“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax. All you need is a book.”
Story time should be part of every child’s day. Not only does story time inspire young readers who are more successful lifelong learners, but it also helps children bond with their teachers and parents. Daily story time also introduces children and their parents to incredible books and authors, which they can add to their personal libraries. Below, I am sharing some tips that helped me as a teacher of young English language learners make story time more engaging and enjoyable. Feel free to share these tips with parents to encourage them to read with their children at home. I’ve also included some of the latest web tools and apps which make story time and reading books a blast!
Add Some Diversity
It’s important the books we choose represent various cultures and ethnicities. Ask librarians for suggestions. You can also find several recommendations online. The Multicultural Children’s Book Day site has several lists of book recommendations to introduce children to different countries, geographical areas, world religions, ethnicities, and so forth. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center has comprised a list of 50 Multicultural Books Every Child Should Know.
We should also make sure we don’t discourage language learners from reading books in their native tongue. Research shows that students who are highly literate in their native language are more successful English language learners.
Set the Mood and Atmosphere
Music, sound effects, props, and special lighting can be used to set the mood and atmosphere. This gets students excited about the story and sparks their imaginations. When I read stories about the stars, I used a planetarium projector to fill the room with constellations. The children loved it and would find the constellations mentioned in the story.
Novel Effect is an amazing iOS app to use when reading popular children’s books or poetry. As you read the book aloud, the app uses voice recognition technology to add sound effects, character voices, and music made for the scene.
It’s All in Your Delivery
Have fun with the delivery! Use your voice, facial expressions, and hands to bring the characters and words to life. Differentiate your voice for the different characters, include pauses, vary the speed, change your pitch, or increase and decrease the volume. Change your facial expressions to show emotion or use hand gestures.
Make children laugh by using the Mouth Mover Lite iOS app. Open up the app, choose one of the cartoonish mouths (animals, silly characters, monsters), then put the phone in front of your mouth and as you read the story the mouth will move along with your voice.
Call On Your Voice Assistant
Siri, Google, and Alexa are virtual assistants who respond to voice commands. Each voice assistant has a small speaker you can purchase for the home or classroom. Siri and Google can also be accessed on your smart phone for free. Make story time engaging and interactive by encouraging students to ask the voice assistant what different animals or vehicles sound like for sound effects. Students can also ask for definitions, translations, or spelling. You can also ask students trivia about the story and they can check their answers with the voice assistant. They can ask about the story’s setting, the author, if something was invented when the story took place, etc. Find out more about using voice command assistants in my previous ESL Library article, 25 Engaging Ways to Practice English with Voice Assistants.
Invite a Guest Speaker
Invite parents, relatives, local authors or celebrities to read to your students. You could also invite an expert in the community to read a book related to their field. For example, a firefighter could read a book about fire safety or a zookeeper could read a book with interesting animals. The students could then ask them questions about the information in the book.
Skype and Hangouts are another way to virtually invite guest readers from all over the world. In some cases you might be able to invite the author to read his/her book. Skype for education has a database of guest speakers and authors to search and book. Find examples and articles of author Skypes and also authors willing to Skype.
Find Resources on the Website or App
Popular authors, classic books, and book series have websites or apps full of free handouts, crafts, videos, and activities. Google the book title or the author to see what you discover. Julia Donaldson has a wonderful site for her popular children’s book, The Gruffalo, which features a video of her husband playing the guitar and her singing The Gruffalo Song. You will also find various games and activities. Planet Pilkey is a free Google Play and iOS app from Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series. Students can create silly avatars, make their own comics, and play games involving Pilkey’s fun book characters.
Have a puppet read a story and share fun facts with the students. You can also get students to create finger puppets of the characters or props. Students can get their finger puppets to act out what you read aloud. For example, they can make the puppets dance, fly, cry, run, or repeat a line from the book. You can also get students to hold up the finger puppet they believe is next on the page. Enchanted Learning has different templates of animal and famous character finger puppets to print, color, and cut out.
Total Physical Response (TPR) or language-body conversations, developed by Dr. James Asher, is a powerful way to teach language learners of any age, including babies. Before story time begins, the teacher identifies key vocabulary or phrases from the book and associates different movements for each word or phrase. As the story is being read aloud, students listen for the key words and perform the movement. The students could also make a sound when doing the movement. For example, if a story features an ocean, then students can mimic ocean waves with their hands and say, “Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.”
Surprise students and read a book dressed as one of the characters! If acting isn’t your thing, then you could bring the story to life by wearing a hat, animal ears, fun accessories, a cape, or a coat to represent doctors, scientists, or superheroes. Encourage students to also dress up to build up excitement for the story. For example, students could wear their favorite colorful socks if you are reading a story about socks or students could wear a shirt with a favorite animal if the book is about a zoo.
What other strategies do you use to get students excited about reading books?
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