Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Weighing the Options: Alternatives to Round Robin Reading

Psst. I have a confession to make. There was a time when I felt that an occasional “popcorn” around to different readers in the room would do no harm. However, through the years, my thinking has evolved because the evidence against it is beyond persuasive. Research on round robin reading tells us:
  • It slows down reading rates.
  • It lowers the quantity of reading students do. (Research estimates that students actually read between two to six minutes in a typical round robin reading session. Any way you slice it, it’s not much.)
  • It is ineffectual at improving reading comprehension. When reading aloud, pronunciation is emphasized over meaning. In turn, text is often read slowly and disfluently which interferes with meaning making.
  • It is detrimental to fluency because children are often asked to read texts that are too difficult which leads to choppy models of what reading sounds like.
  • It highlights the displeasures of reading leaving children feeling disinclined to pick up books and read on their own.

Yet, in spite of the strong case against round robin reading, over 59% of kindergarten through eighth grade teachers admit to using popcorn reading as a teaching tool in their classrooms. And I suspect that if we had a way of being omnipresent in all classrooms, we’d discover that that there might be a percentage more teachers secretly holding on to this teaching practice. The question we need to ask now is: why?

When asked, teachers cite a number of reasons why they believe in and practice round robin reading but the bottom line seems to be this: Most feel it is their best and only option for coming together around a shared text which means that if we are going to change this practice, we need to provide teachers with better alternatives.

But what would those be?

One option teachers have is to read the text aloud. The benefits of reading aloud to children are well documented. Unlike round robin reading which has many strikes against it, reading aloud has many benefits, including: 
  • It models what expert reading sounds like.
  • It helps kids know and love many different authors.
  • It exposes children to many genres.
  • It actively engages children in thinking and meaning making while enjoying the piece being shared.
  • It conditions the brain to associate reading with pleasure.
  • It creates background knowledge.
  • It builds vocabulary.

Some might argue that reading the text aloud does nothing to build reading volume but when you weigh the amount of time children actually read during round robin (>5 minutes) against the benefits of a read aloud, it seems like a no brainer.

If the issue remains that we want our students to do the reading, then why not have them read it silently? Teachers often worry that student won’t actually read or might not understand what they read. If that’s the case, we’ve got to consider the underlying issues. Are they not reading because they don’t have the stamina they need to get through the text? Are they not reading because the text is too hard? It is only through honest reflection that we are able to answer these questions and in answering them, we inevitably find our way to better alternatives to round robin reading.

When your students need to come together around a shared text, how do you make sure they all get what they need? What alternatives do you propose?


Katie @ On the Banks of Squaw Creek said...

I'm in my first year as a K-12 TAG teacher, and my training and experience is with K-6 students. I feel like I know plenty of alternatives for the younger kids - buddy reading, choral reading, echo reading, but what about for the older kids? I spend 1 entire day per month with the 7th-10th graders, and I try to vary the way I present information throughout the day, and give them a variety of reading experiences, like buddy reading, me reading, reading independently, and the dreaded popcorn reading. Any other suggestions for JH/HS?

Kim Yaris said...

Katie, I've been thinking about you all day and I've been rallying my tribe around your question and this is what we've come up with: We're guessing your biggest concern is accountability. You're probably worried that if you say, "Here is a text and I'd like you to read it" students won't. With this being the case, we need to find fun ways to engage students and make them WANT to read and be part of the reading club in our classrooms. One thing that I've successfully done with adolescent readers is use something called carousel graffiti. Students read the text and then the teacher writes different discussion questions on the paper and students go from paper to paper reading, talking, and writing their responses to the questions. If they haven't read the text, it's hard to be part of the conversation. It motivates students to want to read. Another GREAT strategy that is particularly effective is something called "The Crazy Professor" If you don't know about this, you MUST go to our website ( and go to the tab that says free resources and scroll down to videos. On that page you will find a video called the crazy professor. Several members of our community have tried this with amazing results! Give it a try and let us know how it works!

Gustavo said...

The "read aloud" is so powerful. I started doing read alouds last school year because my school did not have class sets and even so the kids attention was completely on me (Although initially I thought the opposite would be the case). When it was time to put the book down the kids wanted me to continue reading. All teachers should try it!

SharonWithrow said...

Hi Kim, I came across your blog and it hits the nail on the head! My colleague and I are literacy coaches and planning a pd time around this very topic. Do you have the original sources for the statements you make about the detriments of Round Robin Reading? I have been looking for research based sources and not having a ton of luck!
Sharon Withrow

Kim Yaris said...

The best and biggest source of this information is Tim Rasinski and Michael Opitz's book Good-Bye Round Robin Reading. I used several other online sources including one from Frank Serafini (a very trustworthy name in literacy!) which you can access by cutting and pasting this link:

I hope your PD goes well and you get a lot of buy in because with the CCSS calling for students to be able to read increasingly complex text, I think this practice will come under the gun even more. It's just bad all the way around!

Anonymous said...

How do kids get fluency practice? and practice where the teacher gets to hear them in a comfortable small group setting? If RRR is never used because it's so "damaging" on the flip side students especially ESE students are not disciplined enough to silent read, buddy read, or tape themselves for fluency. I work w/ students with every disability under the sun, and I have tried all methods, for our 1st reading of a passage or section of a book RRR works best.. there is absolutely NO research on RRR or alternatives for these types of students, but yet I am told to put them into another mold. I have done my homework tried many other methods but for a 1st reading in a small group setting, RRR has given them confidence, decoding skill practice, good reader strategy usage, comprehension skills, as we go through and read silently on a second reading etc.. why make them struggle more? Please give feed back

Kandi said...

My kids interrupt my reading to ask if they can read. What do I do when that happens. Also in a read aloud should the children follow along in their texts?

Kim Yaris said...

Kandi, if kids interrupt you to ask if they can read aloud, I think that's an indication that they are feeling ready to be independent. When this happens, perhaps we should let them read aloud to partners or read quietly to themselves. If we are concerned that a faction of our class can't or won't read, we should pull those students into a small group and continue with our read aloud. With regard to whether or not students should follow along in their texts, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. If the text is really hard and you're trying to share important information, it would probably be best if children just listened. If the text is manageable and provides opportunities for children to have exposure to new and important vocabulary, then by all means, let them read along!

Anonymous said...

Present me with adequate research and I may agree. RRR does have its benefits especially with ELL students who have vocabulary deficiencies as well...RRR can be incorporated into shared reading, buddy reading, etc., but post research that absolutely defends RRR as ineffective..

Anonymous said...

Not all our students have English as their first language. We need to consider students that come from homes where English is not spoken, and if so spoken with little academic language. Many do not come from affluent homes and backgrounds. I teach a classroom of students representing diverse languages, and is is not a walk in the park..yes we are all held accountable, but for some of us it takes every strategy, method available..and yet we still make enormous progress..thanks :)

Kim Yaris said...

Have you considered shared reading as an alternative to round robin reading? I think it might help to address the issues you are experiencing with your English Language Learners.

Dan Stanley said...

You need to be ready to have options for those who do not like to be read to. During read-aloud, I have set aside part of the room for "buddy readers" who need to engage on their own. This way you can focus on the ELLs and others who need it.