I know there are some moms out there whose character voices during read-aloud time rival the work of Oscar-winning actors.
I am not one of those moms.
Voices are not something I am particularly good at, they take a ton of energy to maintain, and who can remember how each character is supposed to sound when it takes you a couple of weeks to finish a read-aloud?
Reading in a monotonous tone, or worse yet, barreling through the story as fast as you can, doesn’t make for a very exciting read aloud experience. I have a few tricks that I use in place of character voices that help us have a better read-aloud experience — no voices needed.
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Vary the speed
You will be amazed at how this changes the tone of your story. When there is action going on in the story, increase the speed of your reading just a touch to match the pace of the action.
When things are quiet, in dramatic moments, or the conversation is light, slow down the pace. Sometimes you might even read very slowly. You won’t do this for more than a word or two, but the impact is great.
The second half of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt should always be read at twice the speed as the first half. Always. Or the book police will be knocking at your door.
Use dramatic pauses
This is varying the speed to the nth degree. Sometimes in a story you just need to pause for effect. The key is to use this to build anticipation.
In one of those anticipatory spots, stop, look up at their faces for a second or two, and then continue when they are then on the edge of their seats. The impact of this one can be huge when used correctly.
Also, be sure to streeeeetch out words that show movement and emphasize the sound of language when the author uses alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds like small, soft silence) or onomatopoeia (words that sound like the sounds they make like clop and splat).
Vary the volume
Sometimes a story should become louder — when there is a great deal of action or the suspense is building. I’m not talking about when characters are yelling, though that isn’t a bad time to raise your voice a bit, but more when the action is rising.
Other times a story should be softer — even as soft as a whisper. Use this for periods of calmer action. Emphasize it after a particularly louder part to show the tenor of the story has changed. And by all means use it like the dramatic pause when you want to emphasize some dramatic revelation. It works particularly well at the end of chapters with a cliffhanger.
Combine the three
Once you get the hang of this, you will want to advance your skills by combining more than one technique. Loud and fast. A slow whisper. A slow whisper after a dramatic pause. It is the combination of these techniques that will really bring your reading aloud to life.
You will find that these skills are easiest learned on picture books. As you read those again and again (and you will) it will become easy to know when to read more slowly, pause, or increase the volume. As a word of warning — your kids will grow used to these techniques and will correct you if you read it “wrong” on subsequent readings.
Don’t underestimate your ability to do this with chapter books as well. While it helps for you to know the story, just as your eyes can scan for inappropriate words, you will also grow skilled at spotting places for more dramatic reading.
While these techniques can (and should) be used on every book you read, some books lend themselves much better to this kind of dramatic reading. Here are a few of our favorites for reading this way.
Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey BusinessWe’re Going on a Bear HuntThe Very Hungry CaterpillarWe Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry BearA Frog in the BogThe Original Adventures of Hank the CowdogThe Prairie ThiefThe Green EmberCharlotte’s WebThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Dover Children’s Evergreen Classics)
What are some of your favorites for dramatic reading?