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Popcorn reading, which is also known as Round-Robin reading, is a classroom practice in which students go around the room taking turns reading a text out loud. Typically this is done with longer passages, like textbook chapters or chapters in a book of fiction. The very short version of my message today is that popcorn reading is a terrible practice and you should stop doing it.
We’ll get into why it’s ineffective, and what to do instead, in a minute. First let’s talk about why we use this practice.
When I subjected my students to popcorn reading—and I did occasionally do it when I was an English teacher, because I didn’t know any better back then—I did it for a few reasons. First, it was a way of “getting through” content consistently; if everyone was listening to the same text at the same time, they were therefore all learning it. No one was getting ahead, no one was falling behind. The other reason, honestly? It kept everyone still and quiet. And for a teacher, keeping everyone still and quiet is sometimes an absolute necessity, especially when you don’t have a lot of effective teaching and classroom management strategies at your disposal. Other teachers have reported that they use it because students like it and because it provides reading and listening practice. When we look at its lack of actual effectiveness, we’ll see that most of these reasons fall apart.
So what’s wrong with it? I’ll just give you the three most important reasons, which are backed by research you’ll find below.
- It’s terrible for comprehension. Listening to a text read aloud, with multiple interruptions, by readers at various skill levels, is a recipe for awful reading comprehension.
- It delays fluency development. Yes, both emerging and experienced readers need practice in reading aloud, but doing it in the high-pressure environment of a popcorn reading session is not the ideal scenario for that to happen.
- It creates anxiety and reduces confidence for less-skilled readers. Those who are already proficient may enjoy the opportunity to practice and perform, but others usually feel a great deal of anxiety and humiliation during popcorn reading. Not only does this interfere with the comprehension that was supposed to happen during the reading, it also reinforces negative beliefs they may already have about their skills as readers.
- If you’re trying to develop fluency, try echo reading, where the instructor reads one short part of the text, and the student repeats after them. This can be done one-on-one or with a whole class. By modeling what a proficient reader sounds like, it gives students more practice in good reading with expression, rather than just decoding on their own.
- If you want students to actually comprehend the text, try reciprocal teaching, a small group strategy in which students read small chunks of the text then take turns with the jobs of summarizing, questioning, clarifying, and predicting. Independent silent reading, with appropriate scaffolding like anticipation guides and guided notes, works toward the ultimate goal of having students become independent readers.
- Finally, teacher read-aloud offers all kinds of benefits: Students hear the text read correctly and smoothly, so they can build an understanding of the text without constant interruption. This also models for them what proficient reading aloud sounds like, so they are only getting good examples, rather than being forced to listen to hours of less-skilled reading.
Ash, G. E., Kuhn, M. R., & Walpole, S. (2008). Analyzing “inconsistencies” in practice: Teachers’ continued use of round robin reading. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 25(1), 87-103. [link to PDF]
Hill, C. H. (1983). Round robin reading as a teaching method. Reading Improvement, 20(4), 263. [link to abstract]
Johnson, K. (2012). If You Want Students to Read Widely and Well—Eliminate Round-Robin Reading. Exemplary Instruction in the Middle Grades: Teaching That Supports Engagement and Rigorous Learning.(260-273). Edited by Diane Lapp and Barbara Moss. [link to PDF]
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