How reading aloud can help build confidence, even for a child with reading difficulties

Reading aloud may be the secret ingredient you’re looking for to help your child break out of their shy shell. It’s a simple homework task that you already do every week, so how can you make the most of it and help your child build self-confidence? Isabel Dickson shares some top tips from the Viva Voice teachers that you can implement with your child at home.

Recently I was sharing with my Mum a heart-warming story about a student who was starting to break out of her shell in class.

Mum then dropped a bombshell on me – that used to be me! She told me that during my early years I was too shy to speak to anyone, and often hid behind her leg when adults addressed me (they wouldn’t be able to find me there!). That’s why she promptly enrolled me in Speech and Drama at the ripe age of six.

As a confident woman today, I’m grateful to have had that opportunity at such a young age.

We meet multitudes of shy children at Viva Voice. Some struggle to pronounce words, others are unsure how to contribute their own thoughts and ideas to a conversation, and sometimes they hold back because they want to say the ‘right’ thing.

Many parents choose to enrol their children into Speech and Drama so their child can learn important communication skills.

We recently interviewed Viva Voice super speaker and tennis player, Michael Tam, who described his own battle against low confidence:

“Before [coming to classes], I wasn’t as confident when talking to people. My voice was really soft and people called me Mickey Mouse, because I was like a mouse, I just didn’t say anything. Since I came here, everything’s changed – sport, home, school.”

In our Voice and Acting™ classes, students regularly practise and perform poems, prose, monologues and present news to the class. In Drama classes, students are constantly coming up with characters, creating stories and building plays.

Learning how to tell a story through these various styles promotes a greater understanding of how they can use their voice to its greatest potential.

Students learn how to convey meaning with vocal expression, and through this build confidence in their own ideas.

We work with students in class to develop their own unique speaking style, so they can captivate their audience with a clear, expressive voice. This involves learning and applying tools such as pitch, pace, expression and eye contact, to name a few.

Regular rehearsal in front of classmates encourages confident speaking, and takes the pressure off sporadic school presentations.

What does reading aloud have to do with it?

Reading aloud helps improve your articulation and expression, teaches you to speak at a steady pace, and requires you to use pause at punctuation marks to honour the meaning of poem or story. These skills then transfer into your speaking voice, so that when it comes to speaking off the cuff, your voice is louder, clearer and more confident.

When children read aloud, they become more familiar with using their voice to communicate and share ideas. As they read, they become comfortable with speaking and discover the joy of using their voice to share ideas or tell a story.

Reading aloud helps expand your vocabulary, as you work out how to pronounce new – and sometimes tricky! – words.

It also develops your writing style, as you become aware of how different poets and authors write.

On top of all that, reading aloud improves your comprehension, as you cultivate your listening skills to take in what you’re saying while you’re saying it. It’s the best way to build a relationship with your voice!

What can you do with your child at home?

Schools often give their students the same book for homework a few days in a row. When they get next book, try these techniques to help your child explore how to tell stories and experiment with their voice.

1. Instead of reading a book the same way every night, see if your child can begin to add expression to words

Sprinkling in expression is a lot of fun! Expression takes on many forms, and one of the easiest to learn is emphasis.

Encourage your child to experiment with ways they can say words that reflect their meaning. Can you say the word ‘happy’ and sound happy? Can you say the word ‘sad’ and sound sad?

This is the beginning of vocal expression. It gets even more interesting when you have words like ‘sparkle’ or ‘hazy’ and experiment to find ways to say them in a sparkly or hazy way!

Coming up with an expressive way of saying a word may also help your child remember that word next time they read it.

This is an excellent way for a slow or hesitant reader to take control of learning new words.

In learning to say words with expression, your child will get a sense of how to speak in a captivating way. You’ll get a thrill from listening to them read. Before you know it, they’ll have facial expression to match! Putting this meaning behind words may help them gain confidence in their reading skills.

2. Invite your child to start changing the pitch and pace to help tell the story

A dull story is one that’s told in a monotone voice. Instead, your child fluctuate between a higher and lower pitch where it feels right. Ask your child if they think this makes the story more interesting.

Some children board the express train with the mindset of: “the quicker I speak, the sooner it ends!”

If they’re too busy speeding along they won’t have time to enjoy the scenery! Or, in this case, they won’t have the opportunity to explore the text or enjoy reading.

On the other hand, slow speakers lose the interest of their audience, and themselves!

Work on finding a neutral rhythm for your child as they practise reading aloud – the next tip will help.

3. Encourage your child to acknowledge the punctuation, to help set the pace

Observe the commas, full stops and exclamation marks – the author is a giving a hint how the story should be told!

When our students receive a new poem, script, extract from a book, the first step is marking the punctuation so that when they’re practising, they have a visual indicator of where to pause.

Pause is important because it gives the reader time to prepare who what’s coming next, and it also gives the listener a chance to take in the story so far.

Full stops typically require a longer pause, whereas commas might be a shorter pause. It’s a good idea to pause before and after dialogue so that the listener knows when a character is speaking.

Try reading the following without pausing at the commas:

“I saw him move!”, exclaimed Peter, desperate for someone to believe him.

Now try again, giving a short pause at the commas. Can you feel the difference?

4. Invite your child to create different voices for the characters who speak

This is a fun and engaging way to explore dialogue!

Now that your child is using pause effectively, ask them which character is speaking, and encourage them to come up with a voice for that character.

Before you know it, they’ll have a voice for everyone! They’ll love doing their wizard voice, grandpa voice, teacher voice, and others.

This brings attention to another aspect of the story that takes focus away from recognising words or accurate pronunciation. It’s a terrific way to engage apprehensive readers!

Your child will enjoy coming up with different voices and chances are, they’ll have fun entertaining you! It brings positivity to the reading experience so that reading is enjoyable and not a task.

5. Encourage your child to use vocal expression to set the mood of the story

If the story your child is reading is about something that is sad, they could have a sad tone in their voice. Sadness could be conveyed in a low pitch voice that’s a bit slow. A great example of this is the character Sadness in Inside Out!

If the story is full of action, your child might use higher pitches and speak a little faster. This is more like the character Joy from the same film.

Considering the feeling of the situation or character gives your child something to focus on other than the tricky words. 

Have a look at these sentences, and you’ll notice that the mood is fairly obvious:

  1. Bursting with colour, it had to be the brightest light in the world!
  2. Oh no! I dropped my ice cream cone!
  3. Mr Peppercorn was most unhappy with the dull weather.

Your child can convey the mood of a story by changing their tone of voice. The mood may change throughout the story, so your child doesn’t have to use to same vocal tone the whole way through.

A Viva Voice student performed a poem titled The Bogus Boo by James Reeves. The poem begins by describing the terrifying features of a hideous monster, and ends with a plot twist – that the monster is a scaredy-cat! This student used a variety of tone throughout the piece – from a slow, spooky voice as she described the monster, to a fast, high-pitched voice as she revealed his fears!

Implementing these strategies at home is an enjoyable and creative way to make the most of reading aloud.

Let us know how you go and ask us any questions – it’s our pleasure to work together with parents to reach the best outcomes for our students.

We love seeing kids exploring their voice and working towards their speaking goals. Next time they read a story aloud, film it and tag Viva Voice on Facebook or Instagram so we can cheer at their progress!