The Power of Words

Tomorrow is my 40th Birthday and times like that give you a chance to reflect on who you are and why you do things. Working life brings that question into your mind pretty sharply. Most days when my classes study novels, there are activities, questions, responses – the whole range of lessons that provide for learning gain and the like. Today, however, I decided to read their novel aloud.

Novels can be many things to many people – for me, I like the idea that somehow they contain the world that surrounds an author, bits of it plucked out of the sky and put into words. We do tend in high school to forget the aural part of this world, thinking of them as just an internal product to be enjoyed silently. This is not necessarily the case, especially of you have students unfamiliar with the worlds contained in the pages of the novel.

The worlds of the novels I read out today both contained sport – one rugby union, one soccer. The sections I read out included a death in one novel (for the older students) and a victory (for Year 8s). Both were dramatic, moving and had some wonderful description and dialogue that was crying to be read out.

The lessons were quiet and you could hear the students hanging on the words, especially if I threw in some dramatic pauses. At least, hanging on the words when I told them to shut their laptops. Just reading novels to a class reminds you and reminds them about the power of words floating in the air and bringing to life a scene. It also reminded me of why it is I am an English teacher. When you strip away performance targets, external exam results, league tables and the rest, sometimes it’s just you, a novel and a group of kids ready to listen.

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3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this; as an avowed read-it-aloud book lover, mum and Pre-service secondary teacher, it is magic for me to hear of teachers who are keeping the spoken narrative going for older students. It’s uncommon to find articles/ books about reading aloud or readers theatre for high school ss ( if you know of good sources, let me know). My oldest son is a tween-ager and we just finished To Kill A Mockingbird totally read aloud- it took me over 2 months of night reading – in goofy Southern accents, which was so much fun for us both. Reading aloud made it easier for me to edit some sections, aided the understanding of meaning without ‘vocal building’, and we got to talk about context and social concepts at an age-appropriate level. And I recently read an autobiography called the Reading Promise, about a girl who read aloud with her teacher-librarian dad every night till she went to college. I can’t really see my sons going quite that far, but the point about enshrining reading aloud and the communal enactment of stories was a good one! I feel more confident about doing regular read alouds now I’ve read your experience.

  2. This reminds me of a meeting at Barker College when John Free (TL) read to a group of teachers to illustrate the same power of reading aloud – we didn’t want him to stop. If only we could do this so much more! A ‘Mister Pip’ moment…

    Happy birthday!

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