Whisper reading: What it is and how it works

Has your child come home talking about whisper reading? If so, you may wonder what it is. Whisper reading is a strategy teachers use to build reading skills. Instead of reading out loud or silently, kids read in a whisper voice.

You can try whisper reading at home, too. One way is to use what’s called a whisper phone. Read on to learn more about whisper reading, how it can help your child, and how to make a DIY whisper phone.

Whisper reading in the classroom

Teachers use whisper reading in lots of ways. Most often, they use it during small group reading lessons with four to five students.

During one part of a small group reading lesson, the teacher tells students to read silently. Then, the teacher checks in with one student at a time, asking each student to switch from reading silently to reading in a whisper voice. The teacher listens to each child for a minute or two.

By whispering instead of reading with a normal speaking voice, kids get the benefit of reading aloud without some of the drawbacks. The teacher can hear how well the student is reading and correct mistakes. But the child doesn’t distract other kids in the group. Whispering may also be more comfortable for kids who feel anxious about reading out loud.

Whisper reading doesn’t replace the one-on-one teaching a child might need. But it can help a teacher decide which skills a student needs to practice.

Using a whisper phone

Another way teachers use whisper reading is by giving students whisper phones (sometimes called phonics phones). These are tubes made to look like phone receivers.

Some whisper phones look just like a toy phone. Others can be worn like a headset so kids can easily turn pages while whisper reading. There are even whisper phones that have two “receivers” connected by a tube, so one child can whisper read with another, or with a parent or teacher.

To use a whisper phone, kids hold one end of the phone up to their ear and whisper read into the other end. The phone amplifies the sound, which helps kids more clearly hear the sounds and words they’re saying.

Students typically use whisper phones during reading lessons or when the whole class has independent reading time. Other times, kids may use whisper phones in speech therapy or even in music class.

Whisper phones can be especially useful for younger children who struggle with a skill called phonological awareness. For instance, the amplified sound can help kids hear the difference between similar sounds, like /f/ and /v/. Likewise, these phones can help children who have difficulty blending two sounds together, such as /s/ and /m/ to make /sm/.

Whisper phones can also help kids become more fluent readers. That’s because kids practice a sentence several times until it sounds natural. Practicing with a whisper phone can also help build confidence in kids who don’t like reading aloud in class.

Whisper reading at home

Whisper reading and whisper phones aren’t just for the classroom. You can use them at home to improve your child’s reading skills.

If your child gets reading homework, try adding some whisper reading into homework time. Have your child read silently. Check in occasionally and ask your child to whisper read to you. This helps your child stay on task and allows you to check on progress and provide support as needed.

To use a whisper phone at home, you can buy one online. Or you and your child can make your own out of PVC piping from a hardware store. (Watch the above video to learn more about how to make a whisper phone.)

You can add the phone to your bedtime story routine. A whisper phone is a great tool if you have more than one child — and multiple requests for bedtime stories! Have each child choose a book. Read a story with one child while another child reads into a whisper phone. After five minutes, switch places.

Keep in mind that if kids raise their voices above a whisper using a whisper phone, the volume can be very loud! So be sure to warn your child about this, especially if your child is sensitive to sound.

There are many ways that whisper reading and whisper phones can help your child grow as a reader. Talk to your child’s teacher for more ideas.

Discover more ways to help your child build phonological awareness. You can also learn how chunking text can help with reading fluency.

Key takeaways

  • Whisper reading is very helpful for young kids who struggle with phonological awareness.

  • You can use whisper reading during homework time or your child’s bedtime routine.

  • You can buy a whisper phone online or make your own out of PVC piping.


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