Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Being Creative With Oral Reading for Young Readers

1. Because oral reading offer some important functions
  • It helps teachers and parents to observe and make 'visible' children's reading processes (what's going on in their heads)
  • It helps children to develop reading fluency and it supports vocabulary development
  • It can help us to assess reading progress and diagnose difficulties
  • It's a skill for life that we don't want to lose
I've written about oral reading before covering a variety of topics, including:

How to listen to children reading (HERE & HERE),
The importance of reading to and with children (HERE), and
Readers' Theatre (HERE).

Teachers have known for a long time that oral reading can be a valuable instructional method, but sadly, for many children, reading around the group (or worse still the class) kills interest and motivation. But we know from research that 'repeated readings' can improve fluency and ability (e.g. Stoddart & others 1993, Rasinski 1990, Rasinski & Hoffman 2003). So how can we move beyond 'round robin' reading and embrace more creative and enjoyable approaches to oral reading?

In this post I want to offer some suggestions for how teachers and parents can make oral reading more effective, as well as enjoyable and even fun!

2. Making it fun and enjoyable

Above: Bec reads to her day-old sister
How can we make repeated or oral reading fun? Here are some key elements to help achieve this.

1. Choose appropriate material for your children - use graded material at varied levels; favourite passages from books the class has heard or read (e.g. Roald Dahl or Dr Seuss books work); jokes & riddles; poetry or songs that they know; speeches and famous quotes.
2. Ensure that students are reading at their appropriate level.
3. Use varied strategies and avoid simply reading around the group.

3. Some alternative strategies

Most of the ideas that follow can be found in a great article by Mary Ann Cahill and Anne E. Gregory published in 'The Reading Teacher'. Here is their description of oral reading in a US 2nd grade classroom they had worked in:
'One pair is rolling dice and using different voices to read; a small group is reading to small, plastic animals on their desks; three students are wearing masks while reading; and another pair is using little, red-beamed flashlights to shine on each word as they read.'
What are some simple novel ways to help children remain motivated and enjoy oral reading?

Above: Evie reads to her pet cat
1. Read to prepare for performance - By this I mean, putting exciting material in children's hands, letting them practice and then asking them to share it with a group or the class (e.g. read a favourite section from a book, read a song, silly poem etc).
2. Try Readers' Theatre - I've written about this before (HERE). Obtain some free scripts and let your children have fun reading together in small groups to present the scripts to others.
3. Read to someone or something - This might seem strange, but some teachers get their children to read not to other people but to other 'things'. A number of classes in the UK and the US have had children read regularly to a school dog (read more HERE) with great success and benefits. Some creative teachers have had their children read to plastic dinosaurs (!), a favourite doll etc.
4. Some turn it into a game such as 'Reading Dice' - This involves getting children to discuss the different voices a character could have for a reading extract; they then write 6 of them on the board and giving them the numbers 1-6. They then have children work in pairs or groups to take turns, roll the dice and use the voice that matches the number.
5. Newsreader or media presenter - Teachers have a microphone (it can be a fake one) and ask children in pairs to conduct an interview for an appropriate extract.
6. Reading Masks - the children practice reading passages using the voice and persona of the mask they are wearing (these can be animals, super heroes etc).
7. Use songs for reading - The use of songs has the added advantage that the rhythm, sound repetition, melody etc can be used to support reading (see my recent post on this topic HERE)

Summing up

Oral reading is a valuable instructional tool and has been neglected of late. It has also been misused for many years with the effect that some children have found it less than rewarding. But it can and should be enjoyable and fun. I'd love to hear of your own experiences with oral reading. Do you have any great ideas? Post a comment. 

A useful reference

Mary Ann Cahill & Anne E. Gregory (2011). Putting the fun back into fluency instruction, The Reading Teacher, Vol. 65, No. 2, pp 127-131.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Eight Great New Picture Books (1-7 years)

1. 'Princess Cora and the Crocodile' by Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrated by Brian Floca

With the incredible team of Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz and Caldecott Medal winner Brian Floca, it is no surprise that this new book is wonderful.

Princess Cora is sick of boring lessons. She’s sick of running in circles around the dungeon gym. She’s sick, sick, sick of taking three baths a day. Her princess life leaves little room for the ordinary things of life - like a pet dog! Enter her fairy godmother who doesn't supply a dog but a crocodile!

This is a book that will resonate with many children who will know what it is to have an over-scheduled and regulated life. And perhaps, it might challenge a few adults to see the benefits of simple things. Laura Schlitz has created a memorable and authentic modern fairytale that is brought to life by the illustrative brilliance of Brian Floca's work. Children aged 4-7 will love this book either to listen to, or read themselves.

2. 'Ollie's Treasure: Happiness is Easy to Find if You Just Know Where to Look!' by Lynn Jenkins & illustrated by Kirrili Lonergan

This is the delightful story of a small rat named Ollie and his grandmother who helps him to learn that often fun and satisfaction can be found in the simplest and most surprising of places.

Ollie's grandma sends him on a treasure hunt using a map that promises to lead him to 'something that will make him happy always'. Little does Ollie know that the things that will make him happy are not toys, or gadgets or the customary places that children often turn to for pleasure and fun, but rather in the simple things of life.

His grandmother's treasure map takes him on a journey that requires him to use his senses to explore his world. It comes as a surprise to find joy and pleasure in smelling the roses, gazing at the sky, feeling the grass beneath his feet and savouring the tastes, smells and sounds in his world.

A story that points to the value of mindfulness for our children in a world of hustle, bustle and gadgets.

3. 'Double Take! A New Look at Opposites' by Susan Hood & illustrated by Jay Fleck

This delightful picture book that tackles the language of opposites, does so with some surprising differences. First, the retro cartoon-like illustrations of Jay Fleck are delightful. But second, Susan Hood's text is linguistically rich, quirky and tackles opposites in some surprising ways.

Who knows what is BIG
unless there is small?

Does short measure up
except next to TALL?

And of course:

A racer's called FAST
when rivals are SLOW 

The book offers a new, engaging and entertaining perspective on opposites.
Prolific author Susan Hood and illustrator Jay Fleck have created a wonderful book that children aged 3-6 will listen to and read many times.

4. 'Ambulance Ambulance!' by Sally Sutton & illustrated by Brian Lovelock

I've enjoyed and reviewed the wonderful work of award winning Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock before on this blog. Their attraction to big machines is a topic that many young readers enjoy, and previous books like 'Construction' and 'Roadwork' are great examples. They have teamed up again for 'Ambulance Ambulance!'.

Once again, the same simple, bright and action packed images support the simple text that exploits rhyme, onomatopoeia and action.

Bleep, bleep. Emergency! News just through: Crash, crash, there’s been a crash. Let’s go, crew!

Nee nar nee nar nee nar nee nar ...

Now what child 3-5 years old won't join in a shared reading of this book!
5. 'Raymond' written & illustrated by Yann & Gwendal Le Bec

This wonderful French team gave us 'Danny' and now 'Raymond'.

What if dogs could walk and talk and go to work? Well, Raymond the dog has big ambitions beyond his ordinary, canine life in the big city. He wants to take himself for a walk and get his own dinner. And when he’s done all that? 

Children will love the cartoon-like bright images, the simple text and the quirky story of a previously very happy family dog who one day looks up at his family dining together and 'has a thought (a rather big thought for a dog) ... couldn't I just sit at the table? Isn't that what families do?'

Of course, it wasn't going to stop there. Trips to the theatre, supermarket and nights at home, were suddenly different. And Raymond discovers a magazine that will change his life even more - 'Dogue'!

Soon, he wants a job, just like his owners. But when Raymond begins a high-flying journalism career at Dogue magazine, he soon realizes it’s no walk in the park… The wonderful 'visual' humour, as well as the delight of the text will mean that children, parents and teachers will just love this book! 

6. 'A Kiwi Year: Twelve Months in the Life of New Zealand's Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tina Snerling

This book is the latest in a wonderful series that helps children to understand the different lives that children lead around the world. Each book takes the reader through a typical year to reveal the everyday celebrations, cultural events, special holidays, sport and lifestyle.

I have reviewed previous titles by this team on my blog - 'An Aussie Year', 'A Scottish Year' and 'An English Year' (HERE). Now it's time to find out what life is like in 'A Kiwi Year'. Each book in the series begins by introducing us to five children from diverse backgrounds. We then follow them through the year. As the seasons change, so too do the things children play, celebrate, learn and do. In January, some play 'cricket', plant veggies in the garden, go camping and enjoy summer holidays. In February, there are celebrations for Chinese New Year, Valentine's Day and hot weather at the height of summer. In March, there is a national Maori celebration (New Zealand's First People), the celebration of Pacific communities, 'Children's Day', and homework!

Children will love this simple but effective introduction to the life and culture of people from another land. Tina Snerling's wonderful images will have children wanting to dip into the book many times.

7. 'A Canadian Year: Twelve Months in the Life of Canada's Kids' by Tania McCartney & illustrated by Tina Sterling

Just as with 'A Kiwi Year', children are given an insight into the life and culture of another country - this time Canada! All the books in this splendid series offer so much more than any geography text for children ever could. The teacher in me wants to race off to a classroom to share this book as a basis for a whole unit of work on Canada.

What better way to understand a nation's history, social and cultural practices, natural wonders, climate and more. Children have the chance to view another culture through the eyes and experiences of the children who live it every day. Wonderful stuff! The texts are carefully crafted by Tania McCartney who doesn't waste a word, the descriptive text for each event or activity complements the illustrations, and judicious labelling also add depth with few extra words. Another great book to read from front to back, or to leave on the table to be dipped into over and over again. Each time, young readers will notice new things, have additional questions, and be actively learning about other cultures and nations.

8. 'Nanna's Button Tin' by Dianne Wolfer & illustrated by Heather Potter

I have a glass jar full of shards of broken pottery collected on British sea shores. Each fragment echoes a place, a time and a story! My grandchildren love to empty the jar out and wonder about the meal tables these pieces might once have witnessed across 2-3 centuries.

'Nanna's Button Tin', like my bottle of pottery shards, contains objects that echo stories. Dianne Wolfer's beautiful story begins:

'I have my Nanna's button tin. it's full of stories.'

As the little girl takes off the lid in search of a button to replace her teddy's lost eye, her Nanna helps her to search for just the right one. A special button is needed for Teddy! Just the right size, just the right shape, and just the right colour. And as they sift through them, memories come back for Nanna. "This one is special ... it was on the jacket you wore home from hospital." And the little girl has memories too. "I remember that button. It was on the birthday jumper you made me." And when they find the right one, Nanna sews it on. What a delightful book! The gorgeous watercolour illustrations are all works of art in their own right. Perfect to read at bedtime, or for any child to enjoy aged 3 to 7 years.

Note: This book was temporarily out of stock when I wrote this post (no doubt due to the positive reaction to the book). I'm sure that the next print run will be out soon. Do check, it is worth it!