Legendary author Mem Fox reveals seven things teachers can do to bring life to ‘Read Alouds’.
Mem Fox has impacted countless writers, readers, creators, teachers, families and children worldwide.
Mem is an internationally acclaimed author with over 40 children’s books to her name, including the iconic ‘Possum Magic’, which is still prominent in Australia after 37 years.
She joined fellow literacy experts Phil and Sharon Callen on episode 18 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy revealing how to capture the hearts and minds of students through literature and Read Alouds.
“Read Alouds are a joy, and for teachers, not just for kids. It’s such a pleasure. It transforms your whole relationships. There’s so much laughter, there’s so much cuteness and giggles,” she said.
Mem said there are seven things teachers can do during Read Alouds to bring emotion and truly enthral students with the story.
“The author will tell you what to do. The words tell you … and you need to stand aside from yourself as you’re reading the book and say, ‘am I being boring? Have I gone at the right moment?’ You just sort of need to practice a little tiny bit,” she said.
“Three of them are contrasts, or double contrasts. So you can go loud, and you can go soft, which always gets them in. But you can’t go soft if the stories are hard, you’ve got to obey the author.
“You can do high and low. So you’re not with a monotone with your boring voice, you can go high, and you can go low, and higher and higher and higher … and you can go fast and slow.
“So that’s six things you can do. The other thing that you can do, the seventh thing, which works like a charm on people in any speech and in any situation you’re in, is the pause. As soon as you stop people think, ‘whoa what’s going on? What’s happening here?’ And their eyes are just absolutely fixed on the reader, whether it’s a parent, whether it’s a child, whether it’s a teacher … the pause is fantastic.
“So please don’t read with just a monotone. It just doesn’t work for the children or for yourself … And this is for picture books and for novels. This is whatever we’re reading aloud.”
Mem said the number one mistake to avoid when approaching Read Alouds is to spend too long on an introduction, which can immediately disengage children from the entire activity.
“This was what we were telling people to do … hold up the picture book and show the cover and talk about the cover. Talk about the author – ‘oh, we’ve read that author before. We love him though. He’s so funny. And what is the title of the book? Should we all say it together? What’d you think it might be about?’ Cut out that introduction, do no introduction whatsoever,” she said.
“The story is always what will engage the children. The first line is what will engage the children. I have seen very noisy classes climbing off the walls, sitting still because of the rhythm, the sheer rhythm of a first-line. The tone of the language, the tone of your voice, getting into this story straight away, you will be surprised … Of course, there are always resistors, but I tell you what, by the end of the story, the resistors have given in, they’re listening. It is absolutely astounding.
“So that’s the first thing I want to say. If you’re going to read a book to children, don’t do a long introduction, because this teaching interferes with learning. It sounds insulting, but honestly we do sometimes just get in the way of all the benefits that can accrue from a certain way of doing things. We need to step back a bit.”
Sharon added: “Sometimes we don’t trust ourselves and we don’t trust the children or the book. And we can trust all of those by not over-complicating things, we can trust ourselves to bring this. We’re doing the very best thing just by reading it”.
Mem further explained the last line of a book is just as impactful as the first, and teachers need to take their time with the conclusion of a story.
“The first line is a fish hook and the children are the fish, so you must get the first line right. The last line has to be said very, very slowly and do not speak afterwards. Do not speak, do not ask a question. Don’t ruin the story by quickly asking a question. Let that feather fall to the floor, instead of a golf ball falling to the floor and you coming in and saying, ‘well, what do you think of that?’ Or just let the children speak first, perhaps. And if there’s total silence, then of course you can speak and say, ‘well, I really liked that. And what I loved about that was this. What did you love about it?'” she said.
The power of Read Alouds also comes from repetition and reading a book multiple times – a powerful tool to help students improve their literacy learning.
“It is a good thing. The more you read a book, the more children pick up … they look at the illustrations, they get the rhyme, rhythm and repetition. They get the prediction, which is incredibly important in reading to get the strategy of being able to predict what’s coming next. And the more they hear it, the more they remember it,” Mem said.
“And then when they’ve got the book themselves, they can pretend to read it. They won’t get every single word, but they can turn the pages and see the right words on the right page. And eventually, with explicit teaching, the children will be able to read the book.”
Finally, Read Alouds are crucial in helping children embrace the three elements of the language, the world and the print.
“Kids with lots of language find learning to read easy because they’ve listened to so many books. They understand language, they understand how the world works and they understand how print works. Every single thing that we read, we bring those three things to what we’re readings to predict what’s going to happen,” Mem explained.
“It becomes part of the classroom culture and it becomes an important part of the curriculum.”