13: Shared Reading

Sharing connotes, at times, a limited amount of something which must be divided up into smaller quantities.  One piece of cake and two children who want dessert calls for sharing.  At other times, sharing connotes an experience that is enriched when more than one person participates in it.  A movie is more fun, more memorable, more entertaining when viewed with another person; context is created and there is an opportunity to contribute to a shared meaning. A community of readers is created through sharing, too.

In shared reading, the teacher reads aloud while students read along.  This differs from read alouds where the teacher reads but students only listen. (See Table 13.1 for a comparison of several reading formats teachers may employ in the classroom.)  While primary grade teachers are familiar with shared reading using big books, upper elementary and secondary teachers often use shared reading, too.  Examples of texts may not be appropriate for students to read independently or in guided reading situations include texts with a great deal of highly technical vocabulary, texts that include concepts rich in high levels of abstraction, texts for readers who have not fully integrated graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic cueing systems fluently, and texts that provide a foundation or touchstone for further study.

Shared reading provides the teacher with the opportunity to model predicting one’s way through text. When a teacher stops at various points and asks students to predict word meanings or future events, the cognitive strategy of predicting is modeled for the student participants in the shared reading.  We have found, as others have (e. g., Dreher, 2003; Allen, 2002), that secondary students enjoy the shared reading experience just as much as first graders do. Teachers often provide older students with choices of texts to improve engagement with literacy tasks; less often teachers provide opportunities for students to choose the format of the tasks—shared reading, independent reading, read aloud, and so forth.

Step by Step

  1. A text is chosen by the teacher, the students, or through a negotiated process dependent on learning goals and desired outcomes.
  2. Pre-reading activities are identified based on the goals and outcomes as well as students’ needs. These can include a preview of vocabulary, an overview of text structures, a preview of major concepts, a preview of graphs, pictures, charts, headings, and other text features, or a picture walk.  Students may make predictions based on the pre-reading.
  3. During reading, the teacher stops to model predictions and to solicit predictions from students. Primary-grade teachers may point to the words and phrases as the reading progresses.  The teacher may also stop at various points in the reading to review previous predictions about events in the story and to refine predictions as the story unfolds.
  4. Students and teachers work on skills related to the reading (letter-sound correspondences, punctuation and other usage, comprehension strategies, etc.). They may also return to the text or to a similar text for rereading or independent reading. Strickland (1998) describes a strategy for situating skills instruction in meaningful literacy experiences as a whole-part-whole approach that starts with a whole text, explores with students parts of language and skills with language, then returns to a whole text for application and practice.

Applications and Examples

Primary Classroom. Mrs. Levick’s first graders are learning to predict using The Three Little Pigs (Parkes, 1985), a retold version of the classic story.  At the same time, they work on fluency (intonation and expression).

Figure 13.1—In her own words: The Three Little Pigs

Materials – The Three Little Pigs retold by Brenda Parkes and Judith Smith illustrated by Ester Kasepuu, big book, (1985), Bridgewater, NJ: Rigby.

Anticipatory Set – Display the big book for the class. Discuss the title, illustration on the front cover, and how a story might change when it is retold. Ask students if they are familiar with the story and make predictions about how this version might be different.

Objective – Students will participate in a shared reading, predict events, and demonstrate the appropriate expression and intonation while reading fluently.

Instruction and Modeling – Explain to the class why using the appropriate expression and intonation can make reading a book out loud more interesting. Read The Three Little Pigs to the class modeling the expression and intonation. Stop reading after the wolf visits each pig’s house.  Solicit predictions about what might happen next.

Guided Practice – Read the story again with the students joining in when reading the speaking parts of the three pigs and the wolf. Ask students to note differences between the classic version of the story and this retold version.

Check for Understanding – Clarify questions about vocabulary words and the use of expression and intonation. Monitor students for intonation and expression while rereading the story.

Independent Practice – Reread the story with individual students reading the parts of the three pigs and the wolf.

Closure – Review the objective with the class. Verbally praise students for participating in the lesson.

Susan Levick, Alice Birney Elementary School, Colton, California.

Secondary Classroom. Eighth grade students we worked with were assigned to read The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway, 1952). The sentence structures and the plot in this story are not very difficult; however, this novel presents other problems for student readers who lack guidance.  While most of the vocabulary is familiar, a few terms are used in unfamiliar ways—dolphin is a fish most often known as mahi mahi today, but students confuse it with the marine mammal, for example.  The cause of the phosphorescent glow of the sea is unfamiliar even to Southern California students, and baseball legends of the mid-twentieth century are all but unknown to students today.  The allegorical nature of the story would elude most students if the novel were assigned as independent reading in class or as homework. For this novel, shared reading is appropriate for students. In addition to pre-reading activities to work with concepts and vocabulary, shared reading allowed the students to predict events using their background knowledge, and knowledge of story structures, literary techniques, and the events of the story.

As the reading progresses, the teacher stops at a point in the story where Santiago, the old man of the title, has noticed a bird circling.  Not all the students will recognize the significance of the bird for the story, but some will draw on background knowledge to predict that Santiago is interested in this bird because it knows where the small bait fish are swimming.  They can then infer that the marlin Santiago seeks would be nearby where the bait fish can be located.  The shared reading allows students to draw upon each other’s background knowledge then predict that Santiago may soon hook a large fish.  Little does Santiago know that he is about to begin an adventure the themes of which resonate for anyone who has sought a meaningful life even in the 21st  century.

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