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, June 18, 2013

Now boarding on platform 9 3/4...

Have you ever used a manual typewriter? Have you ever seen a tumbleweed or a coal chute? If you haven’t, it would be hard to understand some of our favorite Read-Aloud books:  Click Clack Moo:  Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion and Tumbleweed Stew by Susan Stevens Crummel.

To help kids get the most out of books you are reading aloud with them, it’s a good idea to read through the books, looking for words or situations with which the kids might be unfamiliar. Sometimes words or concepts will be unfamiliar because they are old fashioned—like manual typewriters or coal chutes. Sometimes geography (take tumbleweeds for instance) or simply opportunity will be the factor preventing understanding. 

This kind of broad vocabulary and life experience is called background knowledge, and it is crucial to reading comprehension. It is your job, as an experienced person and reader, to look for stumbling blocks to understanding in the books you've chosen, and think of ways to remove those blocks for the kids. Here’s an example:

King's Cross Station
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is supposed to take a train to his new school, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He instructed to go to King’s Cross train station where the Hogwarts Express, his train, will be waiting at Platform 9 ¾. If you've never ridden on a train, like an AMTRAK train, the idea of a platform for a train might not make any sense. After all, a platform can be a stage or a shoe or a political thing, too. And the fanciful idea that there could be a train platform 9 ¾ would be lost on the kids.  How can there be a 3/4ths kind of place?

If you were reading that passage to the kids, you’d need to stop and talk about train stations and platforms. You could ask “What is a platform?”  “How do you think Harry will find his train?” It might even help to have some pictures to show the kids. (Google Images is your friend.) 

In addition to explaining what a word means, it also helps to make a connection between the new word or idea and the kids’ experience. For example, you could say, “Have you ever ridden on the metro or on a subway? The place where you stand and wait to get on the train is the platform.” And then you could talk about how they might have figured out which train to take when they were standing on the platform. That kind of connection helps kids apply their new vocabulary word or experience not only to the current story you are reading with them, but also in other situations in their lives.

Sometimes when you are reading with kids, you'll stumble upon words or ideas they are unfamiliar with and you just need to take a minute to explore and explain. But it would be even better if you had a chance to prepare in advance, so take a minute when you are looking over books to read with kids and think about, not just how you might read it to them, but also how you can build their background knowledge.

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