A few weeks ago, I walked by my first grade daughter’s bedroom door and heard her reading aloud to herself. What caught my attention was that she was reading with great expression. As I stood outside her door, listening with delight, I found myself marveling at how she was reading—full voice inflection, volume changes, even some character voices. Our whole family enjoys read aloud time: the children (and Daddy!) as listeners and myself as the reader. I love bringing the story to life with my voice. I intentionally draw them into the plot and introduce them to the characters through volume differences, verbal speed changes and voice inflection. Reading with expression is a skill we should encourage in our children. Beginning readers are naturally slow and stilted when they read, as they try to process each sound. Often their voice will be monotone and drawn out. As a child improves in his/her reading skills, we must not overlook the sound of their voice while they read. Not only will the meaning of the story come alive as they speak with more expression, they will also feel more confident when reading out loud in front of others.
There are many ways to implement good expression skills, but modeling is probably the most helpful. First and foremost, try to demonstrate expressive reading whenever you read aloud. This is not always easy, but look for places in the story where you can enhance the word pictures with your voice. For example, when the plot becomes suspenseful, slow your words down and speak in softer tones. When something exciting is happening, speak with a heightened sense of urgency and volume. Allow yourself to have fun with the characters and plot progression. It is also helpful to have your child mimic your inflection when they are reading aloud by reading a sentence to them and having them say it in a similar fashion. Punctuation provides a great way for a child to know what expression to use. When reading a question, raise your tone at the end of the sentence. Speak loudly with excitement whenever you read an exclamatory sentence. Pause slightly after commas and periods. These simple techniques can completely change the way your child reads the words he or she has worked so hard to learn.
Reading with expression is a learned skill and takes a while to master. It adds variety and interest to a story and can provide a great form of entertainment for your family. I challenge you this week to choose a familiar story and read it aloud as a family, adding meaning and feeling to a beloved tale.