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September 1, 2019

Round Robin Reading: Downsides and Alternatives

You’ve probably had it happen before: It’s after lunch, you’re trying to read to your students, and you glance up to find a sea of glassy, uncomprehending stares.

Many teachers might be tempted to turn to round robin reading to get students involved and motivate them to pay attention. But how effective is this technique, really? Round robin reading might force students to be more alert, but does it actually increase their comprehension and deepen their learning?

Let’s examine some of the potential pitfalls of round robin reading as well as alternative strategies to help your students become stronger, more confident readers.

Defining Round Robin Reading

In round robin reading, the whole class follows a text while one student reads aloud. Randomly, the teacher calls on a new student to read, and that student is responsible to know where exactly to continue reading. Typically, only elementary and middle school teachers use this method because older students may find it patronizing.

The logical behind this immensely popular strategy is that students will stay engaged because they don’t want to be randomly selected to read aloud without knowing where the last reader left off. A variation of round robin reading known as popcorn reading involves the teacher interrupting readers with the exclamation “popcorn!” and then either the teacher or student selects the next reader.

The Downsides of Round Robin Reading

Although round robin reading can motivate students to engage with a text, it can also present several problems for both teachers and students. If you’re thinking about using this activity in your classroom, consider the following potential drawbacks.

Demotivation and Anxiety

Because the central motivator of round robin reading is to know where to pick up after the previous reader stopped, the practice can cause students to feel anxious rather than engaged in the text. Students may end up focusing too much on whether they’re reading from the right point in the text or if they’re reading the assigned section correctly (rather than actually comprehending what they’re reading). Thus, you may risk alienating students rather than helping them feel comfortable reading aloud.

Compromised Comprehension

According to the International Literacy Association, round robin reading provides students “minimal opportunity to improve either their fluency or their word recognition.” In other words, students don’t have enough time to comprehend the material they read, let alone the meaning of it. In addition, round robin reading doesn’t give you time to provide meaningful and productive feedback for your students.

Dysfluent Reading

Because students likely struggle to read words aloud correctly, the entire class will experience negative consequences tied to fluency and language acquisition during round robin reading. Because teachers don’t have ample time to correct minor mistakes, students will pick up on their peers’ reading errors, resulting in dysfluency.

Slower Reading Rates

Especially during the language acquisition process, students typically read aloud at a slower rate than when they read silently. During round robin reading, students following their struggling peers will tend to read ahead silently at a faster rate, which creates a disconnect. One inevitable consequence is that students will begin reading more slowly to themselves to subconsciously accommodate their peers’ pace.

Alternative Classroom Reading Strategies

Although round robin reading has been a standby technique for decades, there are several other reading models you can use to stimulate reading comprehension and fluency-building behaviors. Here are just a few of those strategies:

  • Choral reading: Choral reading involves the whole class or groups of students reading aloud in unison. This exercise helps students learn how to pronounce different words and phrases as they listen to and participate with their peers.
  • Guided reading: In guided reading, you group students based on similar reading levels, which allows them to develop reading proficiency at a more comfortable pace. Students will be more motivated to dive into assigned reading when they work with peers in smaller groups of similar skill level.
  • Reader’s theater: Reader’s theater calls on students to read lines of dialogue from a script or scene. This interactive exercise can be a fun opportunity for students to try on new personalities while they engage with oral literacy practices.
  • Echo reading: Echo reading is a fluency-building exercise in which students repeat sentences or passages that you read aloud first. This practice helps students learn how to pronounce different words.
  • Whisper reading: Whisper reading is perhaps the most helpful strategy when you want to focus on unique problems in individual students. Have students read quietly to themselves while you circle the room and listen. You can then offer praise and constructive criticism as you walk by each student.
  • Reciprocal reading: Reciprocal reading can help enhance students’ reading comprehension. This activity first prompts students to engage in quiet independent reading. After some time, you and the students discuss the meaning of the text.
  • Repeated reading: Repeated reading encourages students to read aloud short sections of a text until they can read the assigned passage with no errors. This process builds reading fluency by allowing students to work out how to pronounce certain words and phrases. Students can do this activity either individually or in small groups.
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