Tips For Reading Aloud at School Visits

Visiting schools and connecting with students is rewarding and inspiring, especially if the kids have read your book and are excited to meet you.

Every speaker has a mouth; 
An arrangement rather neat.
 Sometimes it’s filled with wisdom. Sometimes it’s filled with feet.  ~  Robert Orben

I’ve found using visual aids or props (such as a funny hat) works well in grabbing the kids’ attention . Once you’ve got it, you want to keep it.

Werewolf hands and storytelling cloak piqued kids’ curiosity at this reading.

Here are a few simple tips that can help to engage your audience while you read short excerpts or whatever you’ve chosen to share:

Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 7.16.35 PM

  • Practice reading your material aloud beforehand. You’ll sound polished and will nail the pacing. Pause for a second to emphasize certain parts. For example, a line or phrase that’s spooky. The pause adds drama and anticipation.
  • Introduce yourself. Tell them you’re a children’s writer and what ages you write for. Even if you’re not published yet, you’re a writer. They’ll be impressed. Add some interesting, fun, or silly facts about yourself.
  • Give a quick explanation about what you’ll be reading. If it’s an excerpt from your book or anthology, give a brief description about what part of the book you’re reading from. For example, if I’m reading from Secret of Haunted Bog, I tell the kids, “This is the part where AJ Zantony and Freddy ‘Hangman’ Gallows are lost deep in the bog.”
  • Make eye contact often.
Make eye contact.
  • Mark the spot you’re reading from with your finger or thumb so you don’t lose your place.
  • Avoid speaking in a monotone voice.
  • Speak loud and clear so everyone in the room can hear you. I get a big kick out of startling the kids when I read a short excerpt from Curse at Zala Manor that begins with a shouting “Arrggh!” from Musky, the zombie.
  • Be dramatic. Kids love it, and they’ll pay closer attention. Use different voices for the different characters. I love doing Stumpy the peg-leg skeleton’s scratchy voice when he says, “Give me back me key, wench!” from that same Zala Manor excerpt. It always gets a good reaction.
Be dramatic and animated.
  • Keep it short. The length should vary according to what grade level you’re dealing with.
  • Variety is the spice of school visits. Depending on how much time you have, switch it up and read a few different things.
  • If you’re speaking into a microphone, it’s much easier if it’s propped up in the stand instead of trying to juggle it plus hold the book or papers you’re reading from.
  • Keep making eye contact and try to cover all areas of your audience so they feel like you’re talking directly to them.
  • If you make a mistake, smile and shrug it off. Kids don’t expect you to be perfect. We all mess up when reading something out loud. They’ll take your cue and follow your example the next time they stumble over words when reading out loud in class.
  • If you have props that go along with the reading, be sure to use them. I had a cheap plastic pirate’s hook from the dollar store that I held while reading Shel Silverstein’s poem “Captain Hook” from Where the Sidewalk Ends, and I used it to touch my toes and put it up to my nose as I read those parts. Arr! The rascals loved it!

Each visit is different, and getting the students’ feedback on their interests and ideas can turn out to be a gold mine for you! So have at it. And pat yourself on the back for taking the time to make a difference and touch young lives.

Do you have any other tips to add? Do you have a favorite anecdote from one of your school visits? Do you love connecting with kids? 

Lynn Kelley Author, Curse of the Double Digits, BBH McChiller, Monster Moon mysteries
Lynn Kelley worked as a court reporter for 25 years while she and her husband, George, raised their four little rascals, but nowadays she’s a goofball in the highest degree who’s susceptible to laughing jags. She tries to control herself out in public, but it’s not easy. She’ll jump at any excuse to wear funky get-ups. For instance, making wacky YouTube videos, entertaining her grandkids, or hanging out at  a costume party.

Her first chapter book, Curse of the Double Digits, debuted in October 2012. Under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she and co-author Kathryn Sant write the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series for ages 8 to 12.  Book 1 – Curse at Zala Manor,  Book 2 – Secret of Haunted Bog, and Book 3 – Legend of Monster Island.

18 thoughts on “Tips For Reading Aloud at School Visits

  1. Love your tips, Lynn! I haven’t done many, but always bring handouts to the kids if I can. I think what you said about saying something interesting, fun or silly might pique the kids interest too. Kudos for a great post!

  2. This is great advice! So true! Ever since I was a little child, I have enjoyed reading aloud. Some of my friends would even invite me over to read to them while they played with dolls–and I was totally happy to do it! Voices and animation are everything! I love your idea of using props, too. SO MUCH FUN!

  3. Terrific post, Lynn! It’s so important for kids to have people read out loud to them since that activity has dwindled in the home in recent years. It’s something that takes practice for sure and a great skill for anyone to have. 🙂

  4. Hey there, Lynn! What a great post! I’ve done some school and library visits in the last few months and I wish I had some of your tips beforehand. I don’t do different voices well, but I try to add suspense as I read. I think it takes a lot of practice though.

    I’ve got a question for you, too: If you’re reading a middle grade book to 4th graders, how short is “keep it short,” from your experience?

    Thanks much, Jen

    1. Hi Jennifer! Thanks for stopping in and commenting. Yay for you doing school and library visits!

      It’s your call on how long the readings should be. Depends on the class. You can tell when they start to fidget that it’s been long enough. When my coauthors and I do visits, we read short excerpts, say two pages at the most. If you’re reading the whole book to the class, I’d say one chapter at a time, but that’s my opinion. Ask the teacher how long she reads to them. We always try to get the class involved in a discussion, too, and let them ask questions. First, tell them about something kind of wild and interesting that ties in with your story.

      For instance, we’ve brought up the subject of mummies, and that ties in with Secret of Haunted Bog because bogs are one way bodies can become mummified. Sounds gross, huh? Any way to tie science, history, and reading together is always great fun. You have tons of possibilities with your time travel book!

  5. Another great post, Lynn. Great reminders too. I agree, funny voices, crazy costumes, short excerpts, and interesting tie-ins always work!

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