What if James Earl Jones could help your child read with expression? Visit Storyline Online and you’ll see that this idea isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. This wonderful site, developed with support from the Screen Actors Guild, features a host of celebrities like Jones, Betty White, Ernest Borgnine, Amanda Bynes, and Elijah Wood reading classic children’s books like Harry the Dirty Dog and The Rainbow Fish. The videos are hosted by YouTube, and we recommend turning on closed captioning by clicking on the small CC button on the lower right of the window. Encouraging your kids to read along as they enjoy the stories will build their fluency. And who better than professional actors to give your children lessons on prosody (the pitch and pace of one’s voice as one reads and speaks)? Challenge your kids to describe how the actor’s voice changes when they read an exciting part or a sad part, or how they use their voice to emphasize a certain word. Remind your child to try doing the same when they read to you.
Another site worth visiting – though this one lacks celebrities – is Inkless Tales. There are several short stories about the adventures of a character called Fanny Doodle and her trusty poodle, read aloud for students and accompanied by pictures. There are also a number of stories about animals that contain words from the Dolch list*, written in bold text to help parents or teachers preview the words with kids before reading. In both cases, the child can read along with the text as they listen to the narrator.
How to Get the Most Out of Digital Books
To build fluency, your child needs to read along with the stories as they listen. Some of the stories are so engaging that your child may want to listen to them again and again, building familiarity with the texts and helping children to recognize the words. Ask kids to say the words aloud along with the recording. If listening to a book at full volume will be distracting to other members of your household or classroom, children can listen through headphones. Ask him/her to whisper the words, or mouth them silently. Another option is to buy or construct a whisper phone. To make your own, obtain about six inches of PVC pipe and two 90-degree joints. Place one joint at each end of the straight piece of pipe so that you have the shape of a phone receiver. When the child whispers into the phone, the sound will travel clearly into his/her ear but be nearly inaudible to others in the room.
*The Dolch list is a list of 220 high frequency or sight words compiled by Edward William Dolch, PhD. According to Dolch’s survey of popular children’s books, these are the most commonly used words in children’s literature, accounting for somewhere between 50% and 70% of all words children encounter when reading. Unlike true “sight words,” many of the Dolch words can be decoding using standard phonics rules. Because of the frequency with which they occur, many reading teachers believe that learning the Dolch 220 by sight is an important milestone in reading fluency.