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, September 9, 2013

Channeling high energy into active learning

A recent article in The Atlantic by author and middle-school teacher Jessica Lahey focused on making classroom environments more welcoming to boys. It got me thinking about ways to channel all kids' natural energy into active learning about books and reading.

Instead of endlessly shushing kids and telling them to sit still, why not tap into their natural need to move and inherent curiosity and creativity? The Atlantic article I mentioned above cites a study about classroom techniques that are especially successful with boys. It also points out that these methods can be used effectively with both boys and girls. Here are some of the techniques, adapted to pertain to reading aloud with a group of children.

While preparing to read with kids, look at the books you are using and think about ways you can:

  • Make the experience more dramatic by using novelty or surprise.
    If the kids are expecting a straightforward read-through, delight them with props or change your voice to differentiate between characters. Use varied pacing as you read to build suspense. Have more than one adult read the story aloud together. Try Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka with two people.

  • Encourage independent, personal discoveries and realizations by helping kids connect what you are reading with something they already know. Allow time for discussion that lets the kids have an "Aha!" moment where they can connect something they already know or have experienced with what you are reading. While reading, ask questions like, “Does this remind you of anything?” or “How do you feel about what just happened?” Watch the light bulb go on over their heads and their excitement build as new knowledge clicks with old.

When you are planning reading-related activities, think about ones that:
  • Result in an end product.  Encouraging kids to apply their own creativity to a topic they've just read about builds both motivation and comprehension. Think superhero masks, rain sticks, flip books or anything the kids can create and take with them. The best kinds of projects are related to the theme and open-ended, allowing for creativity and interpretation.
  • Require a combination of competition and teamwork. Sometimes we learn best from each other. Games and team projects allow kids to share knowledge and support each other's learning. Get kids to start accessing their background knowledge about a specific Read-Aloud theme by playing Jeopardy or a trivia game before you start reading. Or, strengthen their comprehension about the theme by playing a related game after reading. At a recent Read-Aloud at Columbia Grove about fish, a volunteer created a game with pictures of different kinds of fish that the kids, working in teams, organized according to different criteria:  fresh water vs. salt water, smallest to largest, predator and prey. 
  • Require motor activity. Some kids learn best by moving. Physical activities such as doing puzzles or running relay races related to your theme, or acting out a story let the kids use a different part of their brain during the reading process. More generally, taking a break from reading to play Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, or using TRC’s activity cube or Energizers can help kids better focus on the reading experience.
Encouraging kids to use their energy to be actively engaged in listening to, thinking about, talking about and understanding books makes for better learning and more fun for everyone!

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