Children of all ages love stories and being read aloud to can be a special treat.
The following storytelling tips will help you and the children to get as much out of the experience as possible.
Selecting books to read aloud.
Try and ensure that the stories and activities you have planned are appropriate for the age group you will be reading to (for example, picture books with limited text are likely to appeal to children between 4 and 7, stories with short chapters to 6 to 8 year-olds, and “choose your adventure” books work well with 9 to 11 year-olds).
The most important thing to remember is that enthusiasm counts for more than experience.
YOUR READING VOICE.
Make sure that the stories you choose are ones you like and will enjoy reading. Also, be sure they are good stories for reading aloud. It is essential to practice reading aloud the books you intend to use in advance of the session. Your reading voice will become more assured, and the children’s storytelling experience will be more enjoyable.
First, try the stories out several times on your own – how do they sound? Imagine the characters, their intonation, and so on. If you want to differentiate between the voices of different characters, you do not need to change the accent or pitch of your voice. Instead, you could talk more hesitantly for a timid character, more confidently for a hero and so on. Another idea to try is to think about how you tell a favourite anecdote to your friends and apply that style to the stories you read. Practising on friends, colleagues or younger relations will provide you with valuable feedback.
Once you start to gain confidence in front of children, try a bit of dramatic expression. So, if there is a scary moment, try gasping and looking frightened – children will think it’s funny if you seem more scared than they are. You could also use silly voices for different characters (KIDS WILL LOVE IT) or change the tone of your voice (shouting, whispering, singing) wherever relevant. This keeps the children’s attention and will make the storytelling more fun for you, as well.
As you practise reading, look for parts of the story where the children can join in – for example, repetitive phrases such as “There’s a shark in the park!” or “I don’t like peas!” Kids will love taking part by shouting these out in chorus.
Also, look out for themes you can ask questions about – for example, “Who’s seen a shark?”, “What’s your favourite thing in the park?” or “What food don’t you like?”.
If you have a long story and some sections seem unnecessary, it is fine to skip them but decide what you’re going to omit in advance. Try and find stories that are no more than five to ten minutes long, so that the children’s attention doesn’t wander. They will get more out of three short stories of five minutes each than a longer one that lasts fifteen minutes.
ON THE DAY/SETTING THE SCENE.
Make sure that there are as few as possible distractions around you – if you’re inside, sit in front of a plain wall rather than an exciting bookshelf or a window, if outside, find a spot on the grass away from fountains, picnic benches or playground toys if possible.
Place your chair on a level slightly above that of your audience and make eye contact with everyone. You should be able to see all the children from where you are sitting or standing. Move them around if necessary. Ask the teachers if there are any particularly lively (disruptive is too negative) children and sit them in the front row so you can keep an eye on them. Giving them a little special attention before you begin the story can help them to feel less need to compete with you for attention while you are reading.
It is important to let children know whether they are expected to interact with your story and, if so, how. Some storytellers like to have complete silence before they begin so that the children are focused on the story and the person reading it.
When your audience consists of very young children, you can encourage them to be quiet by using imaginative props – for example, a little bell is very useful. Tell the children that, before you begin, you’d like to make sure everyone is able to hear the story, so you are going to have a “quiet spell” first. Get their attention and cooperation by saying that everyone needs to concentrate for the magic to work and, once you have relative silence, ring the bell and begin the story.
If you want the children to feel relaxed or you have a very quiet group, you can begin the session by letting them make some noise! This will help them to feel less shy and more confident about asking questions or making comments later in the session. A great opener is to introduce yourself by name, then ask children to shout “Hello James!” (or whatever your name is).
The golden rule: Be as expressive as possible – if you are having fun, the children will too!
Don’t feel that you have to stick strictly to the text on each page. Talk about the pictures, ask the children what they can see (take time to hold the book up for everyone to look), what they think is going to happen on the next page and so on before you read them the actual text.
You will find this very easy once you get started.
SOUND EFFECTS, ACTIONS, AND REPETITION.
Farmyard or jungle stories are an obvious opportunity for sound effects – ask the children to make the noises of each animal as they appear in the story. Other good sound effects that you can demonstrate for children before asking them to join in are the wind (whistling and blowing), somebody or something running (stamping of feet), sudden loud noises (hand clap or shout “bang!”), aliens (high pitched beeps and gurgles) or cars (brrrm brrrm sounds). Use your imagination and any props you have available or can bring along with you.
1. “There’s a Shark in the Park” by Nick Sharratt (ages 4 to 7)
Timothy Pope goes to the park with his new telescope, but each time he looks through it, he thinks he can spot a shark.
Repeated throughout the book is the line “He looked left, he looked right, he looked up, he looked down, and he looked all around,” accompanied by pictures of Timothy doing just that.
Get the children to make their telescope by forming their hands into a tube they can look through, and off they go!
2. “Daisy: Eat your Peas” by Kes Gray (ages 4 to 8 )
Daisy’s mum promises no end of rewards if Daisy will just eat the last few peas on her plate.
Get the children to pretend to be Daisy as she dismisses each bribe with a cry of “I don’t like peas!”
You can also ask the children what their favourite (or worst!) dinner is or ask them to draw a picture of it if resources are available. This works really well if you’ve got paper plates for them the draw their dinners on!
3.” Good news! Bad news!” by Colin McNaughton
As a young boy’s day turns from good to bad to worse, get the children to cheer and boo in response to each page’s opening phrase “Good news!” (Hooray!) or “Bad news!” (Boo!).
If the children really enjoy this book, you can encourage them to make up their own version of the story called ‘Luckily/Unluckily’ afterwards. Begin with a first-line like “One day, a little girl called Ruby woke up and found a horse staring at her from the end of her bed. Luckily, it looked like a very friendly horse…” before passing on the story to the next person, who starts their line with the word ‘unluckily’ (“Unluckily, the horse seemed to be eating her school uniform!”) You can involve the whole group (including adults and teachers) or children might prefer to do this in smaller groups of four or five.
More Good Books to Read Aloud
Ages 5 to 8
- “The Tiger who Came to Tea” by Judith Kerr
- “Wonder Goal” by Michael Foreman
- “The Worst Witch” by Jill Murphy
- “The 100 Mile an Hour Dog” by Jeremy Strong
- “The World Came to My Place Today” by Jo Readman
Ages 9 to 11
- “Awful End” by Philip Ardagh
- “Cloud Busting” by Malorie Blackman
- “Millions” by Frank Cottrell-Boyce
- “The Story of Tracy Beaker” by Jacqueline Wilson
- “Aesop’s Funky Fables” by Vivian French and Korky Paul
STORYTELLER’S TOP TIP
“…any books in which the storyteller has to make funny noises always go down well!”
I have been writing since I was very young.
I don’t always know what I write about, but I write.
The person who had the greatest influence on me as a writer was Dr Dimitris Aristidopoulos, a great Greek modern philosopher. He read one of my stories when I was, I think, 11 years old.
I will always remember what he said when he commented on my writing; it was something like:
“Brilliant! One can say with confidence that your strength is in your hand!” and he pointed to my hand!
At that moment, I thought he was talking about my handwriting, but later, I understood.
No matter what I ended up doing for a living, I should never quit writing.
At present, I am working as a specialist teaching assistant and school librarian at St Cyprian’s Greek Orthodox Primary Academy. At the same time, I am studying for my diploma to become a fully qualified teacher. I still have a long way to go. But time flies!
I finally decided that this was the best course of action for me to take. After completing my studies in Professional Translation, learning 4 foreign languages, gaining work experience as an editor for renowned Greek publishers (Vimagazino, Athinorama magazine, Eleftherotypia newspaper, Status magazine and Greece travel magazine) and obtaining my Tour Guide licence with several and amazing trips in Greece and abroad, as well as a background in jewellery design (this was a result of my contact with Mr Ilias Lalaounis after he employed me in his jewellery museum in Athens – such an inspiration!),I knew I had to write again.
I am currently focused on writing for children.
And after all, what better inspiration could be for this than actually working with children?
It’s a great pleasure and honour for me to be a member of Greek Teachers!