Many adults still remember classroom reading instruction in which they shared the reading of a passage with other students in the class by taking turns reading aloud in a round-robin fashion. This approach has been used over the years, but it isn’t a very effective method for helping students learn to read. For one thing, it embarrasses the students who are not yet fluent. For another, it gives individual students such a small amount of reading practice that it neither builds their confidence nor increases their competence. This circumstance results from the fact that students tend to rehearse (and even to read) only the parts of the written material they will be responsible for reading aloud.
Even if round-robin reading isn’t effective, learning to read aloud is important. Adults often read aloud when they are sharing information or stories with their children and with peers. And, when used effectively, various approaches to oral reading can increase students’ confidence, decoding accuracy, fluency, and comprehension.
According to literacy experts, reading “fluency” involves rapid and smooth reading (either silent or oral) with few pauses for sounding out words. Fluency is especially important because it improves reading comprehension. Fluent silent readers establish a comfortable pace that allows them to acquire information or follow the events in a story with relative ease. Not all fluent silent readers are fluent oral readers, however. Nevertheless, fluent oral reading is an important skill in its own right. Fluent oral readers use appropriate pauses and inflections to show the meaning of a written passage. In other words, they “read with expression.” As a result, they can read aloud to others and feel comfortable participating in activities, such as theater groups or Bible study groups, where oral reading is needed.
As an instructional strategy, small or large-group oral reading can build students’ confidence and skills because it allows them to practice reading aloud without becoming embarrassed. Several different techniques provide this benefit. For example, the whole group might read a passage aloud—an approach that educators call “choral” reading. Or the teacher might read a passage aloud first, while students follow along in the text. Then the students can echo what the teacher read. Paired oral reading sometimes puts two or three students together for choral reading. Sometimes, with paired reading, students alternate reading aloud together and taking turns reading to one another. Sometimes the pair includes a student and his or her teacher or tutor.
Oral reading is also used as an assessment technique by teachers who want to select reading materials that match up well with students’ reading levels or who want to identify the specific reading difficulties that individual students might be encountering. Assessments using oral reading are usually conducted in one-on-one sessions between the student and the teacher.
The diagram to the right provides a review of the different ways that oral reading can help students improve their reading overall.