Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Editor’s note: While learning at home, children can make progress toward grade-level reading and writing standards. This post is part of an ongoing series designed to help caregivers support children’s and teens’ literacy learning at home.

Summer break is an excellent time for the family to relax and enjoy a reprieve from the school year. The extra flexibility also makes summer an opportune time for families to spend quality time reading together. With a captivating book and just a few simple steps, parents can enjoy quality time with their children while helping them develop their reading skills.

Paired oral reading is one way caregivers can support their readers in elementary school this summer and beyond. The method is simple: An adult (lead reader) and child (assisted reader) read a text together out loud. Several strands of research on paired oral reading suggest the practice promotes two important reading goals: (1) faster, smoother oral reading and (2) improved comprehension development for the assisted reader (Downs et al., 2020; Young et al., 2015; Topping, 2014). Reading together also affords time for children to talk and build oral language skills (Flynn, 2011).

The Basic Routine

Below are suggested steps for establishing a successful routine, followed by variations you can choose to enhance the process.

Talk With Your Child

This first step may seem obvious, but a productive conversation with your reader about paired oral reading will contribute to the routine’s success. Explain to the child that you want to spend time reading a fun book together. Express your excitement in helping select a book both of you will enjoy. Discuss any ideas together, and then decide a time and place to find a book.

Select a Book

As a reading duo, you will spend plenty of time cozying up with this text, so do what you can to ensure it is enjoyable for both of you. Some young readers have no trouble selecting a book, but it may be a great struggle for others. Picking out a few books is a good idea to allow for choice or a change of mind.

Rereading a book you have at home is a good way to get started. If you are looking to branch out and try something new, the local library is an excellent place to find a good book, whether it be of the eBook or traditional printed variety. One place to browse books by interest area is Lexile Find a Book. With this resource, you can search for books by reader interests such as animals, science fiction, and real life.

While selecting a book, consider the complexity of the text. Since the caregiver provides support during paired oral reading, the book can be just beyond a child’s comfort level (Young et al., 2016). Research suggests that the reading can be as high as four grade levels above the reader’s independent reading level; however, two grade levels above appears to be the most beneficial (Brown et al., 2018). Using the Find a Book resource, your search can further be narrowed by grade level or Lexile range. Lexile measures are numerical values used to represent the complexity of a text as well as children’s reading abilities (Lennon & Burdick, 2014). You do not need to know your child’s exact reading level to promote reading development; just embrace the opportunity to challenge your reader through reading together.

The First Reading

Before the first reading, explain that both of you will be reading the text out loud together at the same time. Ask your reader to notice how you use your voice while reading.

It takes time for both readers to acclimate to reading together. During the first session, take it slow and establish a pace at which your reader is comfortable. Read the words out loud together, tracking with a finger if necessary. Your reader may hesitate at some words, but that is okay. Just keep a smooth pace that fits your reader’s comfort level. Notice what your reader is doing well and mention it during natural breaks in the text such as when turning a page or at the end of the chapter. Throughout the reading, be sure to use excellent expression. Expression while reading aloud involves using your voice to convey meaning through appropriate tone, pace, and phrasing (Kuhn & Schwanenflugel, 2019). Consider limiting the first session to 7–10 minutes. Although it can feel anticlimactic, the first session is really about getting familiar with the routine, helping your reader feel successful, and starting a new, exciting book. There will be plenty of time later to stretch and challenge your reader, but the success of later sessions will depend in large part with how the first few sessions go.

Subsequent Readings

Continue the steps from the first reading over the next several days, but feel free to lengthen the time depending on how engaged your reader is in the book and your time spent together. The frequency of paired oral reading sessions will likely vary between families, but a rule of thumb is to find an amount of reading that pushes your student but does not result in disinterest or an overall sour experience.


Once you have mastered the basics of paired oral reading, you can tinker with the routine to find what works best. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Be flexible with lead readers: Unfortunately, not all of summer is spent relaxing in a hammock, and schedules can get hectic. If you are unable to be the lead reader for a session or two, rather than derail the whole routine, let someone else fill in for you. This could be another parent, an older sibling, or a trusted neighbor. Varying lead readers could also provide an excellent opportunity for your reader to summarize a previous reading to bring a new lead reader up to speed.
  2. Promote comprehension: During initial readings you can promote comprehension by asking basic questions about the text. When your reader feels ready for more, help construct statements about the main details from the reading in a meaningful order and why they are important. Materials to help support your reader’s comprehension from the Iowa Reading Research Center are found below in the Supplemental Resources for Families, and in in this guide from the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk.
  3. Fade your support: As your reader builds oral reading confidence, begin to fade your support. Establish a cue like a leg tap that signals your reader is ready to read independently. When the signal is initiated, fall silent and listen to your reader continue reading the text. If your reader makes an error, state the word correctly, ask your reader to repeat the word, and then begin reading aloud together from the beginning of that sentence. Your reader can then initiate the signal when ready and the process repeats (Topping, 2014). Over time, your reader should make fewer errors and read aloud independently for longer stretches.
  4. Let your reader reread portions of the text independently: Repeated reading is another common way to support fluency development and combining it with your paired oral reading could promote your student’s oral reading abilities (Young et al., 2016). Several times per session, let your student reread a few paragraphs independently. Once the text rereading is complete, continue reading aloud together. As your student gradually improves, progress to rereading a full page (Young & Downs, 2019).

A Final Thought: Enjoy Your Time Together

Paired oral reading is more than just valuable family time; the practice yields many benefits for the developing reader. The help provided by the lead reader gives the assisted reader access to a much wider range of texts than the child could read independently (Brown et al., 2018). The assisted reader will also begin to mimic the smoothness and prosody modeled by the lead reader, which helps promote overall fluency and comprehension (Young et al., 2015). Additionally, the time spent together will provide your family with fond memories to remember your summer.

Like sneaking vegetables into a fun meal, reading aloud together can be enjoyable and beneficial. Perhaps the most obvious way to make this time enjoyable is to find a book that you both thoroughly enjoy. However, also consider how you can structure the reading environment to maximize the appeal of reading together. Maybe there is a special place you both like to read, like a hammock or the back porch during twilight. Perhaps there is a cool summer treat waiting once the reading is done. Make the routine enjoyable, do it consistently, and the results will likely follow.

Not long from now, school will be back in session and summer will be a fading memory. However, the family relationship, not to mention reader development, forged through simply reading together will persist into the fall and beyond.

About the Author

Jake Downs is a Ph.D. candidate at Utah State University instructional coach for Cache County School District. He can be contacted at jake.downs@aggiemail.usu.edu and on Twitter at @jakeddowns.

Supplemental Resources for Families

The following IRRC previous blog posts and resources are geared toward supporting children’s comprehension skills and may be useful as you incorporate comprehension into paired oral reading:


Brown, L. T., Mohr, K. A., Wilcox, B. R., & Barrett, T. S. (2018). The effects of dyad reading and text difficulty on third-graders’ reading achievement. The Journal of Educational Research111, 541–553. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2017.1310711

Downs, J. D., Mohr, K. A. J., & Barrett, T. (2020). Determining the academic and affective outcomes of dyad reading among third graders. Journal of Educational Research113, 120–132. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220671.2020.1755615

Flynn, K. S. (2011). Developing children’s oral language skills through dialogic reading: Guidelines for implementation. Teaching Exceptional Children44, 8–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/004005991104400201

Kuhn, M. R., & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2019). Prosody, pacing, and situational fluency (or why fluency matters for older readers). Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy62, 363–368. https://doi.org/10.1002/jaal.867

Lennon, C. & Burdick, H. (2014). The Lexile Framework as an approach for reading measurement and success. MetaMetrics. http://cdn.lexile.com/cms_page_media/135/The%20Lexile%20Framework%20for%20Reading.pdf

Topping, K. J. (2014). Paired reading and related methods for improving fluency. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7, 57–70. https://www.iejee.com/index.php/IEJEE/article/view/64

Young, C., Mohr, K. A. J., & Rasinski, T. (2015). Reading together: A successful reading fluency intervention. Literacy Research and Instruction54, 67–81. https://doi.org/10.1080/19388071.2014.976678

Young, C., Rasinski, C., & Mohr, K. A. J. (2016). Read two impress: An intervention for disfluent readers. Reading Teacher69, 633–636. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1391

Young, C. & Downs, J. D. (Host). (2019, November 9). Episode 04 Tiered Fluency Support Part 2 [Audio podcast episode]. In Teaching Literacy Podcast. https://teachingliteracypodcast.com/episode-04-tiered-fluency-instruction-part-2/.