by Dorothy Milne
Shared reading has always been one of my favourite teaching activities because it has the potential to reach and include all students in what can be a fun and memorable reading experience. If there is something I feel most of my students need in terms of reading instruction, it can often be taught or reinforced within a shared reading session. How convenient is that? Let’s look a little bit closer at the what, why, how, and when of shared reading.
What is shared reading? Shared reading is a teacher-led reading exercise where students read (and re-read) from a shared book or other material such as a big book, poster, overhead, or any format that allows the teacher and all students to access the text at the same time. The text is usually shared several times (sometimes over the course of several days). Lessons often follow a similar structure that includes the teacher introducing and reading the text, and then the teacher and students re-reading and discussing the text, with active whole-class participation throughout.
Why use shared reading lessons with the class? It’s all about balance, and a balanced and effective reading program includes a variety of independent, small-group, and whole-class activities, each of which serves a specific role or purpose. Some common objectives for shared reading lessons include:
- Developing print awareness and concepts of print
- Building phonemic awareness of symbol sounds/letter sounds
- Teaching “word attack strategies” (decoding skills, picture clues, using meaning)
- Introducing new vocabulary
- Supporting comprehension skills
- Improving fluency and reading with expression
- Showing that reading is fun! ← my personal favourite
How can shared reading be used? There are many possibilities and formats for how a shared reading lesson can be done, and how you structure shared reading lessons will depend on the age level and instructional needs of your class. Younger students will often respond more to simpler, shorter texts, while older students are usually more prepared to work with more complex genres. Use a big book with lots of high-frequency words to practice high-frequency word recognition. Do you need to review certain symbol sounds/letter sounds? Select a text that uses the sounds throughout. Text selection will depend on the lesson’s objective.
Here’s a shared reading format that I like to do with younger students. This format aims to improve students’ confidence as readers and allows for all students to participate.
- Choose simple and funny (sometimes silly!) poems, preferably poems that have lots of repetition and predictable word patterns.
- Write the poem on chart paper or the whiteboard and read the poem out loud once.
- Read the poem out loud a second time, but this time point to each word as you read.
- The third time through (this is why it’s good to use short poems!), read the poem and point to the words, but don’t say some of the words. Instead, invite the students to say the words you leave out. The students have heard the poem enough times and most will have caught on to any predictable word patterns, so even if they are not literally reading the word, they can say the word out loud from memory.
This is an excellent exercise in building students’ self-confidence as readers. Over the next couple of days, revisit the poem and each time you read, leave out more words. By the end of the week, students are “reading” (by memory) or actually reading the whole poem on their own.
This is often a good opportunity to teach about using expression when reading aloud and to show how punctuation affects the meaning of the text. Time is precious, and I don’t like to miss any opportunities to introduce or review reading strategies and concepts. Depending on the poem, I try to choose one or two teaching points to focus on with each poem.
When should shared reading lessons happen? No matter their level, all readers can benefit from participation in shared reading lessons, and in the younger grades this can be a valuable daily exercise. The lessons can be structured so that all students are on a level playing field, or the closest to a level playing field you can get with a classroom full of students with different reading histories, skills, interests, and abilities. Just like with read-alouds, shared reading is a chance to have all students meaningfully participate in a reading activity together, supporting each other as a group. So much literacy instruction occurs in groups of children reading and writing in and around the same skill level, but I love the whole mixed-group dynamic and participation that a shared reading lesson provides.
Dorothy Milne is a teacher, educational writer, and consultant living in Toronto, Canada. She has worked in schools with students and teachers in Canada, the United States, Germany, and Sri Lanka.