!

April is National Poetry Month, providing TRC volunteers with a great excuse to delve into the world of children's poetry in their Read-Alouds. 

In addition to being different than the norm and therefore more likely to spark interest, children's poems have the plus of being short and often spaced widely on the page. The language used is usually repetitive, rhyming and unusually vivid. This (and the fact that there are poems written on nearly every subject you can imagine!) will appeal to all of the kids at your Read-Aloud.

Shel Silverstein's poetry is tried and true. Pick up a copy of A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends or Falling Up and don't forget Silverstein's posthumous collection, released in 2011, Everything On It. His poetry makes great use of off-kilter or made-up words, plays on word meanings and onomatopoeia.

Jack Prelutsky, the United States' first ever Children's Poet Laureate, is another favorite: try The New Kid on the Block or Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face. 

For an example of what you're in for, here's an excerpt from a poem of Prelutsky's entitled "As Soon as Fred Gets Out of Bed:"
"As soon as Fred gets out of bed,
his underwear goes on his head.
His mother laughs, "Don't put it there, a head's no place for underwear!" But near his ears, above his brains, is where Fred's underwear remains."

For older kids at your Read-Aloud, try Jabberwocky by Christopher Myers. This urban sports spin on the Lewis Carroll classic will surely get the kids talking. Hip Hop Speaks to Children, edited by Nikki Giovanni, may appeal to an older crowd as well.  

Of course, Poetry Month lends itself as much to activities as it does to reading ideas. Before you start reading, ask the kids what they think a poem is--you'll be surprised at how many people can't answer this question! 

Lists of rhyming words created by the Sullivan
House kids and volunteers.

Talk about rhyming and make a group list of words that rhyme. Use a white board, chalk board or flip chart. Start with a simple word and write down all the words that rhyme with it. Pick a few lines from your favorite kid's poem and clap your hands as you say them out loud to give everybody an idea of what meter is without even mentioning the term!

After reading as many poems as you and your audience can handle, put them to work writing their own! Have the kids work individually or in pairs to write poems on a subject that everybody knows about like a favorite food or outdoor place. Here are some tips about writing poetry about gardens you could adapt for your Read-Aloud.

If the kids are younger, write a poem or a story in a group. Pick a subject and have each child add one word that you write on a big sheet of paper in front of everyone. Jack Prelutsky's website offers more ideas for poetry activities, including How to Write a Funny Poem.

If you usually read storybooks at your Read-Alouds, the switch to poetry could be welcome! Take this month as an opportunity to shake things up and get silly with the combination of children's poetry and children.

Post by The Reading Connection intern Anna McCormally.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Read Kiddo Read: The inside scoop on what kids really like to read

If you love detective novels, you have probably read some of James Patterson's Alex Cross or Women's Murder Club novels. If you have teens in the house, they might have read his Maximum Ride, Witch & Wizard or Daniel X books. His mysteries and thrillers have topped the best-seller lists for years. In fact, he holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most hardcover fiction best-selling titles by one author (63!).

The man is a writing powerhouse, and now, because he is so passionate about books and reading, this award-winning author has created a website recommending great books for kids.

READKIDDOREAD is his site to help grown-ups find books kids will like. Patterson and his wife, Sue, started seeking out appealing kids books when their son was young and not enthusiastic about reading. Their experience looking for books that would excite their child was one of the inspirations for the website.

Read Patterson's piece on about how to get kids to become fanatic readers for his take on reading motivation and the importance of reading role models (like TRC volunteers!).
READKIDDOREAD is a great resource for Read-Aloud volunteers to use to inspire or plan their sessions with TRC kids. The site includes
  • great book lists by age, theme, genre or issue (like reluctant readers), 
  • reviews of books for kids ages 0 through teen, reviewed by his stable of experienced children's literature professionals and parents,
  • lesson plans for books created by publishers and educators,
  • interviews with authors and illustrators and
  • resource books for you about reading development.

To use READKIDDOREAD to plan a Read-Aloud go to the homepage and follow the steps below.
  1. Click on the tab for your age group.
  2. Click on the tab for what type of book you are looking for (storybooks, just the facts etc.).
  3. Click on a book that looks good, read the review and check out the list below the review that says, "If you love this book, then try..."  It will give you ideas for related books for your theme.
  4. Look for the title under lesson plans (on the educators tab) for ideas about activities. Look for ideas that are active and creative.
  5. Check to see if there's an interview with the authors of any of the books you've selected (also on the educators tab) for some fun background info for the kids.
  6. Take all your info and head for the library to look over copies of the suggested titles. Ask the librarian for any other books that might work well for your age range in a Read-Aloud setting.
You can also start planning your Read-Aloud by looking at the many booklists for any occasion found through the sitemap on READKIDDOREAD. The sitemap is directly below the "0-8" tab on the homepage. In fact, you may find it easiest to navigate the site using the sitemap.

While you are at the library picking up fun books for your Read-Aloud or to share with the kids in your life, reward yourself with something fun to read too! Some James Patterson, perhaps?

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Embracing Our Differences

Team 3 at ARHA's Ruby Tucker Center recently chose “Embracing Our Differences” as its Read-Aloud theme.

The team introduced its theme by asking the kids to identify differences and similarities between two of the TRC volunteers who look different (gender, race, height, etc.) but have lots in common (favorite food, love of animals, work in the same city, etc.). They captured the similarities and differences in a Venn diagram. The Venn diagram provided a visual display of how much similarity exists between these two people who look different. 

The team then showed a short video entitled "The Animal Odd Couple," which is a story of a dog and elephant becoming best friends. After watching the video, the team led a discussion about how you might miss the opportunity to have a really great friend if you only focus on exterior differences. 

Here is The Animal Odd Couple video:

The team chose the following two books for the large-group Read-Aloud:
  • I Am America by Charles R. Smith, Jr. Smith is a wonderful photographer of children. This book uses photos to show a diverse group of children doing commonplace American things.
  • It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr. Fun illustrations engage children, while the text focuses on acceptance and individuality.  

The small groups used additional books by Todd Parr along with these other theme-related titles: 

For their activity, the kids drew self-portraits. In the words of volunteer Kevin Gilliam, "Recognizing that it is just as important to help the kids take pride in what makes them an individual as it is to accept others’ differences, we asked them to draw self-portraits, making sure to include what made them unique."  

The team is excited about building on this theme in future Read-Alouds by focusing on the diversity in our communities and among our talents.

For additional activities, consider the exploration of two eggs, one with a brown shell and one with a white shell. Have kids describe the eggs' different outside appearances and inside similarities. For details on this idea, click here.  TRC also created a Read-Aloud tips based on this idea back in September of 2010. For even more book and activity ideas check it out.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

What Are You Passionate About?

It's your turn to plan the next Read-Aloud at your site and you're at a loss for a theme. Instead of planning a book or a holiday theme, think about things that excite you. Have you traveled to interesting places? Do you have a fascinating hobby? Your passion is a great place to start for a Read-Aloud theme. The kids will see how excited you are about the topic and will be eager to learn more about it.

A volunteer from the Berkeley on a trip to Africa 
reading to children at a local school.

Prepare for the Read-Aloud by asking your favorite children's librarian for books related to your passion. You'd be amazed at the information available. 

Make the topic come to life by bringing in items to show the kids. If the items aren't fragile, pass them around the group for a more hands-on experience. By showing the kids a picture of you on a safari or a figurine of an elephant that you brought back from Africa, they'll be able to connect stories or lessons about Africa to this real-life experience you had, and the experience they had with you! 

Kids at the Berkeley are really excited about their
camping Read-Aloud in a tent.

Plan an activity where the kids can experience an element of your passion, whether it's trying on special clothes, learning new movements or exercises, reading a map or learning a new skill. Are you an avid soccer player or basketball fan? Read books about the sport, have a discussion about favorite teams and positions and teach them a few basics. Are you passionate about your job? Use your day job as your theme! Find books about your job that relate to kids. See if your organization has kid-friendly goodies that you could bring to the kids. Teach the kids special words related to your passion.

Remember, the idea is to give the kids background knowledge about a topic so when they encounter it again, they'll have some context. Building background knowledge is a crucial element in developing reading comprehension skills.  

Still stuck about what your passions might include? Think about these categories:
  • Places you've traveled or travel in general
  • Your ethnicity or where you're from
  • A favorite sport that you play or follow
  • A crafting hobby (painting, knitting, scrap-booking)
  • An outdoor hobby (camping, hiking, skiing, boating, gardening)
  • Your favorite food or cooking, baking, grilling, canning
  • A favorite animal
  • A favorite art form (music, visual art, dance, theater)
Passion is contagious and all-consuming. The more kids see that you're into the topic, the more they'll be engaged in the Read-Aloud and the less they'll get distracted or act out.

To receive credit for this online training, please fill out the form here.