Settle down and get comfy and let me tell you a little story…
Once, long ago, when I was younger than I am today, I was asked a startling question in an interview. Quite unexpectedly, the interviewer stared at me over his clipboard and said: ‘If you were Secretary of State for Education for 10 minutes, what would you do?’
It was a brilliant question; a creative way of finding out what my educational principles were, and I must admit to having a huge degree of admiration for whoever devised such a question. I didn’t hesitate in my response. My reply was that I’d introduce statutory storytime for all classes in Early Years and Primary year groups. But why?
Reasons to hold daily storytime sessions
Teachers are expert readers. This means that when we read aloud to children, we provide a model of fluency and expression that they can then replicate in their own reading.
When we read aloud to children, we’re likely to read from books that the children would not be able to read on their own. This means we can expose them to vocabulary and sentence structures that they may not encounter in their own reading books.
We can promote books and authors that children may not choose to read themselves and so widen the range of books they are likely to read.
We can strengthen relationships and create a classroom community of readers when we read aloud to children. When we share a book and storytime together, we create memories that last longer than the books we share.
And if those reasons are not enough, the words of Anderson et al, in Becoming a Nation of Readers are possibly the most compelling reason to ensure that children hear their teachers read aloud to them each day: ‘The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children’.
How to implement regular storytime sessions
I know that with the ever-tightening squeeze on timetables it can be difficult to find the time to read aloud. There are a few things that can be done to make this easier.
Think of ways to double-count the time you have in school. When I was a busy deputy headteacher I had to deliver a weekly whole school assembly. Each week, I found a picture book that supported my assembly theme, projected the images for all the children to see and then read to them. A deputy head I’ve worked with since also does this. He’s smarter than me. He’s told all his staff that on the day he reads to the children in assembly, they can count his assembly as their storytime. I happen to know that most of them still read aloud to their classes but if the timetable does take over, the children have had their daily storytime.
Consider setting aside the same time of day for all teachers to read to their classes. This way, it’s easy to establish a whole school routine. You can also experiment with teachers taking reading tours so that they visit each other’s classes to read favourite books.
If you’re short on time, read poetry and short stories. I once had a very challenging class. I found that regular short bursts of reading poetry to them had a calming effect on them. Over time, they came to know the poems I shared with them and would join in as I read. What started as a painful experience very quickly became a pleasure thanks to reading poetry aloud.
What to read aloud in storytimes
Books that contain rhythm, rhyme or repeating phrases are great for reading aloud, particularly with the youngest children. When my own children were small, they loved Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell. Even though they couldn’t yet read themselves, I’d only have to read the repeated refrain, ‘How goes the work?’ and they’d reply ‘Quack!’
With older children, we quite often want to read longer books. It’s a good idea to choose texts with plenty of good cliff-hangers. If the children groan as you finish each chapter, there’s a good chance you’ve chosen a book that’s grabbed their attention.
In The Reading Framework: Teaching the foundations of literacy (DfE 2021) it’s suggested that ‘All children need to imagine themselves as the main protagonist in a story’. (pp 28). Finding books that represent all children regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability or any other perceived difference is a good way to ensure that all children feel included in storytimes.
Read the first book in a series. Make sure you have other titles from the series in your classroom collection or school library so that children can choose to carry on reading from the series. This is particularly useful for hooking reluctant readers, who often find it hard to find books they like.
Talk to other teachers in the school to find out which books and authors have been popular with their classes. It’s worth collating these suggestions so that you can iron out repetition, create a sense of progression and ensure that the books you read aloud to the children offer breadth. By this I mean a range of golden oldies, new discoveries, different genres and a variety of themes.
And so back to our story…
Since that interview, thousands of days have turned to night and tens of months have become years, but I stand by my decision. If I were the Secretary for Education, just for 10 minutes, I’d insist that every child in every class should hear their teacher read to them for pleasure every day.
Article written by Rachel Clarke
Rachel is an experienced educational trainer and author with over 10 published titles including the popular Reading Detectives series. Rachel is now the director of the Primary English Education Consultancy; an organisation dedicated to raising standards in literacy.