We recommend that these tips are read in conjunction with the PEPELT tips for mediating picturebooks, which give general advice for reading a picturebook aloud in a classroom context.
What is a read-aloud ?
A read-aloud is defined as an adult reading a book, in this case a picturebook, to a child or a group of children. It can also be called story reading or storybook reading (Campbell, 2001 : 1)
Why online read-alouds ?
Covid 19 has changed the delivery modes of education around the world and has resulted in many primary English language teachers shifting to online teaching and adapting to new educational environments. Remote teaching will no doubt continue to a greater or lesser extent in the future.
Creating a ‘shared social experience’
Listening to picturebook read-alouds in class is a ‘shared social experience’ (Ellis & Brewster 2014:7) and can provoke a shared response of laughter, sadness, excitement, curiosity and anticipation. This is not only enjoyable but can also help develop a child’s self-confidence and encourage social and emotional development. During a digital picturebook read-aloud it is important to connect with children via this new channel of communication, and in this unfamiliar learning environment, in order to create the same ‘shared social experience’.
Synchronous or asynchronous?
- Synchronous / live read-alouds
This is when a teacher and a class or group of children engage in a read-aloud in real time, so direct interaction between the children, the picturebook and with the teacher is possible.
- Asynchronous / pre-recorded read alouds
This is a pre-recorded read-aloud prepared by a teacher for children to experience through online channels without real-time interaction.
The most important is that you:
- select and share picturebooks that you enjoy, so you feel comfortable reading aloud;
- are well-prepared, so you come across as expressive, interesting and natural.
It is important to establish a subtle balance between the children listening to the read-aloud for pleasure and enjoyment and for you to make the most of ‘teachable moments’ (Sipe 2008:74) in order to maintain an engaging flow and pace.
‘Fair use’ permits most online read-alouds using tools such as those mentioned above. However, it is important that if you share any recordings of your read-alouds, they are shared within a closed group and not made accessible to the general public.
What makes an effective read-aloud experience ?
There is no exact right way of reading aloud and you should do this in the way that you feel most comfortable, however we do have some recommendations!
Your virtual space …
- If possible, avoid a busy background to prevent distraction.
- Make sure you are in a space with good acoustics and no background noise.
- Make sure your screen is positioned at the correct height and away from direct light.
- Mute or remove any phones
- Sit comfortably in front of a computer or a video camera.
- Look directly at the camera – make eye contact with your virtual audience and smile to engage them affectively and to bond and connect digitally.
- Avoid a ‘cutesy, sugary, patronizing voice. We have to make a conscious decision never to talk down to children’ (Mem Fox, 2001: 42).
The picturebook …
- Hold the picturebook open to one side of you (left or right) facing the screen, your virtual audiance, so they can see the picturebook words and pictures as well as you.
- Keep the picturebook steady and square-on to the screen
- Use one hand to hold the book and one hand to point to different parts of the illustrations.
- Make sure that your hand and or fingers do not mask the illustrations
- Use manual zooms (ie bringing the picturebook closer to the screen/camera) as appropriate, to show a detail. Ensure you mention a detail or ask a question before your manual zoom – this ensures your voice is not muffled behind the picturebook
We encourage you to film your face alongside the picturebook in synchronous or asynchronous read-alouds. This is because your body position, gestures and movements, your eyes, your vocal variety and your general facial expressions are important in conveying meaning and supporting understanding.
Your virtual audiance …
… to encourage interaction, involvement and participation :
- Use a rising intonation
- Pause to give children time to look at details of pictures and wait-time to give responses
- Use a gesture e.g. hand to ear or beckoning movement
- Encourage children to join in with repeated words, phrases, refrains or choruses
Campbell, Robin (2001) Read-alouds with Young Children. Newark, Del.: International Reading Association.
Ellis, Gail. & Brewster, Jean. (2014). Tell it Again! The New Storytelling Handbook for Primary Teachers. available online: http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/sites/teacheng/files/D467_Storytelling_handbook_FINAL_web.pdf
Fox, Mem (2001). Reading Magic. Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever.New York : Harcourt Publishing
Sipe,Lawrence (2008).Storytime: YoungChildren’sLiteraryUnderstanding in the Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.