Reading with Expression

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Once students have mastered decoding, reading with prosody is another skill that needs to be mastered. Prosody means reading smoothly, at an appropriate speed with expression and intonation that reflects the content of the text. Assessing prosody is an important component of the ‘reading picture’ as it reveals how readers are interacting with, and the extent they are understanding, the text.

Below are 5 ideas for improving the expression element of prosody.

Practise reading using different emotions

The same phrase can have different meanings depending on the underlying emotion, which in turn would influence how the phrase was read.

“I’m not going!” laughed Mary happily because she was allowed to stay home and watch television.

“I’m not going!” shouted Mary angrily who hated going to the zoo.

“I’m not going!” whimpered Mary anxiously because she found the old, dilapidated house scary.

“I’m not going!” enquired Mary curiously because she thought she was invited.

An easy activity to practise changing your voice to reflect the underlying emotion is to play ‘Reading with Feeling‘.

Model expressive reading

Modelling expressive reading can be really powerful especially when contrasted with ‘robotic reading’. When reading to children, alternate between reading with expression and reading in a robotic, expressionless voice. Picture books can be a useful resource for this activity.

Use the opposite emotion

Alternatively, read dialogue and passages of text using the opposite emotion to the one indicated. For example, in the Three Little Pigs, you can read the text as if the pigs are happy and excited to see the wolf while the wolf is scared.

Record reading

Record children reading a passage. Get them to listen to the recording and give themselves a rating for how expressively it was read. Discuss changes they can make to improve and then try again. How did it sound? Did it sound natural? Was it choppy or robotic? Did they pay attention to punctuation? Encourage them to notice one thing they did well and one thing that needs improvement. Then re-record the same passage being read and compare the two recordings.

Read to a younger child

Organise for children to read to a younger child. Provide them an opportunity to practise. Show them how to ‘markup’ the text to indicate passages that need to be read with a particular expression.

Reading to a younger child reduces ‘performance’ pressure but at the same time they need to be reading with prosody to keep the younger child engaged.