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Benefits of reading speak loud and clear

CHILDREN LOVE hearing Roald Dahl tales read aloud in class, much more than Harry Potter novels.

Almost a third of primary teachers questioned for a TES survey named Dahl as their favourite author for class reading. And more than a quarter of teachers said that his books received the most positive response from pupils.

The Twits was his most popular book among pupils and teachers. Teachers were more enthusiastic than children about Dahl's most famous novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Amelia Foster, the director of the Roald Dahl museum, is not surprised.

"Roald Dahl's books are pacey and he doesn't linger over detail, which is important when reading aloud," she said.

"He never forgot what made children tick. His books say that life is fantastically wonderful and exciting, but bad things happen."

The only books to rival Dahl's monopoly on children's affections were the Horrid Henry series by Francesca Simon.

More than 350 teachers responded to The TES survey on reading aloud. Many said that they carefully selected texts, but almost two-thirds acknowledged that they had on at least one occasion chosen a book that went down badly.

Surprisingly, the Harry Potter books were the most likely to receive a bad response, along with Carrie's War by Nina Bawden.

Ian McNeilly, of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said: "Teachers might think they're on to a winner straight away with Harry Potter but many children have already read the books or seen the films.

They have a personal relationship with the text. So to have somebody else read it through with you becomes a second or third best."

When Lyn Burley read Harry Potter to her Year 5 pupils, they became noticeably bored and restless. "I thought they'd love it," the novels teacher at Church Drive primary, in Nottinghamshire, said. "The descriptions are gorgeous.

"But its very strengths are its weaknesses: not a lot happens very quickly.

Reading it aloud is much like wading through thick mud. The children weren't engaged and were impatient for the next event.

"In the end, I abandoned it."

By contrast, all Ms Burley's pupils enjoyed Dahl's books being read to them, particularly The Twits.

"They love all the horrificness, the nose-picking and gunge," she said. "To have an adult read those words with zeal is very appealing."

Ms Burley said she took as much care to prepare for reading aloud as she would for other lessons, and would read chapters through in advance.

Elizabeth Hammill, the founding director of the Seven Stories centre for children's books in Newcastle, agreed that there were differences between books to listen to and books children read.

"Reading-aloud books need strong narrative, really good pace and characters you can identify with. Cliffhanger chapters certainly help.

"But if the teacher is passionate about books, then that passion comes across. A good teacher can make anything work."


Books teachers most enjoy reading aloud

1 The Twits by Roald Dahl

2 George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

3 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

4 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

5 (joint) Matilda by Roald Dahl and The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson

Best response from pupils

1 The Twits by Roald Dahl

2 Horrid Henry by Francesca Simon

3 (joint) George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl and the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

5 Matilda by Roald Dahl

Worst response from pupils

1 (joint) The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling and Carrie's War by Nina Bawden

3 (joint) Charlotte's Web by EB White and Kensuke's Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo

5 Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

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