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Fluency: Post-Test
Timothy Shanahan
Shanahan on Literacy
Timothy Shanahan

Choral Reading: Good Idea or Not?

Choral reading gives students practice in reading texts aloud, but individual feedback is tough to provide. Integrate other fluency strategies — such as paired reading — that give you more opportunity to observe and respond to each student.

Teacher question

I know you advocate fluency instruction. But what do you think of choral reading? I love to do that with my second graders, and they have a lot of fun with it. We usually follow Tim Rasinski’s advice and do choral reading with poetry. Do you think that satisfies the fluency teaching requirements?

Shanahan’s response

I must admit that I am not a big fan of choral reading, though to be fair this is not a research-based opinion. There simply are too few studies of choral reading on which to base a sound judgment.

First my objections and then a consideration of the research evidence.

My concern is pretty simple: in observing classrooms (which I have done a lot of over the years), I often notice that many kids don’t really participate. Oh, they may move their lips a bit behind the rest of the class, but they are not necessarily even looking at the words. I suspect that often they’re “reading” in the same way many people at a baseball game “sing” the National Anthem. They look like they are participating — without really singing.

Fluency instruction — any instruction — only can pay off to the extent that the students engage in the process. I prefer approaches like paired reading (with teacher supervision) because each individual student needs to make the commitment to the text. If they don’t read a word, it doesn’t get read and there can be some instructional response.

With choral reading, in contrast, kids can hide out a bit which likely reduces their learning.

I went looking for studies of choral reading and there are a few, but none that look specifically at this part of the fluency regimen. In every study, they combine choral reading with repeated reading and then there is no way to sort out their effects. There are studies of repeated reading showing its effectiveness. None isolate choral reading.

For example, in a study with middle schoolers (Landreth & Chase, 2021), 10 minutes of daily oral reading fluency practice outdistanced a comparable amount of time devoted to independent reading. They had a 5-day routine with choral reading being one of the items in the routine (it also included repeated reading). In a study of intermediate grade students with learning problems, it was found that oral reading fluency instruction, which included choral reading, was successful in improving both fluency and comprehension (Mefford & Pettegrew, 1997).

There are some studies of “reading while listening.” Some of those might be choral reading studies. However, it is possible to read silently while listening or to focus more on trying to follow the teacher (the one who is being listened to) more than trying to stay with the group.

My concerns wouldn’t proscribe choral reading altogether. I suspect in some classrooms, choral reading might be used for a first run through of a text, to get the kids started. Once that has occurred, it is set to the side for more individual work. I cannot say I have any problem with that; I bet that, at least with some text, that might even be more efficient than having everyone trying to read the text alone.

You mention that it can be fun for the kids. Probably my favorite examples of “choral reading” are more “choral singing” in which the teacher provides the kids the song text.

Part of your question noted that you focus choral reading on poetry — and, again, admittedly that can be entertaining. Nothing wrong with kids enjoying this work.

Nevertheless, as much as I think it appropriate to practice fluency with poetry and verse, I fear that an important idea gets lost when that is the focus. Students need to learn to read a great variety of text — including stories, social studies articles, and science books. They need to develop a sense of how to read those texts fluently and that will be best developed by working with such texts. There are many differences in the syntactic features that are included in such texts and I want to be sure that kids get to try to negotiate those (including poetry).

It is very reasonable to do some work with poems, maybe even to start there since reading such texts aloud is a kind of authentic public performance (attend a “poetry slam” sometime). But it is also sound practice to segue from this to guiding students to read the kinds of text that will matter in their education.

The National Reading Panel (NRP) reported that students benefited from reading texts aloud repeatedly with guidance and feedback. Later work concluded that this is most beneficial with texts beyond the students’ instructional levels (not much benefit from practicing a text you can already read well). The studies NRP considered did not use choral reading, and I know of no studies conducted in the past two decades that have evaluated its effectiveness.

Clearly, choral reading matches the NRP guidance — with choral reading, students are reading texts aloud and usually with repetition, though the feedback is tough to provide because of the problem of discerning what everyone is up to. Accordingly, I would not discourage the use of choral reading, occasionally — just as I wouldn’t tell you not to include poetry and song in your fluency instruction.

The trick, I think, to making this work best for raising reading achievement is to make sure that kids are still getting plenty of opportunity to engage in individual reading that can be observed and supported, and plenty of opportunity to figure out how to read narrative and expository texts fluently, too.

My friend, David Paige (2011), provides some useful guidance for how to make use of choral reading in the classroom. He suggests that you use passages of 200-250 words in length and provide countdowns to get everyone started at the same time. He recommends that teachers circulate during this reading to try to hear mistakes and other difficulties (I find that hard to do with 25 voices going at once). He also suggests that these sessions incorporate both teacher modeling and some direct instruction of words that are problematic.

Personally, choral reading would be a very occasional activity or one with a very specific purpose (starting kids off with a passage). Nevertheless, it has been part of several fluency interventions that have been successful. The researchers can’t say that its inclusion is essential, and I cannot say that it isn’t.


Archer, A. L., Gleason, M. M., & Vachon, V. L. (2003). Decoding and fluency: Foundation skills for struggling older readers. Learning Disability Quarterly, 26, 89-101.

Dowhower, S. L. (1991). Fluency in oral reading. Theory into Practice, 30, 165-175.

Landreth, S. (2018). 3, 2, 1… Read! An engaging reading routine that builds fluency and morale in secondary readers. Texas Journal of Literacy Education, 6, 108-111.

Landreth, S., & Young, C. (2021). Developing fluency and comprehension with the secondary fluency routine. Journal of Educational Research, 114, 252-262. (opens in a new window)

Mefferd, P., & Pettegrew, B. S. Fostering literacy acquisition of students with developmental disabilities: Assisted reading with predictable trade books. Literacy Research and Instruction, 36, 177-190.

Paige, D. D. (2011). “That sounded good!”: Using whole class choral reading to improve fluency. The Reading Teacher, 64, 435-438.

Rasinski, T., & Hoffman, J. V. (2003). Theory and research into practice: Oral reading in the school literacy curriculum. Reading Research Quarterly, 38, 510-522.

Selected comments

Comment from Lynn H.

“Later work concluded that this is most beneficial with texts beyond the students’ instructional levels (not much benefit from practicing a text you can already read well).”

Huh! I had been taught to practice fluency with very slow readers using text just below their instructional level. Does using text above instructional levels apply to stretching reading ability only (which I do use) or does it also apply to fluency focused instruction for dysfluent children? I greatly look forward to hearing back from you so that I can further hone my practice!

Response from Shanahan

Lynn —

It is the only form of fluency training that seems to do any good. If the student can already read the text reasonably, then there is little payoff. Initially, that will be an issue of word recognition — if the students able to decode the words accurately and with sufficient automaticity then they need to be in a harder text; later it becomes more of a comprehension issue — if the student can already make the text sound like meaningful language, then if fluency is going to payoff, the practice needs to take place with a harder text. The point of the practice is to learn how to do it — dropping back to work on something you can already do well, won’t lead to learning.

Comment from Lindsay

I love this post. I’m developing a PD for teachers on moving away from popcorn/round robin reading … kids who are learning to read are getting such limited practice with oral reading! Besides partner reading and choral reading, do you have any recommendations for how teachers can give students more practice reading text (in a class of 25)?

Response from Shanahan

Lindsay —

There are a number of blogs on this site that may be of use:

Also, pretty much any of Timothy Rasinski’s books would be real useful.

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About the Author

Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan shares best practices for teaching reading and writing. Dr. Shanahan is an internationally recognized professor of urban education and reading researcher who has extensive experience with children in inner-city schools and children with special needs. All posts are reprinted with permission from Shanahan on Literacy (opens in a new window).

Publication Date
June 13, 2024