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Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Approaches to teaching reading

Information to support teachers in implementing a range of approaches that will help students to develop the knowledge, strategies, and awareness required to become effective readers.

Reading to

Reading aloud from the best of children’s literature should be a daily part of every classroom programme at all levels. Listening to a story told or read aloud well is a captivating experience.

Reading aloud to children frees them from the labour of decoding and supports them in becoming active listeners, totally engaged and immersed in the text. As children create meaning from a text by making connections between what they already know and what they hear, they develop new knowledge and awareness. They enrich their vocabulary by hearing new words in context and familiar words used in new ways, and they develop new insights into the way language works (for example, how words can be ordered and how imagery can be used) and into the different text forms. A great deal of implicit learning occurs when children are read to.

Reading aloud is appropriate for all students, including those who already read accurately and fluently. This teaching approach can be used effectively with both large and small groups. Students who have had limited experiences with books, or who are receptive rather than active learners, can benefit when they are read to in small groups and the teacher can encourage them to engage with the text and respond to it actively.

We’d been studying tales and myths of Aotearoa and Pasifika countries. I chose Maui and the Sun for this group because I thought they would like a superhero who overcomes the forces of nature. The elements of the traditional tale are all here – the cunning plot, the brothers-in-arms, the struggle. It’s short but full of action, so I was able to read it twice in one session. The style of illustration sets the Maori context well, and when we looked at the detail after they had heard the story, the children were intrigued by the changing expressions on the face of the sun. The strong narrative has suspense and action, and it kept the children engaged. I dramatised the reading by heightening the different voices of the characters – Maui, the brothers, and the sun. I emphasised the repetition of some phrases – “and plenty of …”, for instance – and when I read it again, Aaron and Tu both chimed in on the second “Let me go!” I’ll follow this up with another Maui story soon.

Teacher, year 2 class

Reading to children is an approach that can be used strategically in order to:

  • promote and foster a love of reading 
  • develop vocabulary and a knowledge of book language and text forms 
  • develop awareness of the sounds, rhythms, and patterns of language 
  • engage children in conversations about texts 
  • encourage children to respond imaginatively to a variety of texts 
  • promote oral language development 
  • develop skills in listening comprehension and critical thinking 
  • provide opportunities for children to visualise aspects of a text 
  • help children to develop effective strategies for dealing with unfamiliar
  • vocabulary and building meaning 
  • support children who are learning English 
  • create opportunities for retelling and ideas for writing.

Choosing texts

When selecting texts for reading to children, teachers are guided by their own instructional objectives and by the students’ interests and cultural values. Refer to page 114 in chapter 5 for discussion about the importance of using a range and variety of texts.

Reading the text

The way the teacher reads aloud is very important. Teachers may need to practise so that they know the story well and can relax and concentrate on reading expressively. Such reading provides a good model for students and conveys many implicit messages about literacy learning. Above all, it demonstrates in the best possible way that reading is important and that books are a source of delight.

Supporting students’ responses

Depending on their teaching objectives, the nature of the text, and the students’ interest, the teacher may encourage the students’ responses and their predictions or conversations about the text (without interrupting the flow of the text and the listeners’ enjoyment). Effective teachers enable their students to savour the experience, share their enthusiasm, and reflect on new words, expressions, or ideas.

I read to the class every day, and it’s a special time for us. The emphasis is on enjoyment, but I’ve become more focused in selecting texts. Recently I read The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, a nice reversal of the traditional tale. We’d been looking at the great themes of conflict and resolution in traditional literature. I also wanted to develop the students’ listening comprehension. In addition, about one-third of my class are NESB students who need to encounter many literary texts in English.

We all enjoyed the fun of the story, and all tuned in and became engaged with the narrative. Then we got into a debate about what made the big bad pig become friends with the little wolves and whether this was a good thing to happen. What I’m finding is that rich conversations around texts show what thinkers these students really are – and it’s got nothing to do with whether they are the more able readers in the class or not. It’s a matter of giving the students the opportunity to process ideas and share their views. I also notice increasing participation by those from diverse cultural backgrounds, who may not be used to expressing a point of view.

Teacher, years 3 to 4

Shared reading

Shared reading is an essential component of the daily literacy programme. It allows for a high degree of interaction and is a great way for teachers to help students to increase their understanding of themselves as text users. It’s an effective approach, which can be used with both large groups and small groups to develop students’ strategies and their knowledge of how written texts work (see page 27).

When a teacher reads to students, the students participate as active listeners. In shared reading, the teacher and the students read a text together. The teacher leads the reading, and the students follow with their eyes, actively listening, and join in as they become familiar with words, phrases, or concepts. All the participants need to be able to see the text, which is usually enlarged. The teacher’s support enables the students to behave like readers and enjoy the text even though they may not yet be able to read it comfortably on their own.

Shared reading conveys messages about the joys of reading. It also provides a supportive instructional setting in which teachers can systematically and purposefully:

  • develop positive attitudes towards reading 
  • model fluent, expressive reading 
  • deliberately teach specific strategies for reading 
  • develop students’ awareness of visual and phonological information 
  • teach specific vocabulary and identify particular word features 
  • build students’ understanding of text forms and structures 
  • encourage thoughtful and personal responses, including critical responses, to text 
  • develop a sense of community in the classroom 
  • expose students to a wide range of texts.

The same text can be used several times in successive shared reading sessions, with a different focus each time to meet new goals. As the students become familiar with the text, they gradually take more responsibility for reading it themselves.

Students for whom English is a new language can participate confidently in shared reading. They attend to the illustrations, diagrams, and photographs while hearing the language used in an enjoyable and authentic context.

Shared reading provides opportunities for teachers to observe how their students interact with texts. It also allows teachers to plan purposeful ways to develop students’ use of the sources of information in text (see pages 28–31) in a supportive context. It’s an ideal setting in which to introduce and reinforce information about the conventions of print (see page 33), about strategies for solving unknown words, and about sound patterns in spoken language (see pages 32–37) or spelling patterns in written language (see pages 144–148). Refer also to the sections on shared reading in the Ministry of Education’s Ready to Read Teacher Support Material).

Choosing texts

A wide range of different types of text should be selected for shared reading. Each text should be chosen to suit one or more specific instructional purposes. From the beginning years, the range should include non-fiction. Shared reading can also incorporate handmade texts, poems, songs, pieces from magazines, and articles from newspapers – perhaps enlarged for use on the overhead projector. An overhead projector can also be used to display the menus, web pages, and icons that enable readers to navigate electronic texts on the Internet.

Shared reading sessions

A shared reading session may last as long as twenty minutes, depending on the purposes, the time of day, and the students’ interest. Alternatively, it may be a brief session, simply to savour a favourite text or to reread something that captures the moment.

Introducing the text

A text should be introduced in a way that builds eagerness and a sense of anticipation. Keeping the introduction brief helps the students to relate the text to their experience and to predict something of its meaning and structure. The purpose for reading the text should be shared with the students.

Reading the text

The first reading should focus on the students’ enjoyment and understanding of the text. With texts that have a catchy rhythm and repetitive pattern, the students can be encouraged to join in on the first reading. Teachers often engage learners by pausing and asking them to predict what may happen next or to share their responses briefly.

In subsequent readings, the teacher can focus on specific features or learning strategies that they have identified for teaching or reinforcement with the group. This could involve writing words on the whiteboard to explore spelling patterns or letter-sound relationships. (A masking device may be used to isolate letters, words, or parts of words.) Or the focus could be on features of layout, such as bold headings, and on helping the students to find out how to use these features in their reading and their writing. Another focus could be on close reading of a particular passage to help the students identify the main points or the words that indicate a particular character’s point of view.

All the children loved Clickety-Clack Cicada. They recognised the insect as soon as I put the poem card on the easel, and they shuddered and giggled about the way cicadas cling to you. The alliteration and rhythm helped my two newly arrived children to join in the reading.

I used the mask to reinforce the contraction of “don’t”, to teach the letter blend “cl”, and to demonstrate the different sounds of “c” within the word “cicada”. The children thought of other examples of the blend “cl”, including “class”, “clean”, “clap”, and “clever”. I’ll draw the children’s attention to the spelling of “circle” and “centre” when we’re doing maths and look for opportunities in guided and shared reading to draw children’s attention to the different sounds of “c”.

We also focused on the difference, in the poem, between the quiet night and the noisy day. We’ll read and talk about other insect and animal poems, and we’ll build up a collection of words and phrases for the children to use in their own writing.

Teacher, year 1 class

Following up

Shared reading texts should be made available after the reading so that the students can enjoy them independently. Small groups can use enlarged texts and charts (or audio versions if these are available) to replicate the shared reading experience. The students can take turns to lead the group in reading, using a pointer.

Some texts lend themselves to further activities, depending on the teacher’s objectives. Activities might include:

  • shared writing modelled on the text 
  • word-level work, such as listing words that have the same rime 
  • retelling the story to a small group 
  • dramatising episodes of the story 
  • improvising music to accompany a dramatisation of the story.

Guided reading

In any literacy programme, guided reading has a central role in leading students towards independence in reading. The focused group setting enables the teacher to provide strategic instruction in decoding, making meaning, and thinking critically.

During guided reading, the teacher works with a small group of students who have similar instructional needs so that they are supported in reading a text successfully by themselves. Each student has a copy of the text. It should contain some challenges, which should be at a level that the students can manage as they individually read the text in the supportive situation.

Guided reading provides a framework in which teachers can use instructional strategies to:

  • help students to develop an understanding of what is involved in reading and an expectation of success 
  • help students to learn, practise, and integrate their reading strategies 
  • help students to read new text successfully 
  • monitor students closely while they engage with and process texts 
  • develop students’ comprehension of and critical responses to text 
  • build students’ confidence as independent readers 
  • show students how the processes of reading and writing are integral to each other.

Students gain most from guided reading when they have developed a number of understandings about text. These are usually best gained through shared reading and oral language activities. Observation and monitoring of what the student knows and can do will guide the teacher’s decision about when to begin the more intensive guided reading approach.

Forming groups for guided reading demands thought and judgment. Each group should be small enough for intensive support, but there should not be so many groups that class management becomes unwieldy. Since students progress at different rates, guided reading groups will change as the students’ competencies change.

Before the session

Deciding on the focus or purpose of the session

Both the teacher and the students need to be clear about the purpose for reading the text. The focus for instruction could be, for example, on:

  • using word-level information to decode new words 
  • using illustrations to support or extend understanding of a text 
  • looking at character development in a story 
  • predicting the outcome of a story 
  • using a table of contents, chart, or table 
  • interpreting quotation or question marks 
  • introducing a new text form 
  • inferring from actions or dialogue.

Selecting an appropriate text

Given the central role of texts in literacy development, text selection is a crucial step. Teachers base their selection on their instructional objectives and on their knowledge of the learners, ensuring that the texts are appropriate to the students’ learning needs and relate to their interests and experiences. Generally, the text will be new to the students, although beginning readers may have met it before in shared reading. (Sometimes, though, it is appropriate to select familiar material in order to focus on a specific language or literary feature.) As a general rule, texts for guided reading should be at a level where students have no more than five to ten difficulties in every hundred words. See chapter 5 for discussion of text features and of the supports and challenges in texts.

Planning for the session

Planning for the session involves:

  • deciding how to introduce the text 
  • identifying challenges that the text might present and deciding how to address them 
  • considering how to generate discussion to take the students further into the text 
  • deciding on related follow-up activities if appropriate.

During the session

Introducing the text

The introduction to the session should be brief and build a sense of expectancy. It should share the purpose for the reading and focus on relating the text to the students’ experiences and interests. The teacher may discuss or explain particular features or potential challenges that the students may need help with, such as names of characters, captions for diagrams, or technical terms.

The teacher then sets the reading task by directing the group to read the text or a section of it and telling them what they are to think about or find out.

“Round robin” reading, where each student takes a turn at reading aloud, is never appropriate in guided reading. It prevents each student from processing the text and constructing meaning independently, distracts and bores other children, and obscures meaning.

Reading the text

The students take responsibility for reading the text themselves individually. With longer texts, where more complex challenges may arise, the reading can be “chunked” into two or more sections, with a brief discussion between sections to sustain comprehension. As they become more fluent, the students may be encouraged to read silently.

During the reading, as they monitor each member of the group, the teacher can encourage the students by prompting them to use the strategies that they have learned. The teacher may move alongside a student to check how they are processing the text. But, during the reading, the teacher should intervene only when necessary. A short, purposeful task for those who are likely to finish earlier than others is useful.

Discussing the text

Generating purposeful, stimulating discussion around a text is perhaps the greatest challenge in guided reading. Focused discussion is central to this approach, because a fundamental purpose of guided reading is to enhance each student’s understanding of what they are reading. The focus and length of the discussion will reflect the shared goal for the session, the level of the students’ interest and engagement, and the demands of the text.

The teacher’s role is to:

  • maintain the focus by skilled use of questioning, prompting, or modelling of what good readers do 
  • encourage the students’ personal responses and sharing of insights 
  • encourage genuine conversations in which responses and points of view are valued 
  • help the students to explore text features and challenges 
  • encourage the students to share how they worked out unknown words or drew inferences from the text 
  • develop the students’ comprehension and critical thinking 
  • probe the students’ understandings and ask them to clarify their statements where necessary 
  • ask the students to justify a statement or opinion by going back to the text 
  • model ways of responding critically to text (for example, by using questions or thought-provoking comments) 
  • foster enjoyment of the text and a sense of discovery 
  • give feedback that is specific, that informs, and that builds further understanding.

For beginning readers, the focus is on getting through the reading successfully. As students become more fluent, more time will be spent in discussion and comparatively less in reading. But, from the beginning, students should expect to think and talk about what they are reading. The discussion should be enjoyable and engaging for both students and teachers.

Using an easel or whiteboard gives a visual focus, for example, when:

  • examining word-level features, such as letter-sound relationships, spelling patterns, onsets and rimes, and new vocabulary 
  • recording and plotting the main ideas or facts in the text 
  • noting words or ideas that sparked debate, to return to later.

See also the section about classroom conversations on pages 88–89 and refer to Guided Reading: Years 1–4, pages 45–49.

Concluding the session

At the end of a guided reading session, it’s important to review, with the group, the original purpose of the session and to ensure that it has been met. It’s also valuable to encourage the students to reflect on their learning and talk about it so that they develop awareness of how to use and control what they know and can do. This will enable them to increasingly monitor their own progress.

I had read A Quilt for Kiri to the children last term, and I retold the story last week. As a class, we had talked then about customs of giving gifts – what we give people and when – and the idea that gifts we’ve made ourselves have extra value. Three of the children are from the Cook Islands and were able to tell us more about quilts, so we talked about that and other traditions for showing appreciation for kindness or hospitality. I chose A Gift for Aunty Nga for guided reading with my fluent readers. I wanted to focus on critical thinking and inference, and they found a great deal to consider in this moving story about family relationships and separations. I asked them to read just the first two pages, and then we talked about what they could infer. They anticipated the forthcoming trip and also realised that the “tapes” showed that the family rarely saw Aunty Nga. They then read on to the end of page 7, and we talked again about the trip and what they thought about the relationship between Kiri and her aunt. When they had finished their reading, there was rich discussion about the characters, the children’s own experiences, the meaning of gifts, and the way we celebrate big occasions. All the children wanted to reread the text to savour it for themselves.

Teacher, year 3 class

After the session

Most teachers make the book available for the students to reread to a buddy or by themselves. Often, children also take the book home to share with their family. These repeated readings give the students opportunities to enjoy the text personally, practise newly acquired strategies, absorb new information, and develop fluency.

It is valuable to jot down observations on individual students’ progress and to note teaching points for the future.

The text may lend itself to further activities. These may be planned beforehand to help meet the teacher’s objectives, but others may arise as result of monitoring during the session. Such activities may include:

  • making a timeline, story map, chart, or graph 
  • writing character sketches 
  • sorting or generating word lists, such as “words beginning with a prefix” (for example, “un-”) 
  • retelling the text or innovating on the text 
  • creating art work and adding captions 
  • reading other texts with a similar theme or form 
  • a mini-lesson to teach or reinforce a reading strategy.

However, often the reading is sufficient in itself, and the best follow-up activity is simply lots more reading.

Independent reading

Reading at home and at school should be relaxed and enjoyable. Parents and teachers demonstrate that they value reading when they read themselves and also make sure that students have time to enjoy reading.

For students, independent reading of material they choose themselves:

  • builds the habit of reading 
  • allows them to practise reading strategies with books that interest them 
  • builds their vocabulary and helps comprehension 
  • helps them to sustain concentrated reading for a set time 
  • promotes fluency 
  • puts the responsibility for solving problems with words and meaning into their own hands 
  • helps to build their confidence about trying unfamiliar books.

Studies have documented evidence linking children’s access to books, and the amount of reading that they do, to their achievement in reading. Choosing to read recreationally is also associated with high rates of achievement.

A set time in the daily routine for independent reading by individual students is an essential part of the classroom literacy programme. If they are to become lifelong readers, students need to choose to read, select their own texts, and share what they have read. Ready access to a wide range of interesting materials that they can read by themselves is also important because it enables the students to choose to read independently whenever an opportunity arises. Teachers need to make it clear that students benefit greatly when they engage in recreational reading, both in and out of school.

The teacher needs to establish routines and expectations so that all students move naturally from reading aloud to silent reading. Silent, independent reading has proven benefits and is associated with student achievement. As their students gain fluency and independence, teachers should plan to model and teach silent and attentive reading. Students also achieve better when they see their teacher reading independently for pleasure.

During independent reading, teachers should observe the students’ reading behaviour and monitor their interest and enthusiasm, their selection of texts, their understanding of what they read, and the amount of reading they do. This will inform the teacher’s future guidance of each student’s reading.

Informal, focused individual or small-group conferences can yield valuable information about what the students are reading, whether they are setting themselves new challenges, and how they are enjoying the books they choose. The teacher may use a student’s reading log, for example, when prompting and questioning, to draw the student’s attention to their patterns of reading and to ways of extending these patterns. However, it’s important at all times to avoid being intrusive – independent reading is intensely personal and should focus on enjoyment.

Reciprocal teaching

Reciprocal teaching and literature circles are not usually thought of as approaches to reading but provide useful contexts for developing literacy learning.

Reciprocal teaching is a useful small-group procedure to help improve the comprehension and critical thinking of fluent readers. Studies have shown that when students take part in reciprocal teaching of reading, their comprehension improves (including their listening comprehension) and they transfer the learning into other reading contexts. Reciprocal teaching has been found to be effective in improving the achievement of learners from diverse backgrounds. It involves four explicit strategies for reading comprehension:

  • formulating questions to stimulate thoughtful discussion 
  • clarifying ideas in the text 
  • predicting what might follow, using prior knowledge and information in the text 
  • summarising information in the text.

The teacher initially leads the group, explaining and modelling the strategies to show how the reader actively constructs meaning. The students gradually take over more and more of the responsibility by taking turns to lead the group and generate discussion as the group members jointly examine and interpret a text.

Literature circles

Many teachers use literature circles as a way of encouraging their students to think and talk about a wide range of texts. As students develop their skills in reading and in expressing ideas, they can join in these groups. In a literature circle, the students generate the discussion, which is based on their own interpretations of the text. Small groups of students read the same book independently and share their personal responses and interpretations with others in the group. Having the students mark parts of the book helps to focus their discussion of a text, for example, where they:

  • find a passage confusing 
  • want to ask the group questions about the plot, characters, or information 
  • can relate an event in the book to personal experience 
  • find the language beautiful or memorable 
  • find a part of the story very exciting, entertaining, or moving 
  • want to talk about a diagram or a dramatic photograph.

Published on: 18 Mar 2016