1.6 Choosing Books to Read Aloud

A slogan in the teaching field is, “All students are good readers when they have the right books.” In other words, if children have books that match their reading level and, most importantly, match children’s interests, they will make the effort needed to understand and enjoy the books.

I remember many years ago, when a nephew of mine, Ben, was in primary school, he wanted to watch the film Jurassic Park, about a fictional park where dinosaurs come to life and start to kill people. My brother, Ben’s father, told him that before he could watch the film only after he had read the book Jurassic Park on which the film is based.

So, even though the book was above Ben’s reading level at the time, Ben was willing to make the effort needed to understand the book. This story shows the importance of interest in deciding which books to read aloud to children.

How to know which books are likely to interest children? Here are some ideas:

  1. Notice their interests, for example, what do they watch, play, talk about? What were the topics of books they enjoyed in the past, although interests do change.
  2. Ask children for their interests.
  3. Involve children in deciding, for example, bring them to the library or search with them online?
  4. Ask teachers and librarians.
  5. Have two or more books on hand to read aloud. That way, if children are not interested in one of the books today, we still have another possible book.
  6. If we are reading to more than one child, their interests may not be the same. In such cases, perhaps we can use turn-taking: one time, we read something of keen interest to one children; the next time, we cater to the other child’s interests.

In addition, book choice depending on children’s reading level is also important when choosing what to read aloud. If the vocabulary, settings, and concepts in a book are too far above children’s level, our reading aloud session may not be enjoyable for the children or for us.

Fortunately, we have many ways to make difficult books understandable for the children who we read with. First, if the book has visuals, those are great for building comprehension. Second, we and the children can use various tools, such as online dictionaries (including bilingual dictionaries, to increase understanding. At the same time that we are using these tools, we are also teaching children strategies for when they are reading on their own.

Third, we can explain words as we are reading. We can also invite other children to explain words.  After we (or a child) have explained a word/section, we should reread the sentence/section so that the children can incorporate their new understanding of a word or sentence into an overall understanding of the text.

A fourth strategy for dealing with comprehension problems in to paraphrase or even skip difficult words or sections. One way to categorize words is as high frequency or low frequency. High frequency words occur often in a language, whereas low frequency words appear less often. Normally, children need to encounter a word several times before they learn that word. Words that occur infrequently may not occur often enough for children at a certain age to learn those words. Thus, it may not be worth the time to explain these words.

Fifth, children often enjoy interacting with the same book multiple times. Each time we read aloud the book with them, children’s understanding can increase. Therefore, we can worry less about children understanding everything the first or second time that we read aloud the book.

Of course, not every word needs to be understood in order to understand the main points in a book. Thus, sometimes, difficult words can just be ignored. Stopping too often to investigate the meaning of works and the context of books can take the joy from reading.

In silent reading, children are sometimes taught the Five-finger Test for choosing books to read. In other words, children open a book to any page and begin reading that page. Every time they encounter an unknown word on that page, the children put a finger on that word. If they use all five fingers and they have not finished that one page, the book may be too difficult.

Summary: When choosing books for reading aloud, we need to find books that fit children’s interests and reading level.