Meeting the needs and interests of all the kids at your Read-Aloud can be tricky, especially when you have a group ranging from tots to tweens. Careful planning, including choosing the right books, is critical to success. Here are some tips and strategies to try with age-diverse groups.
Pick Read-Aloud topics that have wide age appealBroader themes tend to work better because you have a wider range of books to choose from and because you can find an aspect of the theme that will appeal to young and old. For example, monsters, dinosaurs, music, wordless books or universal experiences (like birthdays or going to school) work well.
Not as good are very specific themes, like Christopher Columbus (or another specific famous person), unless you can find great books for all ages. Teddy bears isn’t as good a theme as bears in general because an older kid is less likely to be interested in teddy bears, but might like grizzly, polar or koala bears. (Yes, I know a koala isn’t actually a bear, but that could be an interesting discussion at your Read-Aloud.)
Don't expect all the kids at any Read-Aloud to want to, or be able to, listen to the same books. You may find one or two that will work well for the whole group, but be prepared with a variety of books that will appeal to different age groups and interests. That being said, there are a few genres of books that have the flexibility to be used with a variety of ages.
Wordless books and interactive books
Interactive books are books that have some feature that engages the kids beyond a regular picture book, either by encouraging movement, touch, verbal or mental interaction, or with their graphic design. Books with flaps, textures, sounds or pop-ups are interactive books, as are search-and-find books, like Where's Waldo, or books where you get to choose the course of the story, like Choose Your Own Adventure books. Press Here is a simple picture book where the reader seemingly makes the illustrations change by following directions.
PoetryPoetry works well with a cross-section of ages because much of it relies on rhyme and meter and it is quick and fun. Some poems are very short, some are silly and some are serious, making it easy to find different poems to suit the various kids at your group. Try song lyrics in a poetry Read-Aloud, too.
Shel Silverstein is a favorite for all ages. His funny poems capture everyday experiences with rhymes to please the little ones, word play for the elementary school-aged set and wit (and sometimes a little edge) for the tweens and teens in your group.
Fairy and folk tales
Fairy and folk tales work well with different ages because they come from an oral tradition. Their basic familiar structure, often including repetition, naturally allows you to tell the story in a simple way or a more elaborate way, depending on the sophistication of the listener. For generations, storytellers have embellished or streamlined the same stories to fit the occasion and their listening audience. Thankfully, many picture book authors and illustrators have done the same thing, creating many versions of the same basic story.
Many kids are familiar with some fairy or folk tales, so the stories engage their background knowledge and allow them to make up their own versions or retellings. Fractured fairy tales -- unusual twists on the original story -- are great fun with older kids who appreciate how they differ from the original. Many cultures have versions of the some basic tales adapted for their traditions, allowing for a multicultural angle.
A word of caution: Be sure to read all the versions you choose all the way through BEFORE you take them to the Read-Aloud. They may contain twists or content that you don’t want to bring up.
For more information, here are some links to related blog posts and Reading Road Maps:Rhyme time! 3/31/2014
By choosing Read-Aloud themes and books that are well suited to multi-age groups, you'll be well on your way to a fun and story-filled experience for everyone. Our next blog post will explore activities that include movement or encourage creativity that work especially well with a variety of ages.
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