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The Stars Align: Bringing Reading & Writing Together Through Shared Reading

What is Shared Reading?

As literacy instructors, we aim for the reading and writing instruction we provide to fit together in a way that makes sense and that allows for each to compliment the other. Deeper and lasting learning occurs when reading and writing are integrated in this way. We hope that while reading nonfiction texts with depth and curiosity that we can also be writing to capture our research and learning in order to offer our learning back to a real world audience whether through a blog, feature article or all about book.

As a classroom teacher, the task of aligning reading and writing was made easier and more intentional when I learned about the balanced literacy component of shared reading. Shared reading is often described as an instructional experience in which the teacher uses an enlarged text and both the students and teacher collaboratively read, discuss, and notice specific elements of print. These elements might include a focus on comprehension, word work, grammar, and vocabulary. Shared reading also offers us the chance to look at a text as a writer, noticing the text structure, genre qualities, author’s craft and more.

In shared reading, the class returns to the same piece of text over a series of days, often referred to as a shared reading cycle, and revisits the text for a singular focus within each of the planned sessions. For these reasons, shared reading is an instructional component not to be overlooked.

When might I use Shared Reading?

Shared reading is a balanced literacy component that happens outside of the reading and writing workshop but supports the work of readers and writers inside of the workshop. Since it’s not part of the workshop, teachers can place shared reading at any point across the learning day--at the end of a morning meeting, prior to a special class, right after lunch--or across the literacy block--to close out the period, as a pause between workshops, or in place of a traditional “do now.” Shared reading lasts between five and fifteen minutes, depending on the session focus, and since students only need to see the text enlarged on a projector or under a document camera, there is little to do in the way of set up or clean up.

Teachers often find shared reading cycles to be particularly powerful and purposeful at the start of new units. The first week or so of a new unit is often referred to as Immersion, or the time during the unit when we hope to prepare, immerse and engage our students in exciting and challenging new learning and content. Many teachers kick off new units with one to two cycles of shared reading as the short daily sessions allow for a wide array of pre-teaching that prepares students for the demands of a new genre or type of text. My colleague Pam Koutrakos often refers to Immersion as the “pep rally” for a new unit and rightly so. It should be a time when we build momentum and enthusiasm for fresh and rigorous thinking. Shared reading naturally fits within this spirited work.

How do I plan for Shared Reading?

Planning for a shared reading cycle can be accomplished in a few clear steps. I often recommend teachers start by reviewing the overall goals of their new reading and writing units. With these goals fresh in mind, we then select a rich or complex text (or excerpt of text) that allows for the goals of the unit to be introduced and explored across the sessions within the cycle. As you plan, read or re-read this text and notice places where your thinking blossoms. Mark these places for yourself and record them on your shared reading planner (see some examples below) to ensure you model these as think alouds on your comprehension focus day--which is typically the focus on day one.

Again, thinking of the goals of the upcoming reading and writing units, decide on each focus for the remaining days in the cycle. The shared reading cycle can last anywhere between five and seven days depending upon how many unique learning focuses you plan. A few examples of these focuses include...

  • Readers are learning letter sounds according to a district phonics scope and sequence, so you plan for word work and go on a hunt throughout the text for specific letter sounds.

  • Perhaps you’d like students to notice the overall structure of the story, so you plan for a session dedicated to text structure.

  • You know that your grade level language standards indicate students should have an awareness of figurative language, so you plan for a day focused on similes and metaphors across the piece.

  • You’ve noticed that students continue to struggle with drawing inferences about characters, so you plan for a day where you’ll demonstrate a few think alouds and model making inferences aloud and then invite students into this practice in partnerships.

The possibilities are endless when we read a text with an eye for inspiration and beauty combined with a sense of our units of study and our grade level standards.

[Click on each image to access the planning examples. The one on the top is a primary example and the one on the bottom is an upper elementary grade example.]

What’s the magic of Shared Reading?

After a recent day collaborating with teachers around shared reading, I was delightfed to receive an email from a second grade teacher. Here’s what she had to say about shared reading:

We all, at times, feel the pressure to “fit it all in.” Shared reading is one balanced literacy component that can help alleviate this worry. It gives us the opportunity to support every student as they step up and into the rich and rigorous work of reading and writing. Shared reading also brings to the forefront an essential literacy skill--the ability to read and revisit a text with the eyes of a reader and a writer. Who doesn’t hope that our students can both read to think with depth and clarity while also noticing the craft, ingenuity and intention of the writer?

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