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School prepares our students for life in the adult world. So why bother with oral reading beyond first or second grade? Most students can read faster silently than orally. Some students find oral reading embarrassing. Other students become impatient with slower readers. Is it necessary to have students spend time with a special oral reading class?
I propose that an oral reading class is important and should be taught in all grades. We teach speech as a high school course, but in many ways an oral reading class can be considered a type of speech class. In the adult world, people who read orally are usually reading to someone. They have something important to share. A teacher reads to her class. The minister reads the scripture to his congregation. A mother reads to her children. Teaching students to read orally is a very practical adult skill.
For most oral reading classes, you might follow a routine of assigning parts, practicing, and presenting. Adding variety to the routine occasionally can spice up the routine. Many of the following ideas work best with second graders and higher. Most first graders do not yet have the reading skill needed to use these ideas well.
- For a story with a variety of characters and conversation, assign a character to each student and the part of narrator to one or two students. Students read the words of their character with the narrator filling in the unspoken parts. Take this idea further and allow props for the characters to present the story to a younger class. This gives the students a purpose to read the story and provides a pleasant break for the younger class.
- Divide the class into two groups. One group will act out the story while the other group reads the story. This will require some planning on the part of the students. They will need to decide who reads/plays each part. Both groups need to be familiar with the story in order to present it well. Again, they can use props.
- Have students choose their favorite part of the story. Ask them to read this part orally. This works best with a small class because you may have students choosing the same part each time. You may also want to give them parameters on the length of the part they choose.
- Use choral reading. This is a great way to read poetry, scriptures, or other pieces that have a rhythm or cadence to them. Depending on the age and ability of the students, you may want to first read the piece to them to set the pace and structure of the reading. They should practice it themselves several times, so they are familiar with the words. Then read it together several times—a few times to get the feel for the piece and once they become competent, have them read it one more time so they can just enjoy it.
- Have students find and read the part of the story that answers a question you ask. This method will not give the students time to practice their own part but they should be familiar with the text, so they have an idea of where to find the answer.
- Younger students often just need to read! And, many of them need to read aloud. Allow them to bring a stuffed animal or doll to school for a few days. These are their reading buddies. They should read their stories to the animals. Several years ago, a co-teacher brought her large mastiff pup to school as a special treat. He made a good reading buddy.
Does all oral reading need to come from their reading books? No, students can enjoy sharing from other sources, as well as their readers. The important idea is to have students reading orally to share information.
- Follow Christopher Dock’s example and allow students to read the morning Scriptures as a reward for work well done. Students should be taught how to read Scriptures well. Use the oral reading strategies of expression and clarity to bring God’s Word to life.
- Older students enjoy reading picture books to younger students. They need to practice the best way to convey the story to the students to which they are reading. They should make eye contact and show the pictures in the book. Often picture books require more use of expression than longer stories. This is a good way to practice correct expression. And, the younger students enjoy a story well read.
- Students may bring a story or article of their choice to read to the class. This was a favorite exercise of our junior high teacher. The students enjoyed listening to a variety of readings and the teacher enjoyed seeing the personalities of her students come alive in their chosen pieces.
- Take a class to visit a nursing home and the students can share a story with the residents. They will need to practice enunciation, volume, and clarity to make the presentation worthwhile.
Don’t neglect the skill of good oral presentation. You are laying the foundation for the next generation of ministers, teachers, speakers, and story-readers!