Monday, August 10, 2020

Reading Instruction at a Distance: Read Aloud, Read Along, Read Alone, Read Again

Whether teaching at a safe distance in school, or online, or some combination of the two, teachers and students face a unique challenge this year. While reading instruction for our most vulnerable readers will necessarily look much different from normal practice, many best practices can still be used effectively. An instructional design I would recommend is Read Aloud, Read Along, Read Alone, Read Again. Let's take a look at these four elements and see how we can use them in this brave new teaching world.

Read Aloud

This well-documented and effective reading strategy can and should remain central to our distanced instruction. Read aloud is not only a pleasurable activity for most, but it also builds student vocabulary and background knowledge, provides a model of fluent reading for children, and provides the teacher with opportunities to model reading comprehension strategies like predicting, summarizing, rereading, adjusting reading rate, and questioning.

During this pandemic, while I haven't been able to visit my grandchildren, I have been recording video  read alouds and sending them off to be shared at bedtime. Teachers can choose to do recorded read alouds or real time read alouds with their students this fall. For more on Read Aloud you can look here.

Read Along

As I wrote in a recent post you can find here, the read along is an assisted reading strategy that can be used with vulnerable readers to help them improve decoding, fluency, and comprehension. At its most basic, students follow along while a voice recording is played. The strategy was developed for use with third graders in the 1970s to help readers who struggled to get any pleasure out of reading because decoding was slow and laborious. Listening and reading along repeatedly helped students develop more fluency in their reading and with that greater fluency came greater comprehension.

Voice recordings of a wide variety of texts are now readily available. Amazon has an "Immersion Reading" program tied to its Kindle reader that is very promising. Apps like Hoopla and Libby connect students to local public libraries and their store of recorded books. Teachers, of course, can also make voice recordings of books that they want students to read along with.

Read Alone

We know that students spending time reading alone in a book that provides just the right amount of challenge is perhaps the single most effective reading experience we can provide. In the classroom, we would call this independent reading time, but at a distance, it might indeed be reading alone. Whatever the name, this is a critical activity in any reading instruction program. Our target should be to get all students to read at least 20 minutes on their own in a book of their own choice daily.

For a full discussion of independent reading and why it is so critical, you can look here. 

Read Again

The research in reading has long shown that re-reading a story, poem, or passage improves decoding, fluency, and comprehension. Re-reading is a particularly effective strategy for vulnerable readers, whose decoding may be slow and  demand so much attention that it interferes with comprehension. Using the book that the students are listening and following along with, teachers could ask the students to listen to the story over and over while following along until they can read it aloud with good fluency. If the story is a longer one, the students might be asked to choose one passage or paragraph to re-read until they are able to read it back fluently. As I will discuss below, poetry also lends itself very well to the read again strategy.

You can read more about repeated reading here. For an article that looks at repeated reading with poetry, you can look here.

Putting It All Together

While this instructional design could be used with any type of text, and while the same text does not have to be used for each type of instruction, here is one way that the design could be used in a unified way using poetry. Poetry is particularly useful for the strategy because whether teaching in-person or online a copy can easily be made available to all students. Poetry also lends itself to repeated reading and the rhythm and rhyme support fluency and decoding.

Here is a poem from my book, Snack Attack and other poems for developing fluency in beginning readers (Infinity, 2010).

The Rattling, Rumbling Train

The rattling, rumbling, rambling train
Travels through the sun and rain
From south of France to north of Spain;
Then turns and speeds right back again.

The rattling, rumbling, rambling train
Climbs the mountains, crosses the plains.
What might its boxcars each contain?
Perhaps some fruit or corn or grain.

The rattling, rumbling, rambling train
With cars linked in a giant chain.
I watch it pass, but can’t explain
The power it has to entertain.

The rattling, rumbling, roaring train
Makes noise that clatters through my brain.
But please don’t think that I complain,
I love that rattling, rumbling train.

In step one of the strategy, the poem would be read aloud to the child/ren. Prior to the read aloud, predictions might be gathered about the topic of the poem by reading the title or perhaps talking about times that children have watched a train roll by in front of their car. Some mention of different kinds of trains like passenger trains and boxcar trains might be helpful. After the read aloud, vocabulary like "plains" or "contain" could be discussed. Other topics for discussion could focus on onomatopoeia (rattling,, rumbling, clatter) or alliteration (rattling, rumbling, rambling) or even metaphor (the cars linked in a giant chain).

Step two would involve the children reading along in the text  while the poem was read aloud again. This could be done in real time by the teacher or recorded for the children to listen to later, Recording the poem has the advantage of allowing the children to read and listen repeatedly.

Step three asks that the children read the poem independently.

Step four has the reader returning to the poem and re-reading it. This re-reading could be done with a partner, if possible, or with a parent. If needed, the reader can listen to the taped recording of the poem repeatedly until a fluent reading of the poem is possible.

Follow up activities might include opportunities to write about reactions to the poem and/or sharing personal experience with trains in writing. Teachers might also want to spend some time discussing the -ain word family or blends and digraphs like "tr", "gr", "pl", "ch." that are a part of the poem.

It is, indeed, a challenging time. It is also a time when good reading instruction is possible. Most importantly it is a time to encourage students to improve their reading by continuing to read. Repeatedly.


  1. Thanks, Russ. Sharing this widely!

  2. I very much appreciate the focus on poetry for repeated reading. I do have one question though. I don't understand why the information that would enhance decoding skills for students who need it would come in a discussion after the child has been asked to read the poem independently and re-read it. Would it not make more sense for there to be explicit instruction regarding blends, digraphs and vowel spellings for decoding, prior to asking children to apply those skills?

    1. Thank you for the question. I understand how it would seem to make sense to introduce phonics instruction prior to the reading. The focus of this instruction is developing fluency and the fluency is developed through repeated readings. Once the fluency (which is developed in part through repeated readings) is developed word analysis cn take place to reinforce decoding and extend to other words. For a more detailed look at a design for using poetry in this way you may want to see my other posts here

  3. This is TERRIFIC!!
    Thank you SO much. Poetry is so very powerful because it can be used for so many different things.
    Thank you!!!