Reading Aloud for Young Learners

Andrew A. Kirkpatrick

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Young learners, early reading, reading aloud, semi-voluntary reading 
  • Learner English Level: Beginner to upper beginner
  • Learner maturity: Preschool and lower elementary
  • Preparation time: N/A
  • Activity time: 5-10 minutes
  • Materials: A young learners/early readers text, preferably with illustrations, spoken text, and relatable characters and settings. 

In the spirit of communicative language teaching, rather than talking down to our young learners (YLs), perhaps we ought to try actually talking to them instead. This might mean trying to avoid using unidirectional commands such as, “Read this aloud, please.” Of course, they need to practice, but would it not be preferable that learning opportunities arise more spontaneously and with less educational pretense? This activity attempts to motivate YLs (age 3-8) to read aloud of their own accord.



No preparation required.



Step 1: Begin reading as you usually would and start using the following technique when you reach a point in the text (a scene with dialogue, perhaps), where you would like students to practice reading aloud.

Step 2: Read the spoken part of the text in a voice that clearly does not match that character. Funny and obviously incorrect voices are perhaps more appealing to YLs. In fact, the more incorrect it is, the better. For example, if the character is large and brutish, reading their spoken text in a high-pitched voice obviously challenges expectations with a hopefully comedic effect. 

Step 3: Pause briefly and ask/signal to the students if that voice sounded correct. Students will likely disagree (and this is the intended response). 

Step 4: After receiving a confirmation from the students that the first voice used was incorrect, read the same text again but this time in a different (but equally unsuitable) voice. Continuing with the previous example, you might switch to a soft, shy voice. Again, try (and fail) to get the students approval for this new attempt.

Step 5: Repeat this process for a third time. Additional attempts can be made, however, but things to consider would be the length of the sentence, the students’ attention, and the degree to which the activity remains engaging. 

Step 6: Act exasperated at the students’ continual dismissal of your reading attempts and signal to the students that they should read it aloud instead. This approach helps to avoid giving a teacher-like instruction. Remember, we are aiming for spontaneous engagement as opposed to forced participation. 

Step 7: Students will read the spoken text aloud with minimal-to-no assistance. It should feel spontaneous and genuine.

Step 8: Continue reading, applying this technique during other spoken parts of the text as you feel is appropriate.



This approach is predisposed to informal formative assessment; students who read the text with a character-appropriate voice (tone and intonation) might be considered as having a greater understanding of the text’s register. 



By now, my sleight-of-hand should be clear: the repeated utterance of the same text is effectively a means of repeated exposure to a target text, with the added benefit that it disguises what might have otherwise been a tedious and frustrating task. Like so many of our interactions with YLs, it may superficially appear to be mere entertainment. Yet upon closer inspection, we see that it involves a combination of linguistic theory, reverse psychology, and subversive play elements. Interactions with YLs are innately variable, so if you are considering this activity then you can also adapt it to fit with your regular classroom practice.