Do you ask students to read aloud?

Most children’s church teachers ask one student to read aloud from the Bible during class. Why not? This is what the teacher did when we were kids. Well, I would like to propose that this method is very ineffective and today’s c.c. teachers need to use alternatives to communicate.

Let me break down the method in question. As would be expected, good teachers want to have God’s word read in class. The teacher calls on one student to read either an entire passage or chooses individuals to read one verse each. While the reader does his/her thing, theoretically, all the other students follow along. This method is sometimes called “popcorn reading.”

Several problems exist. Few students read fluently enough for the text to maintain meaning as they read aloud. Reading is choppy, and lacks expression and phrasing. As a result, by the time the student finishes reading, the reading student as well as the listening students have no clue what the passage is about. And isn’t that the point of reading the Bible? To understand it? In addition, students who are not reading tend to distract and get in trouble because they’re bored. Sometimes the reader feels unnecessarily down on himself because of reading troubles.

So what are the alternatives? Stop reading God’s word? Of course not. Try one or more of these higher engagement tricks.

  1. Choral reading: Everyone reads the passage together aloud. The teacher leads this with a little louder voice than the students to keep everyone together.
  2.  Cloze: The teacher reads the passage aloud as the students follow along with their eyes. Once or twice per sentence, the teacher leaves a word out and allows the kids to shout out that word. If all the students are following, then they should all shout the missing word together. If you notice that there are several voices missing, reread the sentence to show you expect everyone to follow.
  3. Silent reading: Ask all students to read the passage silently. When finished reading the passage, students silently put up a thumb and read the passage again. This keeps all students engaged in reading while they “wait” for the slower readers. Once you see that all students have put up a thumb, continue with your discussion. Speedy students who reread the passage again and again can add raised fingers to their hand to show how many times they’ve read the passage.

Remember, your job is to teach a Bible lesson to the class, not reading skills. Of course it’s nice to build other skills on Sunday mornings, but you should primarily focus on building up your students’ spirits, not their academics. So when you consider how you will teach, always choose the option that promotes spiritual growth.

5 thoughts on “Do you ask students to read aloud?”

  1. Interesting thoughts. I definitely believe that asking the children to read sometimes is an important part of teaching from the Bible. Many children get quite excited about the fact that they get to open the beloved Book and actually read from its very pages.

    One thing I sometimes do to account for various abilities to read is assign passages (from a portion of a verse to several verses) depending on each individual child. It can also help if we paraphrase thoughts every so often as the passage is read.

    As you mentioned, the “fill-in-the-blank” method can be really good, too.

    I have never tried choral reading with a class at church before (although I have with my own children). I wonder if you get some children who just go through the motions of reading along (for instance, lip-moving or occasionally repeating a word or syllable a step or two behind everybody else). If so, do you think the class would be benefited more by a different method? I guess every method will have its pros and cons. Just thinking…

    It’s been a while since I have given much thought to all this! Thanks for a good article!

    ~Sheila 🙂 (aka “HastenHome” on Twitter)

  2. Thanks googlepo!

    Sheila, I so appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment! Your input is well received. With regard to the kids reading God’s precious Word, I totally agree with you. The techniques I suggest do not remove the reading of God’s word, only make it something that the kids will have a better ability to understand. Paraphrasing is super important also and I failed to mention that in my effort to keep things brief. The issue of apathy in some students just moving their lips, etc. is definitely something that the teacher needs to address. The teacher can easily monitor this by looking up every few seconds. All teachers know which students are prone to this so they only have to zero in on a few kids. I insist that everyone tries to be involved so when somebody checks out, we do it again. The kids figure out which adults mean business very quickly and most kids respond appropriately. And as you said, there is no perfect method as long as we are teaching sinners. I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

  3. I know this article was meant for Sunday School teachers, but reading it really resonated with me even though I am not a Sunday School teacher. Your message actually goes across the board. I am a regular school teacher and I have often questioned how effective having the students read aloud is, due to factors that you mentioned. I gave up on popcorn reading a while ago because many of my students have reading fluency difficulties and I do not like to make them feel bad when other students correct them or make comments about their reading. The strategies you mentioned are great. I use them all in my classroom.

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