The drama of reading at school

Allison Tait blog
Posted on October 21, 2010

Today was Reading day at the school. I’m a regular. I’ve been rolling in for an hour or two from the start of kindy, when I was working through ‘I can walk/I can run/I can read’ style texts with kids who couldn’t keep their eyes on the page for more than 15 seconds at a time.

In those days, Reading was known as ‘AKA Torture’. Now, it’s kind of fun. I am genuinely astounded at the progress.

How do kids learn to read? Even having watched Mr6 do it has not explained the magic.

I’ve been allocated Group Reading this term. I was offered training, but, after some discussion, the teacher and I agreed that I was probably up to the task.

Mind you, it is no easy ride.

Keeping six almost-seven year olds focussed on a book takes some wrangling. Occasionally, I even need to get out the voice that my sisters have dubbed the ‘Mean Aunty Al’ voice. I prefer to call it ‘Cool, Mean Aunty Al’ but they insist my nieces and nephews are not buying into the Cool at this stage.


Today, two of my little groups did some work on the three-page plays they are going to present to the class.  They have read them through a few times and are at the stage of having to act them out.

Mr6’s teacher suggested I ‘have them think about the kinds of actions they might need for their characters’.

I had visions of Robert De Niro working through the motivations of Third Billy Goat Gruff. That vision kept me amused for quite some time.

Anyhoo, it was interesting to see the different approaches of the two groups. Group one – Mr6’s group – have all chosen one character each to play and have stuck to that. Their reading is coming along nicely, but they were adamant they did not want to read it through a second time ‘with actions’.

They’ll stick to the reading, thanks.

Mr6, who is the Big Bad Wolf in the truncated version of The Three Little Pigs (which features, disconcertingly, email), has been wandering around the house repeating what he thinks is his funniest line for a couple of weeks.

It goes something like this: “I’ll be huffing. There might be some puffing. And there’s a pretty good chance that  your house will fall down.”

He is tickled pink with this.

Group two has a much more improvisational approach to their play (The Silly Billy Goats). There was a small all-in brawl before we began about who would take which part. The boy who ended up Second Billy Goat was desperate to play Mysterious Creature, but the group would not have it. He sulked through his part.

This group was thrilled to have a chance to act it out and helped me to construct a ‘bridge’ out of our reading mats. The Mysterious Creature wedged himself under the bag rack, so as to be more mysterious. They made every effort to out-Billy Goat each other when tripping across the bridge.

It was all very hilarious. So much so, that the teacher from the class next door came outside to tell us, in a Very Serious Teacher Voice, to keep it down.

End of hilarity.

I realised at that point that I am an amateur. I went home to work on my Mean Aunty Al voice. There’ll be huffing… There might be some puffing… But there’s a pretty good chance that it will be Cool.

AL Tait cartoon by Mick Elliott

Image Credit: Mick Elliot

Are you new here? Welcome to my blog! I’m Allison Tait, aka A.L. Tait, and I’m the author of two epic middle-grade adventure series, The Mapmaker Chronicles and The Ateban Cipher, and a new ‘almost history’ detective series called the Maven & Reeve Mysteries (you’ll find book #1 THE FIRE STAR here).

You can find out more about me here, and more about my books here.


  1. katepickle

    Just home from our first classroom helping morning for the year. I had an 18 month break from when Smallest stopped sleeping through it in prep to when he is now old enough not to distract everyone mid grade 2! Some things have changed so much since those prep days and somethings not much at all… made me smile.

    I have what my husband calls my ‘kinder voice’ which I cultivated over ten years of teaching 3 and 4 year olds and only trot out at home on very special occasions… LOL

  2. tinsenpup

    Watching children learn to read really is magical, isn’t it?

    Unfortunately I start to channel my mother in situations where quiet authority might otherwise be called for. It’s a slightly threatening high pitched ocker voice that reliably results in self-loathing. Best avoided where possible.

  3. Seana Smith

    Aaarggghhh… you’ve reminded me that I’ll be back in reading group hell/heaven next year, after several years’ absence. I will practise my deep Supernanny voice on the neighbours’ kids before then… and my own gang too. Grooooowwwwllll…..

  4. Naturally Carol

    My mum was a school teacher so growing up with a mean voiced mum, I think I just copied it when I had my own kids..it worked!

  5. Cate

    Nah, this is why sport teachers wear a whistle…no yelling required…just scare the pants off them with a *very* loud blast at convienient intervals!!
    (although I can yell if yelling is required…)

  6. Littlemissairgap

    I can remember reading, & commenting, the first time I read this. You know us teachers just organise these groups to torture parents, don’t you? 😉

  7. Glowless

    My “you’re in trouble voice” is my normal voice because I’m yet to find a growly tone that doesn’t make me sound like a phone-sex worker. But I do accompany my normal voice with a slight tilt of the head and THE GLARE while I say “Don’t make me get your mother!”

  8. littlemissairgap

    So funny! I’m a teacher, plus I’ve worked in radio, so I can “work the voice” to suit most occasions. Usually works but you do get those tough nuts to crack. My favourite voice to use on other people’s kids (usually at a park or play centre) is one I refer to as the Marge Simpson voice. When she’s really pissed at Homer she tends to purse her lips & emits a low rumble. I usually accompany this with narrowed glaring eyes (refined after 20 years of teaching 😉 and a low & slow “don’t mess with me” tone.
    I’m also able to yell across a school oval. See, I knew there would be some advantages in being a loud little thing!

  9. Clea

    We still try and get the kids to act out some of their reading, even in high school (yr 7 mainly). It’s usually the ‘cool’ kids who won’t have a bar of it. In my class, the more noise the better 🙂
    I have this thing my kids call ‘the funny eye thing’ when I am attempting to look angry… they all wait for me to do it, but rather than be scared of my impending explosion, they actually point it out, just so I’m aware it has occurred… kinda takes the point of it away! he he he 🙂

  10. Stacia

    I have a voice I pull out with my own kids, which of course they’ve learned to ignore.

    But I was at a restaurant with a friend and her kids last week, and she had gone to refill her drink. Her little boy was climbing all over the booth and her daughter flicking applesauce on the table. I pulled out “the voice,” and they both froze and looked at me with their eyes wide. Strangely, I was pleased. Hey, at least it works on somebody’s kids!

  11. Bodaciousboomer

    I have no such voice, sorry. However, I discover that when I get truly aggravated and my heads spins round a couple of times, they straighten right up.

  12. Jen

    You are awesome! parent helpers are a rare breed in all the schools I have taught in, I wish you were one of my students parents 🙂 . I love that big bad wolfs line! rofl. With my friends kids I use a cross between my teacher voice and cool voice. I don’t want to scare the poor darlings away on a playdate but I also wont allow them to trash the joint! (it’s a pretty firm fitting hat that teacher one! lol)

  13. River

    Heck no! When I talk to other people’s kids they pay about as much attention to me as my own kids did. Which was anywhere between 0-5%

  14. MultipleMum

    How can the Mean Auntie Al voice be cool? I mean, it is so NOT COOL. Aunty Al is pretty cool, but not her when wearing her cranky pants. Maybe we should call it Mean, but still cool, Auntie Al 🙂

    BTW which of the groups is ‘the cool set’. Those who will practise? or those who won’t?

  15. Suzie G

    I think I am using my cranky voice simply too often these days – my daughter takes very little notice until she is made to go to her room. Gotta love independent 3 1/2 year olds… but it still works on other misbehaving kidlets 🙂

  16. Sarah

    Having done the crossover from teacher to parent I know what a fine line it all is. That said, I want to hear your scary voice 😉

  17. Maxabella

    The Mean Aunty Al voice must be losing it’s power… Oh no! And, seriously, there is nothing Cool about it. But you knew that already, of course you did. x

  18. nadinewrites108

    I have the teacher eyes and a low, quiet rumble like the threat of a storm. It works on most when used sparingly (except for particularly frisky 2-year-old boys called Little Lion).

    The approaching storm has only been defeated once in hand-to-hand combat by an especially cheeky Year 10 boy. IN this case, the lesson dissolved into fits of laughter when he declared that he, too, enjoyed swimming, particularly the Brrrreast-stroke, if you know what I mean, Miss. I later learned that this particular student was renowned for his triumphs over all manner of “voices” – he had once responded to his teacher’s complete meltdown (and subsequent silent class) with outstretched arms and a gallant, “Someone needs a hug.”

    Some kids just can’t be broken!

  19. Aussie-waffler

    Oh yes, but I find it’s not just the voice, it’s the ‘death stare’ that really gets them quaking. And I know for a fact that they are quaking because I learned the ‘death stare’ from a master, my own mother.

  20. Lori @ RRSAHM

    Ahh, the ‘teacher voice’. My mum is a primary teacher, and we knew we were in trouble as kids- and still, now- if the teacher voice came out….

  21. Kebeni

    i love reading to my kids and both of them read. It is funny how it just seems to click one day and they can do it. Mind you I was reading today how Stephen Hawkins couldn’t read until he was 8 which confirms my suspicions that children should be able to learn at their own pace

  22. Imperfectly Me

    Hi Love (tee hee hee!!!)
    Great post as always…I call it my “M” voice (the Judy Dench variety), pitch drops to radio broadcaster tone with very clipped vowels!!!!

  23. Gill@OurParklife

    Oh yes, I have THAT voice, but then I am an early childhood teacher so it developed as a job necessity! It is a serious, quiet, disappointed voice that works very well on under 6’s. Older kids, not so much!

    I loved reading this post – made me laugh out loud, especially Mr 6’s funny line…

    But email in the three little pigs?

    Gill xo

  24. PinkPatentMaryJanes

    That line is hysterical – I shall be finding some opportunity to drop that into conversation at some stage in the next few weeks. I love the insight that helping out at school offers, watching the dynamics etc. My no-nonsense voice is probably an octave lower, and my face more expressionless {botox-esque perhaps…}

  25. allison tait

    LOL @Posie. I’m the same with the big eyes and the over-animated mouth.

    @DeerBaby – one of the other mums at reading yesterday suggested I give lessons in the mean voice to all the other volunteers. Feel free to join my classes.

  26. Posie Patchwork

    Oh yes, such a mixed bag the mummy reader volunteer role. I like year 1, they get it, they can read & you can start to make it exciting, not droning. I find that i make big eyes & mouth the words with them, can’t help it, like i open & close my mouth with scissors, it’s just how i do things. So i figure, my little students learn to read, add emotion & learn to lip read (ok, if they need to read the lips of an over animated person on the other side of the room one day) all at the same time!! Love Posie

  27. Deer Baby

    Great post. Why do some teachers have to be such meaniepants! Mr 6 might like the subverted version called The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Helen Oxenbury. They use dynamite, barbed wire and reinforced steel and a pneumatic drill.

    I got to use my meany voice at the weekend when I somehow got lumbered with 6 children to look after. As one told me I was not the boss of him and stuck his fingers in his ears whenever I tried to tell him to STAY AWAY FROM THE MOVING CARS so he got my meany voice. It didn’t work on him.

  28. Lucy

    Oh Al, this is adorable. I can so relate to the dealing with reading groups thingo. (Thursdays are my day too, with Miss Olivia. I wriggled out of doing Charlie’s class – you’re right – torture.)

    I what the kids call “Lucy’s cranky spanky voice”. As soon as I use it, as soon as they call me on it, I have to hide in the fridge with giggles.

    One of Olivia’s little mates says of the male variety asks “PLEASE do the cranky spanky voice Lucy, please…..”

    So, not effective. At all.

  29. martine

    Excellent story, thanks for sharing. And what is wrong with a bit of hilarity in class, teachers are all party poopers 🙁 Sounds like the kids had a great time with you.
    much love

  30. anjwritesabout.com

    Ha! Got to use my cool/mean voice today w/ neighbour boys- way more successful than trying to use it on my own boys!

  31. katswhiskers

    Love this! I’m coming at it from the classroom side (where I do believe the reading thing is just as mysterious – and magical) and I do love your parent take on reading groups… and drama… and discipline. (You disruptive parent, you. 😉 )

    Thankyou – for valuing your child’s education enough to put your body on the line and support. BIG good thing!

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