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Centering Student Talk in Shared Reading (One Thing You Might Try . . .)

Posted by admin on Jan 26, 2023 8:00:00 AM

In this One Thing You Might Try… blog post, Andrea Castellano shares the Collaborative Shared Reading Protocol—a shared reading strategy that keeps engaging text and student talk at its center.


The unmistakable buzz of a room at work: students huddled together over their papers, occasionally jumping up to grab a marker or a sticky note. The scribbling of notes, cross-checking of a quote. Points are made, emphatically. Choruses of agreement or passionate counterpoints follow.  Every student is on task.  Every voice is heard. Effective literacy instruction, actively engaging readers with texts in meaningful and joyful ways. Sounds amazing, right?

The sad reality is that in the name of shifting standards, curriculum demands and a widespread culture of testing, students are often left to slog through passages on their own, bubbling in circles, mechanically filling out graphic organizers and composing uninspired, formulaic responses. In many classrooms, they rarely get time to share their thoughts with others. The result is that reading ends up feeling more like a chore than a privilege. 

The good news is that our literacy instruction can be both vibrant and effective. Talk-based models can help us meet both these goals. Sharing texts with students strengthens and supports word recognition, language, comprehension, and fluency skills. Exposure to complex texts opens doors to new words, new ideas, and a variety of text structures, features, and genres. Unlike teacher-led read-alouds, in shared reading students interact directly with the print on the page. And like a song played on repeat, there is beauty in the familiarity; the more the text is read, the deeper the understanding and the stronger the appreciation for what it has to offer. But one piece that’s often missing from the traditional shared reading model forms the essence of collaborative learning: discussion.

The good news is that our literacy instruction

can be both vibrant and effective.

Whether emergent or fluent readers, multilingual or monolingual, first or ninth grade, students of all levels can benefit from reading and discussing texts in community with their peers. Talking about texts allows students to absorb and process ideas and information, gain insights from diverse perspectives and develop new ways of thought and self-expression.  Collaborative learning increases participation, fosters critical thinking, and is linked to positive student outcomes. If you’re looking for ways to improve reading comprehension and grow students’ social-emotional skills at the same time, try incorporating more text-based conversations into your literacy block.

Talking about texts allows students to

absorb and process ideas and information,

gain insights from diverse perspectives and develop

new ways of thought and self-expression.

The Collaborative Shared Reading Protocol is a discussion-based protocol that supports literacy development through peer-to-peer interaction. Skills-based and student-centered, it combines the consistency of a predictable reading routine with the flexibility of a responsive, interactive approach that’s easy to adopt for any text and in any classroom.  

The protocol addresses each aspect of literacy development throughout the four-day cycle. It includes inquiry, explicit modeling of reading skills, multiple opportunities for speaking and listening, and a dedicated day for written responses. Each day has a different instructional focus as well as a different talk structure. In addition to close reading, students take part in a series of text-based activities where they discuss and respond to texts with partners, in small groups, and in whole-class scenarios. 

About the Texts

Texts should be short enough to allow for multiple readings, but also appropriately complex so that they provide opportunities for productive struggle. They can be fiction or nonfiction, poems, news articles, excerpts from chapter books, speeches, or any other genre. Selections can be curated to reinforce social studies or science concepts through literature. It’s also a great opportunity to align the text to the instructional focus of the weekly reading block. Include student choice and voice by surveying them for ideas about what topics interests them and how they would like to learn.  If students show interest in learning more about a topic, layer a paired text (second text about the same theme or topic) for a compare and contrast lesson.  Conversely, if the text proves challenging due to length or complexity, it’s fine to add an additional day of close reading. 

The Protocol

Day 1: Partners Get the Gist

The initial interactions with the text are all about getting the gist, or the main idea. The teacher lays the groundwork by offering resources that build background knowledge and leads the first choral read, modeling fluency, intonation, and expression. Readers learn unfamiliar vocabulary words before pairing up to parse the text for key ideas. They might use pens or highlighters to mark up repeating words or confer about which sentence to underline for each paragraph. Though close reading comes later, the task is to create one-sentence summaries of the text. This phase helps students get the lay of the land without overwhelming them with questions or details. 

Day 2: Working in Groups to Explore the TextThree students working together to answer a question about the book they are reading.

This part of the protocol is  a chance for readers to explore and expand their understanding of the text. This is where ideas are floated and debated, connections and clarifications are made, and students collectively process what the text means to them. After a choral read, students work in small groups to ask and answer questions about the text. They may use chart paper for a Chalk Talk (shown in photo),  fill out a graphic organizer, or do a TQE exercise.  (Need more ideas? Click here for “The Big List of Discussion Strategies.”)  Regardless of the strategy, lessons like these motivate and excite students by turning the text from an assignment into a conversation piece.

Day 3: Collaborative Close Reading

As readers become more familiar with the ideas in the text, the focus shifts to analysis. This is the part where skills are taught explicitly as teachers model how to identify text structures, interpret nonliteral words and phrases, and analyze author’s craft. The twist on this close reading is that it is done collaboratively.

A typical close reading lesson would be followed by silent independent reading and annotation. The teacher provides structure for the task via the use of prompts or look-for while students annotate. This can go two ways: either each student works with their own copy and they discuss their annotations after, or they partake in a communal close reading session. In the latter model, students gather in small groups around enlarged versions of the text and work together to highlight, underline, and make notes in the margins. The shared copies allow them access to each other’s notations and encourages them to respond to each other’s ideas. This activity teaches students to not only close-read a text, but to analyze and consider the findings of other readers in their process. 

Day 4: Readers Show What They Know

After reviewing the text one last time and taking time to clarify any lingering questions, readers show what they know by constructing a text-based written response. After writing, they self- and peer- assess their work using constructive feedback protocols such as gallery walk or partner share. The purpose of this phase is to assess understanding of the material as well as the ability to construct an evidence-based response. At the end of the cycle, students can offer feedback and help plan for the next cycle.

Students need and deserve purposeful and authentic text experiences. Through repeated exposure to high-interest, complex, well-written texts, students of shared reading exchange ideas, gain content knowledge, and cultivate the skills that they need to become confident readers, now and in the future.

About the author

Andrea CastellanoAndrea Castellano serves as an elementary teacher, instructional coach and PBL collaborative coach in New York City’s public school system. After 20 years in the classroom, she remains continuously enriched and inspired by her students, colleagues, and the teaching profession in general. You can connect with Andrea on Twitter @teachbk and Instagram @teach_bk.



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