Teachwire Logo

Shared Reading Sessions are Better for Young Children than Learning Phonics

Showing your passion for language in shared reading sessions will help children grow in confidence and engage them with the written word, says John Murray...

  • Shared Reading Sessions are Better for Young Children than Learning Phonics

When it comes to teaching children to read, some say phonics should be taught first, fast and only. I say poppycock.

To focus solely on the ability to decode and refrain from engaging with language, both on a cognitive and emotional level, is to deny the leaner the opportunity to listen to and engage with the writer’s voice.

Shared reading affords us the opportunity to teach and develop comprehension skills to those who are not yet independent, functional readers.

By taking on the role of the reader, core thinking and reasoning skills can be demonstrated and discussed, our love of language and our passion for the written word expressed and explored.

Observing a shared reading session in the north east recently, a small group of Reception children were discussing what Mrs Magpie’s beak would look like if she had slurped down a long, juicy worm.

Having plunged their hands into spaghetti and used straws to make a slurping sound, the group were asked to think about how we might describe Mrs Magpie’s beak.

The connections had been made. A small hand was raised.

Teacher: Yes, Jenny, what do you think Mrs Magpie’s beak would look like?

Pupil: Mingin’.

Perhaps not the word the teacher was anticipating but a wonderful word nonetheless. Jenny had clearly visualised what was happening in the story and articulated it perfectly using the language she possessed.

Shortly after the Beast from the East hit last year, I was asked to take a shared reading session with a group of Y1 learners.

Included in this group was Jacob, a Y2 learner who was scoring nothing in a test setting.

At one point I held up a pair of wellies and asked the group if I had come to school in them. “Yes,” came the reply, accompanied by lots of nodding. Except from Jacob.

Jacob: You’ve not worn them wellies today.

Me: How do you know?

Jacob: Because your shoes are wet and the mud on them wellies is dry.

A perfect example of deductive reasoning! Indeed, during the same session his comprehension was well demonstrated.

Me: So why did Farmer Wilson tiptoe down the stairs?

Group: Because he didn’t want to wake up Mrs Wilson (who was sound asleep).

Jacob: Because if he hadn’t, his day would have been ruined!

A confident, cheeky little answer that made me and his class teacher laugh (as he knew it would) but also one that clearly demonstrated a deeper appreciation of the text and inference.

Jacob’s inability to decode and lack of fluency will still need to be addressed. However, our view of him as a reader has changed.

He is no longer viewed as being poor at comprehension; instead, he is viewed as being good at it, but with specific difficulties when it comes to decoding and fluency.

Comprehension is tricky and messy. Many things contribute to its success or failure.

However, by including shared reading as part of a broad and balanced curriculum, then not only will we help children build their confidence and stamina but we will also enthuse and engage them with the written word.

5 ways to boost comprehension

  1. Pass on your passion
    Express your love for the written word. Be a good role model. English is truly amazing but learners will never know this if you don’t tell, teach or show them how beautiful language is.
  2. Value vocabulary
    Give words prominence; they are the glue that bind comprehension. Explore and enjoy them. Learn about where they come from and how they work. Understand how they impact the text and the reader.
  3. Build bridges
    Make links – and lots of them – between the known and not yet known. The more bridges you build, the better at comprehension you will be. Remember, breadth is as important as depth, so read lots and widely.
  4. Empathise and emote
    When reading aloud, do so with the voice the writer intended. Impart meaning and develop the whole child. Those who can connect with a text and its author on an emotional level are better placed to understand that text deeply.
  5. Talk and talk
    Speaking and listening are not the poor cousins of reading and writing. Prioritise them! Engage with the text and each other. Learn to express your ideas and articulate your thoughts.

John Murray is a literacy consultant who specialises in reading comprehension. He is the creator of Reading Rocketeers, Reading Explorers and Read Write Perform. Find out more at johnmurraycpd.co.uk and follow on Twitter at @readingexplorer.

Sign up here for your free Brilliant Teacher Box Set

Get 56 top early years tips delivered straight to your inbox

Find out more here >