Learn what works

According to Dahl (2001), one of the most effective ways to get young children involved with print is through the use of shared reading of enlarged texts. In shared reading, the teacher reads and the children actively participate in reading with the teacher’s guidance. On the first several readings, the teacher usually does all of the reading. As the children become more familiar with the book, they join in and “share” the reading (Cunningham, 2009). Big books, chart poems, songs, and the children’s own stories are read aloud, with the teacher pointing to the text as she reads. Children are encouraged to join in as they are ready.

Shared reading with enlarged texts is the closest approximation to family storybook reading the teacher can offer for the whole group. It continues and builds on the literacy started at home. Emergent literacy research shows that children from literate homes have often experienced 1,000 hours of reading and writing before coming to school (Cunningham, 2009). Shared reading simulates this experience and gives everyone the opportunity to encounter what reading feels like, to understand print concepts, and to learn to read some words. Activities with enlarged print help young learners to understand and experience what it means to be a reader (Dahl, 2001). Students become aware of the concepts about print with teacher modeling and work on the sound structure of the English language through active participation.

Purpose of Shared Reading

The most important goal for shared reading is that even children with little experience with books and stories will be able to pretend-read the book after several readings and develop the confidence that goes along with that accomplishment (Cunningham, 2009). Shared reading allows children to experience reading before they have all the print tracking and decoding skills to read on their own. Shared reading should be a daily occurrence in primary classrooms.

Predictable books are the best kind of books to use with shared reading. Predictable books are books in which repeated patterns, refrains, pictures, and rhyme allow children to “pretend-read” a book that has been read to them several times (Cunningham, 2009). Shared reading of predictable books allows all children to experience this pretend reading, learn what reading is and develop the confidence that they will be able to do it. They also develop print concepts and begin to understand how letters, sounds, and words work.

Benefits of Shared Reading

Shared reading offers a variety of benefits for students, including:

  • Close engagment with print
  • Enjoyment of texts that they may not be able to read alone
  • Opportunities to gain confidence with text
  • Support for less able readers
  • A nonthreatening way to strengthen language skills of struggling readers
  • Opportunities to learn and participate at their level
  • Important experiences with children’s literature

Shared Reading with Big Books

During shared reading, the book is read and reread many times. These multiple readings enable the students to explore more deeply the meaning of the story, as well as learn the visual and auditory language of the text (Dahl, 2001). The teacher can choose to talk about what the text means or discuss something the children notice in the print or illustrations.

When most students are familiar with the story and begin to say the words and phrases of the book, the teacher focuses their attention on the print. Through explicit instruction and teacher think-alouds, the students learn print conventions and some sight words. The teacher will use these words to begin to teach letter-sound correspondences and make analogies between familiar and unfamiliar words. Following a shared reading, teachers and students often revisit the text to search for particular sound patterns in words.

When choosing big books for shared reading, teachers need to consider several factors:

  1. The book should be one that the children will want to read over and over again.
  2. Type of text: patterned text and predictable language make stories easy to understand and remember.
  3. Size of print should be large enough so that each child will be able to follow the print as the teacher points to the words.
  4. The needs of the children.
  5. The book should be used conceptually, by topic, unit, author, or illustrator
  6. The purpose for reading.

Shared Reading of Poetry and Songs

Poems and songs in enlarged print on chart paper are shared with students in the same way as big book stories. These poems and songs provide young children with rich opportunities to hear the rhythm of language and develop phonological awareness of sound patterns (Dahl, 2001). Certain poems and songs invite readers to play with language.

Shared Reading of Children’s Own Stories

When teachers and students write together in large or small groups, they read and reread what is written. This familiar writing provides a purposeful and supportive context for shared reading. It also provides a meaningful context for explicit instruction regarding how our language works, including concepts of print, vocabulary, and spelling.

See how it works

Check out this article, Using Shared Reading for Implicit and Explicit Instruction, on how to use shared reading to teach skills and strategies to young readers.

Check out this article, Teaching rimes with shared reading, from The Reading Teacher journal, to learn more about using shared reading to teach phonics concepts.The article is available at the Central Rivers AEA Media Center through EBSCO.  [Bibliography information: Gill, S. R. 2006. Teaching rimes with shared reading. The Reading Teacher, 60, 2, 191-193.]

Do what works

Shared Reading Book List
Planning Template (Shared Reading)


  • Cunningham, P. M. (2009). Phonics They Use: Words for Reading and Writing. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
  • Dahl, K. L., Grogan, P. R., Lawson, L. L., Scharer, P. L. (2001). Rethinking Phonics: Making The Best Teaching Decisions. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.