1. How to Choose a Book
Make sure you marry the right reading style with each book: Roddy Doyle’s the Giggler Treatment (about dog poop) asks for a wry, arch, playful style – lots of enthusiasm; Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins suggests a quieter, deadpan style – it’s a story about Nature, so let the prose do the work.
2. Preview the Book
Preview the book before you read it to children. This helps you spot material you may want to shorten, take out completely, or expand on. If it is the first time you are reading the book aloud, consider asking just a few questions.
3. Punch Vocabulary
Make the language in a story more interesting to both you and your listener by choosing the most interesting word in each sentence, and doing something more with it: emphasize it, italicize it, underline it, enunciate it, whisper it, elongate it – bring it out to some (subtle) place of prominence and enliven the prose.
One of three tips that help reset children’s attention span and can be used to heighten drama or suspense or emotional impact; in this case, pay special attention to every mark of punctuation: every comma and period, hyphen and parentheses – one word sentences are written that way for a reason.
5. Slow Down
Also resets attention span; and heightens drama, suspense, and emotion; but not the same as pausing; slowing down means the pace of a sentence or a paragraph; your listener will notice immediately.
Everyone knows the whisper effect, when you want to make someone pay even closer attention; so this one also resets the attention span; heightens drama and suspense and – especially – can make the most malevolent characters even more malevolent.
Taken together, these three represent the heart of effective reading aloud.
7. Accents and Voices
Borrow indiscriminately and shamelessly from everywhere to mimic different voices; kids don’t care how perfect they are, only that the voices in a dialogue are different and distinct, bringing the characters alive. Also: give each character who talks a lot some identifying trait or mannerism to make it easier for you to trigger the voice (e.g. Draco Malfoy lords it over everyone – perhaps he drawls; Hermione Granger is a goody-goody – perhaps her voice is a little prissy).
8. Ask Questions
Use the opportunity and pace reading a book; ask questions before and after a reading to serve multiple purposes; rehearse or remember characters or plot developments; explore moral or ethical questions; make associations w/ other books and media – film and otherwise.
9. Give ’em a Quiz
Not to make reading a chore, but as a memory cue; kids love showing off their knowledge, having a reason to pay even closer attention, owning a book or story thoroughly and in detail – pretty soon, they’ll be asking you questions.
10. Permit an Auxiliary Activity
Kids will get distracted – for a good reason: because they’ve made an association and are pursuing it; when pausing and whispering and slowing down aren’t enough, it’s OK to let ’em color or draw or doodle – or braid their hair – to let their restless minds refocus on your story.