If there is one lesson I have learned throughout my teaching experiences that has made a significant impact on the way I teach and interact with children, it would be to always be purposeful. The importance of this lesson cannot be overstated and is especially relevant to the topic of shared reading. Shared reading is, quite simply, reading aloud and encouraging children to join in on the reading when it is appropriate; however, not all children will automatically feel comfortable participating in the shared reading experience, which is absolutely okay, and need time to observe the process. When done properly, shared reading teaches young children reading strategies – such as making predictions, paying closer attention to specific sound-symbol relationships and their relationship to the context of the story, and making analogies to letters and sounds that are already known – in the context of an enjoyable story (enjoyable being the key word, of course). When teachers read with their students, they have the opportunity to model a multitude of reading strategies that older readers take for granted; students also have the opportunity to practice these reading strategies along with the teacher in a controlled, carefully constructed setting.
After reading a familiar story several times, it is time to focus on teaching for strategies; that is, teaching so that students begin to understand the strategies effective readers use when confronted with an unfamiliar word. An effective strategy teachers can use during the shared reading process involves using post-it notes to cover up carefully selected words. As you approach each post-it, ask the students to generate a list of possibilities for what the word underneath might possibly be. This forces the students to consider the context, or meaning, of the story and the structure of the sentence under consideration before choosing a word that would appropriately move the story along and make sense. Remember, good readers pay attention to meaning, sentence structure, and graphophonemics when reading and the first part of the post-it activity encourages children to pay attention to meaning and structure. As the students generate a possible list of words, slowly reveal the initial and final consonants or consonant clusters and encourage the students to reconsider or confirm their list of possibilities. This forces the students to pay attention to graphophonemics and to reevaluate their earlier decisions.
Of course, the strategy described above is just one of many techniques that teachers can use to support student’s reading development. Teachers should model strategies that will support student’s emerging ideas about reading and that students can use to successfully figure out unfamiliar words. So how can teachers be purposeful when planning shared reading lessons? Consider asking yourself the following questions when constructing a shared reading lesson: What concepts or strategies do I want to emphasize? How will I demonstrate these strategies? When will I prompt the children to read with me? What vocabulary will I highlight? What are my goals for this lesson? What do I want the students to learn? Always plan with your goals in mind. If you want your students to understand the importance of recognizing word patterns, create experiences that model strategies related to this concept. Solid planning based on assessment goes a long way in helping students develop the strategies needed to become strategic, independent readers.