Inflection: What? Why? How?

Recently I posted on my Instagram about the importance of reading to our children with “inflection”, and I wanted to take a little more time to delve into that topic.

Inflection is a noun that means “a change in the form of a word…to express a grammatical function or attribute such as tense, mood, person, number, case, and gender” (Google Dictionary). Simply, inflection refers to the change in pitch or modulation of voice as we read “dramatically”. Inflection seems like a simple thing, but it’s a big indicator of reading success. Not just the physical ability, but, more importantly, comprehension. When I am working with a struggling reader, the first thing I do is ask them to read for me, and in doing this, I am listening for a lot of things. One of the more important things I am listening for is inflection. A person who does not read with inflection, nine times out of ten, will not be able to tell me about what they read. Being able to look at a sentence as a whole and see the punctuation + vocabulary, infer meaning and the author’s intention, and apply varied pitch, timing, and modulation to one’s voice is actually a very advanced skill. If we are participants in story time with children, it is something we should practice and model. We want all readers to be able to read with inflection so that they may strengthen their comprehension of what they’re reading. A young child reading on their own may mimic adults inflection, and therefore practice the skill without even realizing it.

If you naturally have a “flat” voice, and you’re unsure of where to begin, I would select books that have a lot of character dialogue and a clear rise and fall in the plot. One of our favorites is The Pout-Pout Fish Link This book is perfect because it not only contains a lot of characters and varying dialogue to practice different characters and voices out plus adorable and detailed pictures that make the book enjoyable for even the youngest of readers, but it also has a great message of knowing your own emotions and how best to help an emotional friend. On each page, there is a new sea creature that visits the Pout-Pout fish and has their own unique dialogue and textual portrayal. The pictures are rich and full of lots of different things to talk about, ranging from simple emerging literacy/numeracy skills to higher level vocabulary and emotional literacy questions. For example, you can ask your child “how many worms do you see?” or “can you find the octopus?” on the simpler end. For older, more advanced children, you can introduce things like idioms (“what do you think a “pearl of advice” is?”), or higher level vocabulary (“what do you think “squelchy” means?”), or even emotional literacy questions (“why do you think the silver fish’s kindness worked better to change the Pout-Pout Fish’s mood, rather than all the advice he got from the other sea creatures?” “Do you think that advice is always what people need to hear when they are upset?”). Through all of this, the varying sea creatures and descriptors give you plenty of opportunities to practice changing your inflection to represent changes in character or emotion and will help to deepen your child’s understanding of the text and its high level of vocabulary.

Another book we love is Courderoy (Link). This simple story of a bear looking for a forever home contains an inner dialogue that you can dramatize as well as a few secondary characters and dramatic moments. Consider altering your reading rate as well to add variables to your inflection and strengthen your listeners’ comprehension. Decreasing your rate when the security officer is looking for the hiding bear will create suspense and add to the drama, and increasing your rate as Lisa runs up the four flights of stairs to her apartment adds to the excitement of bear and girl at the edge of their forever friendship.

I could write on and on about our favorite books, but I’ll save them for other posts! Let me know if you try these tips and comment any other books that lend themselves well to inflection practice!

Happy Reading (with Inflection)!