Why Round Robin Reading Is Harmful and What You Can Do Instead

Why Round Robin Reading Is Harmful and What You Can Do Instead

Round Robin Reading is used in half of elementary and middle school classrooms, however, it causes some students anxiety. There are other ways to encourage reading aloud in a less stressful way. These strategies benefit both students and teachers by increasing reading skills without stress.

I hated reading out loud in school. I was painfully shy, self-conscious and had zero confidence. I was a great reader, plowing through stacks of library books every week, but everyone focused on me was basically my worst nightmare. It was common practice for teachers to have each student take a turn reading aloud from the textbook one right after the other. I would try to count the seats in front of me to determine my paragraph and practice it silently. However, all it took was one of my classmates reading too far or asking to be excused to the restroom before their turn to mess up my count, leaving me even more flustered. All of this anxiety prevented me from actually absorbing any of the info being read.

This method of a teacher instructing students to take turns reading passages aloud is called “Round Robin” reading (RRR). According to author Cecile Somme in her article “Popcorn Reading: The Need to Encourage Reflective Practice”, and Literacy Worldwide variations of RRR include:

  • Popcorn reading: the student reading randomly calls on the next to read. 
  • Random popsicle stick reading: sticks with each child’s name are used to draw the next reader. 
  • Touch-go reading: the teacher taps the next reader on the shoulder.
  • Off-Task Combat reading: the teacher calls on students with the intent of trying to catch them not paying attention. Teachers sometimes make this into a game in which they encourage the reader to call on someone they think isn’t paying attention to read next.

According to Edutopia and Literacy Learner, these methods often have a negative impact on reading fluency, including:

  • Reluctant and struggling readers more likely to hate reading. It is terrifying for some kids to have to read in front of the whole class. For some, this stress brings about negative feelings towards reading in general.
  • Poor comprehension. Let’s be real here – no one is actually paying attention when forced to take turns reading aloud. They’re worried about messing up, laughing at those who stumble or simply distracted by all the interruptions involved in turn-taking. 
  • Models of Dysfluent Reading. New words and concepts cause even the most proficient readers to stumble. This means mispronounced words are being modeled from student to student. In order to improve their fluency, students need to hear passages that are read accurately. Fluency also suffers if the teacher interrupts the flow to correct.
  • Lower Quantity of Reading. The amount of reading aloud each student will do over the course of a year is significantly lower with Round Robin Reading.
  • Off-task Behavior. RRR can result in off-task behavior, as even the most confident readers will be focusing on counting and preparing for the passage they’ll have to read out loud rather than actually listening.

Edutopia states over half of K-8 teachers still use Round Robin Reading methods in the classroom. Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan says teachers will still be using these ineffective practices 50 years from now if we don’t work to end it. We know reading aloud is important for reading fluency. Fortunately, there are better alternatives to Round Robin Reading. Here are some strategies that better encourage reading confidence.

1. Determine the purpose of asking students to read aloud. Am I trying to assess reading skills?  If so, there are many different ways to do this without causing stress or embarrassment. If I want to make sure students get through the material in a book, it’s okay to accept volunteers or use other instruction methods instead of insisting everyone take a turn. 

2. Ask students their comfort level: Melissa, a middle school reading and writing coach and founder of Reading and Writing Haven, privately asks her students about their comfort level with reading aloud through a written questionnaire at the beginning of the school year. Students have the option to mark “please don’t call on me.” They can also indicate they love reading and would be happy to be called upon at any time or a few options in between the two extremes. 

3. Give time to practice.  Assign passages a day or more ahead so students have time to become familiar with the words and practice reading out loud at home. Sure, this takes a little more planning, but don’t we all feel more at ease when we have time to prepare before presenting something to a group?

4. Offer options. Assigning passages in advance also gives you an opportunity to offer students options for demonstrating their reading skills. Perhaps they can read with a partner or in a small group. Extremely anxious readers might benefit from setting up a time to read for you privately.

5. Put technology to use. According to Reading Rockets, reading aloud is the single most important activity for reading success. However, forcing it can also cause reading to be a negative experience for children. One way around this is to have students record themselves reading course material. Listening to others read is also an important skill, so the recordings can then be played by other students. 

6. Provide interesting books. Is the book interesting enough students will want to read and listen to it? Is it memorable? Is there room for discussion? No one is motivated to read boring or low-quality books.

7. Arrange for buddy reading. Partner students up with an unintimidating listener. This might be a grandparent volunteer, a student in a younger grade, a classroom pet or even a stuffed animal. Encourage students to record themselves reading to their pets or younger siblings at home.

8. Try another method. The University of Texas suggests echo or choral reading as alternatives to RRR. Echo reading is when the teacher reads aloud and students repeat the words back. Choral reading is when the teacher and class read aloud in unison.

9. Move towards silent reading. Shanahan says students should be able to transition to doing most of their reading comprehension silently by fourth grade. If your students are still struggling with this skill, start small by having them read a paragraph at a time and then asking questions about it.

Reading anxiety doesn’t mean a student is lacking skills or is being uncooperative. Fortunately, there are many options that encourage reading skills without causing hesitant readers unnecessary stress. These methods help students develop confidence and conquer their reading anxiety in a way that gives them freedom and flexibility to find a strategy they can handle that day. Offering options instead of forced Round Robin Reading results in less frustration for teachers, too. Here’s hoping you get lots of footage of books being read to puppies!

Need book ideas, check out all of Amy’s Bookshelf’s recommendations:

Why Round Robin Reading Is Harmful and What You Can Do Instead

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Rachael Moshman
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed., an editor at Bored Teachers, is a mom, educator, writer, and advocate for self-confidence. She's been a teacher in classrooms of infants through adult college students. She loves pizza, Netflix and yoga. Connect with her at rachael.m@boredteachers.com
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