For the past decade, it has been my pleasure to work directly with literacy coaches, teachers, and children in K–3 classrooms. Most of the teachers and coaches with whom I’ve worked have fully embraced my guidance and suggestions. They conduct one-on-one conferences with their fledgling readers and writers. They collect anecdotal notes and use them to plan lessons. They read aloud rich, high-quality children’s literature to their students as the children are huddled closely together on the rug. The one thing that they don’t do is shared reading.
I’ve modeled, cajoled, encouraged, and done everything I can think of to get this joyful, effective practice up and running in the classrooms that I’ve supported. I’ve managed to get a few teachers to do a couple of shared reading cycles, but the practice has never caught on and been sustained. I’ve been saddened to see Big Books in various states of disrepair languishing in out-of-the-way corners of school book rooms. When I chat with children in third, fourth, and fifth grade, I find that they have never heard of Mrs. Wishy-Washy or the Meanies.
I’ve pressed teachers to explain their rejection of this practice. Two complaints consistently emerge. First, there is the time factor. There is no denying that teachers are being required to do more and more within the same six to seven hours per day. Something has to go. Unfortunately, many teachers pick shared reading. The second reason is the cost, size, and lack of durability of the materials needed for shared reading. Big Books are expensive, about $25 each, and they are cumbersome. When the children use them, they get torn and tattered. You need an easel to hold them. You also need an expensive storage unit to store them safely and keep them in good repair. Although the storage unit makes it easier to retrieve the books when you want to use them, it takes up a lot of precious real estate in classrooms, which many teachers prefer to use for other purposes.
Technology to the rescue! Digital books have made it possible to conduct shared reading lessons in your classroom without any of the concerns about cost, size, and durability that apply to Big Books. Digital children’s books are relatively inexpensive—their average price is under $10—and some of them can even be obtained for less than $5. Since they are digital, they don’t rip or tear, so you can have the children read and reread them with no fear of damage. Digital books can be the foundation for a great literacy center. Storage is no problem: Stash them on your hard drive or in the cloud. I’ve even transported digital books to classrooms on my phone. Use your smartboard or your laptop and projector to display a five-foot image of a page in your shared reading text.
Of course, this addresses only the concerns about the materials. Even after substituting digital books for Big Books, you’ll still have to find the time. A shared reading lesson includes a read-aloud and a short skills/strategy lesson and lasts, on average, only 15 minutes. But where is that 15 minutes going to come from? Three possibilities immediately come to mind.
Many K–3 teachers start workshop time with a read-aloud. Instead of reading aloud a standard picture book every day, designate two days a week for shared reading. The read-aloud book is often used to teach a reading skill or strategy. But almost any reading skill or strategy that you can teach with a picture book can be taught with a shared reading book. Specifically, shared reading is a great time to teach and/or reinforce any of the following skills:
- Sight words
- Phonemic awareness
- Concepts of print
- Letter recognition
- Story elements
- Word-solving strategies
Many teachers do multiple read alouds in a school day. Laminack and Wadsworth (2006) recommend six read alouds in a school day. You can use one of them for shared reading.
Finally, I often lament the time that is lost at the beginning of the school day when teachers have children engaged in tasks like copying a morning story. The teacher has to do chores like taking attendance and collecting lunch money. My informal, unscientific research reveals that children spend up to 30 minutes working on the morning story. The teacher is often finished with her morning chores long before the children have completed their work on the morning story. If you’re going to do something like the morning story, make it short enough for the children to realistically finish in 15 minutes. Then you can use the other 15 minutes for shared reading.
Now that the problems regarding materials and time have been solved, it’s time to discuss book selection. Digital books are widely available. However, not all digital books are appropriate for shared reading with emergent and early readers. You’ll want a book with memorable language features such as rhyme, rhythm, and/or repetition to make the children feel comfortable reading along after they have heard the text read aloud.
If you are going to project a five-foot image onto a screen in your classroom, you’ll want to be able to share wonderful illustrations. Speaking of illustrations, choose books that feature a good match between the illustrations and the text. Look for books where the text is laid out from left to right in a straight line, rather than diagonally or in any other irregular layout. Most important of all, you’ll want to select a book in which the words are large enough for all the children to see. You’d be surprised how many books fail this test.
To get you started, here are some digital books that meet all of the requirements listed above.
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Children get to play I Spy with folktale, fairy-tale, and nursery-rhyme characters. This book is perfect for oral cloze.
Gossie by Olivier Dunrea
Gossie is a gosling who loves wearing red boots. One day, she loses her beloved red boots. This book uses repetition as its supportive language feature and was available on Amazon in December 2015 for only $3.99. If your students love Gossie, there are nine other books about Gossie and her friends, all available in digital format.
Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill
This “lift the flap” hide-and-seek book has been cleverly converted to digital format. The highly patterned language (“Is he . . .”) and extra-large print support children at the most emergent levels to enable them to read along.
Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
Rosie the hen takes a stroll around the farm, oblivious to the fox in pursuit. This is a good book for addressing positional words, making it ideal for ELs. It features great picture-to-text matching.
Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin
This book is rapidly becoming a staple in K–2 classrooms. The song, repetition, and inspirational message make it a can’t-miss for shared reading.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr.
It’s the quintessential book for shared reading! It has it all: rhyme, rhythm, repetition, and illustrations by Eric Carle. It’s been around for almost 50 years because children can’t resist it.