New to Storytime: How to Read Books to a Group

Are you new to storytime? Welcome to the family! Storytime is probably my favourite part of being a children’s librarian. I’m writing a series all about the basics in hopes of helping those who are just starting as storytime leaders. This post will discuss tips and tricks for reading books aloud to a group. Don’t miss the other posts in the series:

Before Reading

Read the book ahead of time. Check to make sure it’s in good condition and there aren’t any ripped, damaged, or missing pages. Practice saying the words out loud so you get a feel for the rhythm or flow of the story.

In storytime, find a place to sit (usually at the front of the room) where everyone can see you. My storytime groups are big so I sit on a chair. If you have a small group (5 or less children) you can get away with sitting on the ground with them.

Before jumping into the story, take time to read the title, author, and illustrator. I like explaining to kids that the author writes the words and the illustrator draws the pictures. Point out things on the cover and ask kids to guess what the story will be about. You can run your finger along the title to draw their attention to print. If the book has a unique orientation, like Shake the Tree, take a moment to talk about how the book is different. All of these things help kids understand how books work and boost their reading confidence.

Something I was taught in one of my MLIS courses was the mechanics of reading aloud. I highly recommend this video of Dr. Brian Sturm from the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill that covers how to hold a book, how to position your body, and how to turn pages.

Another thing to consider is how to arrange your storytime space in general to allow families to view the book. I place little cushions around the room in no particular order. I don’t mind if kids sit near me, in fact sometimes kids with vision impairment need to be closer to see the pages. In the video Dr. Sturm recommends a 90 degree angle for best viewing. The size of your group and the size of your space will affect how you configure your read aloud experience.

During Reading

Slow Your Pace

Almost everyone I’ve ever observed at storytime reads too fast. Me included! Working on slowing my pace has been a goal of mine every since I read Megan Dowd Lambert’s book. Kids need time to process language and answer the questions you ask as you read. Toddlers especially benefit from a slow paced reading.

Scan the Book

Because my groups are quite large I do have to scan the book while I read. Scanning is when you turn the book from one side to the other so that everyone has a chance to see the pictures. Trust me, kids will let you know if they can’t see! If I know the book by heart, I will do this as I say the words. Otherwise I do it after I read the words which helps slow down my pace.

Make it Interactive

Find ways to model interactivity while you read. Examples include asking open-ended questions, adding a movement, or having everyone say a word or phrase together. Saroj Ghoting has an excellent brochure on interactive reading with a list of open-ended questions to choose from. When I read books like Firefighter Duckies! by Frank W. Dormer I teach families the repeating phrase and correlating made-up gestures before we read the book so they can do it with me as I read. You can also pause at the end of a sentence and have the kids fill in the blank. For babies and toddlers, labeling objects on the page is a great way to support their language acquisition. Making the read aloud an interactive experience models to caregivers ways to make reading engaging for their little one.

Make Connections

Kids will often do this naturally, but it’s great to make a connection between the book and something in the child’s life. Anchoring information to something they already know helps the information stick. You can also help them learn new words by explaining their meaning and connecting them to the picture by pointing to it as you read.

Try New Things

Try reading a book standing up. Try reading a book with a partner. Try “reading” a wordless picture book and have the kids tell the story. The smaller your group the more flexibility you’ll have to try new things, but even with large groups I encourage you to take chances and evaluate what worked and what didn’t.

Use Your Voice

If you have a big group like me you have to be able to turn on your “storytime voice.” This voice is louder, more exaggerated, and more outgoing than my usual voice. If you are reading a book with different characters you can experiment with different voices. Try using dramatic pauses and emphasizing the words that appear bigger on the page. A quick search on YouTube for library storytimes will result in multiple videos featuring examples of how to do this effectively.

After Reading

One of the ways we can support the early literacy development of our storytime kids is by extending the book. You can do simple things like ask the kids what their favourite part was or pick a stamp that matches something from the book and tell caregivers to use the stamp as a conversation starter later in the day. Some libraries are able to offer a craft component to storytime. I recommend choosing a process art activity related to the book. If you’ve got space for a book display, put out books connected to the theme that might feature similar or related vocabulary and concepts. Lastly, try retelling the story, either that day or the following week, in a different form. When kids hear the same story in a different format it helps reinforce the narrative structure and vocabulary. I love reading a book one week, doing the felt story version the next week, and doing a puppet version the following week. See my planning a storytime session post for examples of how I do this.

What are your tips for reading a book aloud to a group? I’d love to know what works best for you in the comments!

8 thoughts on “New to Storytime: How to Read Books to a Group

  1. Oh my goodness, the slowing down aspect is so, so important! I’ve had people worry that if they read too slowly the group will get bored or lose interest, but I’ve found that you can read slowly and still make the experience exciting, it’s all about your tone and body language and expressiveness. Make it a whole body experience! 🙂

    1. Totally. I wish I could find a really good video of someone reading a book out loud to a group of kids at a slow pace. Especially a group of toddlers.

  2. Thank you for the link to how to read a story video. I took over programming for babies and toddlers in September of 2018 and didn’t have any training on how to do it. I found your blog and website and they have been really helpful! I hope one day to be as wonderful at my job as you ladies are!

    1. I’m so glad my posts have been useful to you! If you have any suggestions for topics that would be of interest to people who are new to storytime, please let me know. I’m working on posts about felt stories, puppets, and planning a 30-minute storytime right now.

  3. I agree with slowing things down. When I was new to storytime, my nervousness often led to me running through my whole plan way too fast. I had to learn how to pace myself to make storytime last for the full 30 minutes.

    At my library, we do a lot of drop-in storytimes, so it varies week to week in size. My tips for drop-in storytime:

    When the group is small, I tend to run through everything quicker, because the kids are usually quieter and more focused. Transitions between activities don’t take nearly as much time with a small group (stuff like passing out/handing back shakers and props goes much faster, too). I always have a couple of extra songs, rhymes or fingerplays in my back pocket to fill in those extra minutes.

    I take several options for books with me, too; if I have just 5-10 kids in attendance, I can often read something longer that I might not be able to read to a group of 50.

  4. You guys are amazing ! I am a Trainer for ECCE drama in India and my teachers are all utilizing your videos !
    Thank you so much !

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