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Read-Aloud, Shared Reading, and Shared Read-Aloud: A Crash Course

July 30, 2019

By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of Pathways2.0 Reading Language Arts gr. 1-8

The three terms in the title of this blog post are all popular (and effective) strategies for classroom reading. They are also so similar, and so frequently confused, that you may not be entirely clear what the difference between them is. What are read-alouds, shared reading, and shared read-alouds?

Read-aloud versus shared reading

We’ll start with the first two concepts, which are the basis of the third: read-aloud and shared reading.

Allison from Learning at the Primary Pond offers the clearest, most concise definition of the difference between these two similar terms: “during a read-aloud, you read a book TO students, and during shared reading, you read WITH students.”

This difference results in two key distinctions between the two styles. First, read-alouds can employ texts that are above students’ grade level because the teacher is the primary reader and discussion facilitator. In shared reading, grade-level texts are most common. Second, read-alouds offer more of a chance for the teacher to model and provide instruction on comprehension strategies, whereas in shared readings, the students use those strategies, but they are not actively discussed.

Advantages of read-alouds

Read-alouds are best if the teacher wants to focus on direct instruction for a certain comprehension strategy, vocabulary term, or writing style. As the reader, teachers can stop at any time and deliver that instruction, guiding the discussion to focus on the concept that they want students to learn. Read-alouds can also be a good option to discuss texts that are thematically appropriate for the students but lexically might be too challenging. This way, the students don’t have to read books with simplistic themes just because the reading level is a closer fit for their skills.

Advantages of shared reading

Shared reading lets kids be active readers rather than passive listeners. They get to apply the concepts they learned during read-aloud, and thus they are more likely to remember them. The problem with shared reading is that sometimes, it can morph into a robotic “popcorn read” of the text, where students move diligently from page to page and the class never stops to discuss what they’re reading, how they’re processing it, and what it all means. The increased autonomy of student readers (a positive thing) means the loss of teacher control and guidance of reading strategies.

Or does it?

This is where shared read-aloud—the hybrid of the two—comes in.

Shared read-aloud

Shared read-aloud is as an interactive reading activity that combines the elements of shared reading and read-alouds. The teacher and students read the same text together as a class, and the teacher models reading and comprehension strategies during the activity; the amount of teacher guidance is increased when the reading material is above the students’ grade level. Because the teacher and students are “on the same page,” the teacher can instantly tailor instruction to the focus and needs of the class. Shared read-alouds are thus an important step toward successful independent reading.

In essence, you get the best of both worlds: you can let students read on their own but jump in when they need your help, so that they don’t lose your valuable modeling and direct instruction. The Pathways 2.0 reading and language arts program relies heavily on shared read-alouds for this reason.

How to do it

To use shared read-alouds effectively in your classroom, consider the following guidelines: 

  • Remember that material can be above grade level because students will have teacher support while reading.
  • If using a big book or chart at the front of the classroom, ensure that all students can see the text; perhaps use a document camera.
  • Pause frequently to ask students for predictions, focusing on the skill, strategy, or concept you’re modeling.
  • When pausing to ask questions, allow sufficient wait time for students to think about an answer.
  • Encourage students to make comments and/or ask questions to the extent appropriate for the class, even if these comments aren’t directly related to the skill you’re modeling.
  • Leave time at the end of the book (or page, or chapter) for reactions and opinions. If time permits, reread the story in the days to come, or allow time for independent reading.
  • If this is a class novel that will be read over multiple days or weeks, don’t prohibit faster readers from reading ahead on their own time if they choose (nothing squelches a child’s love of books more quickly than being given rules about how to read them), but remind them to pay attention and stay with the class if a shared read-aloud is taking place.
  • Conduct follow-up activities and extensions, such as related writing prompts or crafts.

But perhaps the most important guideline is this: Have fun! One of the main purposes of shared read-alouds is fostering an enjoyment of reading.