Shared Reading – A Critical Component of Balanced Literacy Instruction

In kindergarten and first grade, shared reading is the anchor of a Balanced Literacy program.  But what exactly is it?  What does shared reading look like?

Here’s an illustration…

In Ms. Avery’s classroom, kindergarten students are sitting on a colorful rug waiting for the “show” to begin.  It’s shared reading time, one of their favorite times of the day.  Ms. Avery is sitting in a rocking chair with a giant easel to her right.  Perched on the easel is a Big Book.  It’s a brand new big book, one Ms. Avery has picked specifically for shared reading.

But before she begins, Ms. Avery warms–up by rereading a big book the students are already familiar with.  She reinforces some concepts of printed words or models a new reading strategy.  Now the students are prepared for the new book.

Ms. Avery takes the book from the easel, shows the children the cover, reads the title and author.  She returns the book to the easel.  Now she’s ready to open the book, turn the pages and most importantly, open wide the doors to new adventures through reading.

First, the students excitedly predict what the book is about.  There’s a lot of sharing going on as they talk about their background knowledge and similar experiences related to the book.  Ms. Avery prompts the sharing by asking guiding questions, such as:

“What do you think our new book is about?”

“Who has been to the circus?”

“Have you ever had trouble getting out of bed in the morning?”

Then finally, it’s time for the story.

Ms. Avery reads the tale with enthusiasm and fluent expression.  No stopping the first time through.  The first reading is to let the students simply enjoy the story and note the rhythmic pattern of the words.  During the second reading, Ms. Avery will point to the words as she reads them again.  The students know they’re invited to read along if they want.

The following day, Ms. Avery reads the book for the third time.  Now she implements other shared reading strategies into the lesson. Most students will be eager to read along by this time.

Ms. Avery has covered several words with index cards or post-it notes and asks the students to think of words that would make sense.   They can use predicting skills to help them identify the word, such as looking at the first and last letter of the word.  When the shared reading lesson is over, she puts the new big book in the class library so students can revisit it during independent reading.

Why is shared reading so important?

As with all components of balanced literacy instruction, shared reading provides rich opportunities for students to discover the pleasures of reading.  Because students gather around the teacher in groups, a sense of community is established and students feel encouraged and confident to read along in enthusiastic environment.  Also, young readers are introduced to different genres and authors.  A variety of reading strategies are demonstrated during shared reading, dependent upon what is appropriate for the context of the story and the genre.

Benefits of Shared Reading

Shared reading can take on a playful or structured approach to learning to read.  In either case, students have the opportunity to:

  • Actively participate in reading
  • Learn to predict how a story will progress
  • Understand that illustrations can help construct meaning
  • Increase and develop new vocabulary
  • Discover and implement reading strategies
  • Recognize letters and sounds in the context of the words of the story
  • Understand concepts of the printed word
  • Use structural and visual cues to aid them in the reading process
  • Sequence story events

The list goes on to include skills they learn during rereading, such as information recall, increased sight word development, and phonics.

Shared Reading Strategies

Here are two strategies or shared reading activities teachers use with much success:

1.  Echo reading – In this strategy, the developing reader echoes a more advanced reader.  By imitating skilled reading, the young reader gains confidence, attempts to read text they couldn’t read on their own, and learns to use proper expression and phrasing during oral reading.

2. Choral reading – During choral reading the class reads aloud with the teacher.  Students less confident in their reading ability aren’t as anxious about reading aloud when they’re part of a community of readers.

By now it should be obvious why shared reading is such an important component of balanced literacy instruction.  It’s a powerful strategy that not only teaches and reinforces reading skills, but is tailor made for introducing rich literature – literature that leads to a positive emotional experience while introducing different points of view and things to ponder.  Great story telling is the first step towards a lifelong love of reading.