Reading Aloud: Encouraging Dramatic Performance

I’m a huge fan of reading aloud. I didn’t stop reading to my daughter once she learned to read on her own. Actually, I read to my daughter and my husband together almost every morning. I’m like a living audio book. There is something about reading a book aloud that really let’s you immerse yourself in the story, become embroiled in the emotions of the characters. Reading aloud allows us to practice drama without getting onto a stage and pouring our hearts into a performance, without the vulnerability of standing in front of a crowd, playing a role. It models to children what language should sound like, what good writing should sound like. It’s a fantastic way to teach the art of writing, hearing the words spoken aloud, the rhythm, the natural dialogue.

There is much more to reading aloud than simply reading as your kids listen (or don’t listen, as the case may be). When they are young, you are modeling a behavior, the act of adding drama and performance to a written piece. As they get older, and are capable of reading aloud themselves, they will have the tools to bring their own emotion to the piece that they are reading. They will be able to connect with the characters, bring them to life, learn a little about humorous delivery and much more.

Below, you can watch me read the end of The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe. I chose this one because I remember so clearly the first time I heard it read aloud. It was 7th grade English class. My teacher read it with enthusiasm and emotion that increased as the story progressed. I was enthralled. I heard it read aloud again, more recently, with little emotion or feeling. The difference to the story was amazing. So, I figured I’d give it a try. Take a look:

I highly recommend reading aloud as a bridge to the dramatic arts. In the safety of your own home, in front of a mirror or your family, you can experiment with acting. You can amp up the inflection, make the story come alive. As a family, you can take turns reading. Even better, choose a play to read, taking on different roles. We have been particularly enjoying William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, by Ian Doescher, in our household. It’s a fantastic read, allowing us to take on different characters and act out scenes. I’m especially keen on the idea that we are introducing Shakespearean language in a story format that my daughter can understand. I think this will be particularly valuable in later years, when she studies actual Shakespeare plays. Watch below to see us give it a try:

But, I digress. The point is, reading aloud, whether a book or a play, allows us to experiment with the spoken word, with drama, with characterization. Even if we never have an ambition to stand in front of an audience and act in a play, this is a creative exercise that gets our minds moving. It’s also valuable in developing a comfort level with public speaking. Another example of how growing our creative confidence can help us in many aspects of our lives.

If you haven’t read aloud in a while, it may seem strange to do so. It may take some time to move from reading in a rather deadpan manner to reading with feeling and emotion. It may take time to develop the ability to read different characters in different voices. If you’re nervous, I highly recommend spending a little time listening to an audio book or two. Finding good narrators for audio books can be challenging. You may need to try out to a few to find someone that really brings the story alive. Once you do, you’ll have a better idea of how to do that very thing yourself.

Here, M and I do a little more reading aloud from some of our favorite books. Take a listen:

You don’t have to start with something as daunting as a novel. Take a poetry book out of the library and practice reading a few pieces. See if the tone of poem changes as you change your speed or inflection. Experiment with the different ways you can use your voice to add interest to the reading. Like anything else, this is something that takes practice.

Gently Guided Activities:

Activity #1 As I mentioned above, I would start with listening to a few audio books, if you are intimidated. If audio books aren’t your thing, try comparing a book to a movie version of the same story. Harry Potter is always a fun one to use for an exercise like this. Listen to the way that the actors deliver their lines. Then, have a look at the book and try to replicate what you hear.

Activity #2 Find a poem or a short passage from a story or novel that you particularly like. Practice reading it aloud until you’ve got it memorized. Perform it in front of the mirror. When you’re comfortable, debut your performance for family or friends. They key is to pick something that you really enjoy, something that can stir your emotions or make you laugh. Don’t make it too long, so that it’s easier to memorize and become comfortable with. This is great practice for anything from public speaking to theatre and works your memory muscles as well as your creative ones. If memorization is daunting, feel free to read from the book, as we did above.

Activity #3 Once you’ve mastered a short passage and you feel that you can add depth and emotion to your reading, you’re ready to take on a longer book. This is a great activity for both kids and adults. Take turns reading to each other. Get immersed in the story. I love to read, as I have mentioned before, and I love to read silently in a corner, wrapped up in the story. Still, when I read aloud, the story truly takes on new life. I understand the characters better. Their feelings become my own.