The Big Book Reading Experience

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When I remember memorable shared book experiences, either as a child or as a teacher, I see readers completely lost in the books they are reading, pointing at the details on the pages, turning the pages back and forth, asking questions, making comments. As teachers we might find shared reading challenging without a book which is large enough for presentation in class. This is where Big Books can help you and your young learners, and we have lots of titles both in the Helbling Young Readers and The Thinking Train series. In this post we will look at the benefits of Big Book Reading and offer some practical tips to get the most out of it.

Let’s see the most important features of the Big Book reading experience.

What is a Big Book?

Big books are large format versions of storybooks which have been specially devised for shared reading and reading aloud. Helbling Young Readers  and Thinking Train Big Books are large format versions of the original Helbling Young Readers and Thinking Train series. Magnified illustrations and enlarged text allow children to see and follow words as they are pointed to and read by the teacher.

How big is a Big Book?

The Thinking Train Big Books are 35 cm x 3cm, and the Young Readers Big Books are 35 cm x 47 cm.

Where can you use a Big Book?

You can read a Big Book in class, in a book club session, at home, in an afternoon reading session. They are made for young learners so they are best read with students between the ages of four and ten.

Why should you use a Big Book?

Language development

Class or group reading can be a similar experience to reading at home. The experience of reading a favourite Helbling Big Book together as a class or a group is a powerful tool for

  • revision,
  • consolidation,
  • vocabulary development,
  • and teaching language structures.

All these goals can be achieved through the simple joy of reading, association and repetition. There is a strong emphasis on language, pronunciation and fluency in these shared reading sessions. By reading aloud a big book we can stop and focus on words or phrases, help children with language and ask questions to develop it. By hearing the language spoken correctly children are exposed to a model of language which they will subsequently be able to use and make their own.

Socialization and shared reading experience

Apart from the benefits regarding langauge development, even greater importance is given to understanding, interacting with and enjoying the story. Our experience is that poor readers are often only corrected in their reading and never asked to interact with the stories they read. This is why we would like to encourage interaction and the promotion of a fun experience in Big Book Reading sessions. We believe that they will bring reading to life for all children in your classes.

Why are shared reading and interactive reading aloud such important approaches?

We have at least seven good reasons to promote these approaches in schools. 

  1. Children love a good story and the attention of being read to personally.
  2. Children feel involved in the action, and they sometimes even forget that it is a formal teaching situation.
  3. Comprehension is almost immediate, with instant clarification and support from the classroom teacher.
  4. As children observe and listen to experienced readers reading, they develop strategies that are important for a variety of listening and speaking situations.
  5. It helps in teaching frequently used vocabulary and in understanding when and how certain words are used (‘the’ for example) avoiding complex grammatical explanations.
  6. It encourages initiative in the form of prediction, observation, connection, clarifying, questions/comments, entering a story world, using their own imagination.
  7. It encourages and breaks down barriers for children struggling to read. After shared reading they will be able to read the same story more confidently.

Three important factors: class reading time, choice and setting

Give a lot of importance to class reading time. It is a good idea to set aside a fixed day or time for class reading, so it is something the class can get used to and look forward to.
Let your students choose. Once you have built up a class library of Helbling Big Books, encourage the children in your class to take it in turns to choose which title they want to read. Even if they reach for a lower level title that you have already read as a class many times before (‘I’ minus one reading, or reading slightly lower than your current level is a valid strategy for consolidating words and structures as well as a great springboard for playing with language as the readers are not struggling to understand).
The setting makes a difference in Big Book Reading. The teacher can either sit on the floor with the children or sit at a higher level holding up the Helbling Big Book. Some teachers are more active and will like to walk around the classroom involving children by bringing the Big Book close to each reader. Use whatever works best for you and your class, it is the informal setting that encourages children to feel more involved and to have more fun.

Visit these websites to browse our Big Book titles:

In our next post we will offer guidence and tips for Big Book Reading Sessions and Cambridge Exam practice. Until then, keep reading!

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