Reading with Children
Music, dance, drama, and visual art have always been key elements in engaging children in appropriate literature. Children's books are designed for this with lyrical text and delightful illustrations. Of course, reading with a classroom of 20 to 30 children is quite different from reading with two or three. Art integration can be especially useful in the former to keep the kids fully attentive and interested throughout. Here are some possibilities:
Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935)
- If the book is in the form of a poem (in meter), then read it rhythmically like a song lyric without the melody. A lot of books have distinct patterns of beats and rhythms. Think of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. There's an underlying pulse. Read with that pulse. The children could also keep the pulse or beat.
- As with drama, students can join in for repeated phrases that have a rhythmic pulse. Some of us learned to "read" this way, by memorizing rhyming books—key phrases first and then entire books. I remember doing this with Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. I had it all down by heart!
- Add sound effects throughout the story. You can say the sound effects or use other items. For example, if someone is knocking at the door, make the sound of knocking with your voice or by actually knocking on something made of wood.
- Invite the children to add the sound effects at key points in the book.
- Sing a simple song together if it fits with the storyline. Be sure to sing expressively.
- I encourage teachers and parents to always think about their children and students as little bodies as much or more than as developing brains. Sitting "criss-cross applesauce" on the floor for extended periods might be more than should be expected from first-graders. Usually when people read a book in "real life," they lounge in a comfortable chair, bed, hammock, on the floor, or even outside. If you can't replicate something like this in your teaching situation, you may need some ways to accommodate the needs of little bodies for movement.
- At key points in the story, children could move their bodies to help tell the story (reach up high, stretch, lean, sway, march in place, jump, etc.). Again, be sure that you do only enough to keep them engaged. The most important element is to maintain the flow of the story and draw the children into the text.
- Any movements that can be done with the whole body (walking, for example) can also be done with hands or fingers. In other words, you don't have to move your entire body in order for something to count as dance; you can include some quick movements without having the children standing up so often.
- Often, the illustrations are just as important in telling stories as the words. In fact, illustrations are important as text, communicating much that can't be communicated with words. Make the implicit explicit by asking the children questions about the artwork. "What colors do you see?" "How many of ____ are there?" "What do you see happening here?" "Why do you think this image is so small/large/bright/dark, etc.?"
- Have the children color, sculpt, or draw while listening to the story. What they create could have a connection to the story ... or not.