Choral reading is one important reading instruction technique that educators can use to help students improve reading fluency, which is a critical component of reading comprehension. In choral reading, students, as well as the teacher, read short passages out loud and in unison. As students repeat the same text, they steadily learn more about correct pronunciation, sight word identification, and reading expression.
Many literacy experts, educational consultants, and teachers emphasize the value of choral reading, particularly for struggling readers. In this blog, we’ll delve into how to effectively incorporate choral reading activities as part of a comprehensive and engaging reading approach. We'll also provide valuable insight into other methods for creating fully rounded readers. When used thoughtfully, choral reading can be an excellent method that improves fluent reading abilities for older and younger students.
The Ultimate Goal: Reading Fluency and Reading Comprehension
Meeting grade-level reading comprehension standards, which gauge students’ ability to understand written words, has consistently been a challenge for children in the United States. For example, between 2017 and 2019, the percentage of kids in fourth grade and eighth grade who were able to read at or above their grade level decreased. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the many struggles with improving children’s reading abilities.
Literacy educators’ central mission is to help all readers meet and exceed the goals of reading fluency and reading comprehension. When students practice choral reading activities, they are working on becoming more fluent readers.
Reading fluency is an important building block in comprehension. It refers to the speed and accuracy with which a student can read words with the appropriate pronunciation and expression, as if they were speaking. Although reading fluency and reading comprehension are interrelated, they reflect different aspects of overall reading proficiency.
How Does Choral Reading Work?
Choral reading can take place with a whole class or in small groups of students. When working with younger groups of students, teachers may ask them to follow the text with their finger or a marker at the same time as they say the words.
A choral reading session begins with the teacher reading a selected short passage out loud while students listen and follow along with the text. After this first reading, the teacher invites students to read together in unison. As the teacher reads the passage several more times with the students, they get more practice in accurate pronunciation, inflection, word recognition, and speed. With repeated readings, they become more adept at the all-important skill of reading fluency and are able to perform high quality oral reading.
Eventually, the teacher pulls back from joining the children as they become more familiar and confident with the reading materials. On the next day of the week, they may speak more quietly, or start speaking aloud with the students but then fade out before a sentence or passage ends. Eventually, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator than an active participant. This gives students steadily increasing independence with fluent reading in a supporting manner.
Why Use Choral Reading?
There are several advantages to incorporating choral reading into lesson plans. The research-based national literacy initiative, Reading Rockets, emphasizes the value of choral reading for a number of reasons. First, struggling readers benefit from modeling teachers and classmates who might be more skilled. It also improves students' sight word recognition. Other benefits include:
- Providing readers with opportunities to practice reciting content out loud prior to solo reading. This develops confidence, proficiency, and expertise in oral language skills.
- Allowing quieter or more reserved students to practice in unison with their peers in a supportive environment, which is a great stepping-stone towards speaking alone in a group.
- Helping with other subjects, such as science, mathematics, or history, in addition to language arts and literature.
- Broadening experiences with different reading genres than a student is used to, such as graphic novels, historical fiction, or biographies
- Providing alternative ways to experience literature with different kinds of rhythm, such as poems, song lyrics, or choral music.
Education research supports choral reading as an extremely useful tool for middle schoolers as well as younger students. Researchers found that 16 minutes of whole class choral reading (WCCR) a day was an effective way to help struggling readers improve abilities in decoding (the ability to match sounds with letters). This is an important skill to develop from kindergarten and first grade all the way up to sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. Decoding is also a key factor in oral reading fluency. This study even discovered that formerly reluctant students enjoyed the choral reading exercises.
Important Considerations for Choral Reading
Although regular and well-facilitated choral reading sessions have demonstrated efficacy in research studies as well as in the classroom, they may not work for every student. Sometimes a teacher may discover that some children aren't speaking in unison along with their peers or the rest of the class. This could be due to embarrassment or possibly a lack of confidence. In such cases, teachers may be able to coach the reluctant student with some encouraging words. Teachers can also reinforce that all voices need to be heard throughout the session .
Educational psychologist and mom, Melissa Mullin, Ph.D. stresses the importance of striking a healthy balance between reading comprehension and fluency. She points out that, although reading fluency assists greatly in comprehension, the two don't always go hand in hand.
For example, fluency skills can sometimes outpace comprehension skills. This means a reader may be able to successfully decode words with speedy, smooth, and accurate delivery, but they may have difficulty explaining what the story is about or the motivations of the main characters. In such cases, Dr. Mullin suggests that educators:
- Encourage students to slow down and process what they’re saying.
- Ask students to describe what a certain character might look or sound like.
- Discuss why characters take certain actions.
In cases where a student's reading comprehension surpasses fluency, choral reading sessions are an excellent option. A teacher may also recommend the use of audiobooks to practice pronunciation and inflection of spoken words.
How to Implement Choral Reading
Choral reading sessions can be enjoyable and helpful for students in grade school, middle school, and high school. Although reading activities can take place within an entire class, it may be difficult for teachers to assess whether all students are participating. In these cases, breaking a class into small groups may be preferable.
Here are some basic steps that teachers and reading group leaders can follow to maximize success in choral reading:
- Choose a short passage of text from any written content, such as a poem, song lyric, storybook, or textbook.
- Provide all students with a copy of the text (or project it onto a screen).
- Read the passage while students listen silently and follow along with a finger or marker.
- Ask students to recite the passage together and to speak loud enough so that all voices can be heard.
- Mark the beginning of the group reading with a signal, like “3...2...1...READ.”
- Recite the passage of text together, in unison.
- Repeat the process and, little by little, decrease active participation with each repetition. For example, you may start speaking more quietly, or stop speaking prior to the end of the content recitation.
- Provide individual coaching for those who are reluctant to participate.
Several literacy and educational websites published brief instructional videos on choral reading. Check them out for additional resources:
- Regional Education Laboratory at Florida State University
- Reading Rockets
- Winning Entry in Choral Reading Contest
Key Points and Final Thoughts
There are many other well-researched and impactful reading instruction strategies that help readers of all ages develop reading fluency and reading comprehension. A few of them are:
- Echo reading: A teacher recites a passage and students repeat it.
- Partner reading: Students take turns solo reading and listening to one another.
- Ear reading: Students listen to an audiobook while reading.
Key Points to Remember
- Research studies show that choral reading is an effective method of improving reading skills.
- Struggling readers can benefit from choral reading activities by modeling their teachers and more advanced peers.
- Although reading fluency is often considered an important building block in reading comprehension, some students who have proficient reading fluency might not have good skills in reading comprehension.
In the classroom or at home, choral reading strategies can be used with a Beanstack reading challenge. We fully celebrate any and all literacy activities that inspire young people to enjoy and benefit from the wonderful world of reading. Furthermore, we know that librarians, parents, teachers, and education experts tirelessly invest time and energy into helping all kids consistently become more confident and advanced readers. We are grateful to you!
Want to learn more about Beanstack and how our reading challenges and proven gamification features can grow a culture of reading at your school? Check us out anytime!