Effective Oral Reading


Photo by Tanya Gorelova from Pexels “Ok, class, open your reading books to ‘Candy Pills for the Stomach.’ Kay, you may start reading. Each of you read one paragraph when it is your turn.” “Mumble, mumble, stumble, pause, wait to be helped with a word, mumble, mumble,” thus Kay starts reading. Whew, her paragraph is done. On to David’s turn. He quickly speeds through the words in a barely audible manner. “Steven, Steven! It’s your turn to read!” “Uh, where?” Once Steven is back on track, he painstakingly reads, sounding out every third or fourth word. When it’s David’s turn again, he’s a page or two ahead of the rest and has no idea where he should be reading, because he can read fast and he’s tired of waiting on all the slow readers. And through the whole process, the teacher finds herself frustrated—frustrated with the slowness, frustrated with students not following along and not knowing where they should read, and then at the end of the story frustrated because the students don’t seem to know what they just read.

This scenario is one way, though not the most effective way, of holding an oral reading class. I would like to suggest that a class that follows the above pattern is a waste of time. How else then, can teachers implement oral reading class so that students enjoy and learn from it and the experience is effective?

Oral reading class serves several purposes. It gives the student practice in reading. It gives the teacher a means of assessing the reading abilities of students. It gives students practice in delivery and fluency. It can deepen the understanding of the story and provide an enjoyable capstone to the reading lesson.

I prefer to think of an oral reading session as a presentation rather than a means of just reading the story aloud. It is most effective if students are already familiar with the text and know what part they may be called upon to read. The student’s first encounter with the written text should not be the oral reading session. Ideally, the student has read whole the story to himself, knows the part of the story he will be reading aloud, and has practiced the part enough times that he knows the words and knows the proper expression to take in the reading. The class is then ready to present the story to each other.

The following tips will help your oral reading class be an enjoyable experience.

  • Assign specific parts for each student. I prefer to assign each student one section, such as a page or several consecutive paragraphs. This allows efficiency for practice and presentation. A larger section also aids comprehension.
  • Practice beforehand is essential to smooth reading. Many teachers and ministers like to have an idea of what they are reading before launching into a complicated text, and these are people who do a lot of reading. Providing time for practice before the oral reading session helps the student see the piece in its entirety and realize that Mom whispered or that Sarah was happy in her words in the story. Practice beforehand will also help the student who dreads to read aloud, giving them more confidence in their ability. The teacher may want to practice with the struggling reader, especially in first grade.
  • Model good oral reading whenever you read orally—the noon story and the morning Bible lesson and all other lessons. And, then sometimes model poor oral reading. Read a story with exaggerated mumbling and monotone. Race through the punctuation. Read in a singsong, one-word-at-a-time style. Read as quickly as you can. Skip the inconsequential words. Read poorly until the students beg you stop. Then read the story again. This time, model excellent oral reading skills. Let the students enjoy the difference.
  • Teach good oral reading skills. Demonstrate how to stop at periods and slow down at commas. Teach students to read at speaking pace. Many readers tend to read too quickly. A good oral reader reads no faster than he normally speaks. Some students read at a halting pace. Teach them to become more fluid. Demonstrate proper phrasing.
  • Teach students to use good expression. Model how a piece should be read. Have students read it with you, mimicking your expression. For proper expression in conversation, have students imagine themselves in the character’s shoes. How would they say it if it were them? This can also help students understand good expression if you demonstrate right and wrong ways to say a piece and have the students choose the correct expression.
  • Require correct volume. Stand in an opposite corner and have the students read loud enough that you can hear them well.
  • Use this tip with caution: mimic the words and method the student used. Ask them if that really sounds like they want it to. Many times, they aren’t really hearing how they sound when they read but they hear it when you copy them. Have them try it again. (Know your students and do not embarrass them.)
  • Make oral reading a safe time of reading. Do not allow sniggering at mistakes or eye-rolling and sighing at the slow reader. As the teacher, make sure you also have the correct attitude.
  • It can be tempting to let the good reader read the greater part of the story, but the poor reader is the one who needs the practice. My goal is to have approximately the same amount of oral time required for each student. Therefore, some students cover more text but each one reads for the same length of time.
  • Don’t always require the students to follow along in their reader. They should have a good idea of when it may be their turn to read but allow them to enjoy just listening to the story. However, be alert for the wandering mind. Students should be “making a movie in their head of the story being read” as they listen to other students read.

Good oral reading skills do not happen overnight. It takes practice and practice and more practice, but every student can attain good oral reading skills. Some will be better oral readers than others, but given the right atmosphere, good modeling, practice, and corrective teaching every child can have a measure of success.  Happy reading!


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