What is popcorn reading? Popcorn reading is no longer considered a best practice in education. However, some teachers across the United States still utilize popcorn reading and some other variations of it. The purpose of this blog post is to equip teachers with information about why popcorn reading has fallen from grace, and to offer some better alternatives to try.
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What is popcorn reading?
Popcorn reading is when students take turns in class reading aloud from a shared passage. When a student finishes their turn, they say, “Popcorn!” and select another student to read.
What are some popular variations of popcorn reading?
Below are some variations to popcorn reading. They’re all just slightly different, but they share several problems.
Every variation requires both strong and weak readers to read aloud in the presence of peers. When struggling students hobble their way through a passage with awkward breaks, several things tend to happen:
1) Their classmates’ focus and comprehension weakens. After all, if you’re a strong reader and have already scanned ahead in the passage, it would be expected to daydream while you wait. Cue the behavior problems!
2) Strong readers, even with coaching and reminders, will often interrupt to correct misspoken words and confusing sentences. Not only does this rob the struggling reader of the opportunity to study the word on their own terms, it also harms their confidence and is a source of embarrassment.
3) The teacher is unable to give individual students any one-on-one attention and must focus on all students at once.
For this reason, teachers should stop popcorn reading and any of the variations below.
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Round Robin Reading
Round robin reading is similar to popcorn reading, but it lacks the element of surprise. In round robin reading, students can read from a shared passage in any order the teacher requests.
On the one hand, it seems a bit less cruel because nervous and struggling readers can probably figure out which paragraph will be theirs to read and scan it beforehand.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the main reasons it’s terrible for comprehension. While struggling students obsess over their part of the reading, they aren’t listening to what their classmates are reading.
Touch and Go Reading
Touch and Go reading follows the same principals as popcorn reading, but it’s the teacher who simply taps a child on the shoulder to continue reading. It also has the unbearable element of surprise for struggling readers. The only benefit it has over the options below is that the teacher can choose students who she needs to assess quickly for reading growth or stagnation.
Popsicle Stick Reading
Popsicle stick reading at least seems fair to students, because when the teacher pulls a popsicle stick from the cup – which is printed with a student name – the selection is arbitrary. Therefore, it can’t be seen as anyone “picking” on weak readers when their name is chosen.
However, you still don’t escape the problem of embarrassing poor readers, and because it’s truly random, teachers can’t hear from the students they most need to assess, or give kids a break from reading when they’re having a hard day.
Combat reading refers to a popcorn style of reading, where a teacher or student chooses a reader in an attempt to catch them off task or daydreaming. It’s just cruel, really, particularly for students with attention deficit disorders.
Why do teachers do popcorn reading?
Teachers use popcorn reading because they are hoping to ensure class participation and punish off-task students. They may also continue to use it out of habit if they’ve been a teacher for many years. These teachers often mean well, but they aren’t keeping up with the current research or prioritizing students’ mental well-being.
Teachers aren’t keeping up with current research.
There’s simply not a credible bit of research to support popcorn reading, round robin reading, or any other variation.
In what little research is available, reading aloud in a group pretty much always hurts comprehension. Teachers who use popcorn reading are either ignoring or ignorant of this fact.
It’s important for teachers to not cast aside any current research when it doesn’t align with their own instructional preferences.
Teachers aren’t prioritizing student well-being.
There’s mountains of anecdotal evidence from grown adults who have painful memories of round robin reading. My own mom recounts a story of the whole class laughing when she mispronounced a character’s name as “BEAT-RICE” rather than Beatrice.
Not only does it embarrass struggling readers, but a lot of kids remember the emotional pain from years ago. We owe students better.
Teachers are using popcorn reading as a classroom management strategy.
Obviously, when students are nervous or excited to read aloud to the class, they follow along carefully in the text. Even normally disruptive students will focus long enough to make sure they don’t end up embarrassed by having trouble finding their place. Teachers often use popcorn reading in an attempt to stop students from talking while others are reading. While it might be momentarily effective at stopping off-task chit chat, what’s the cost? Keep reading to learn why popcorn reading is such a bad strategy.
Why is popcorn reading bad?
Popcorn reading is bad because it doesn’t aid in building fluency or comprehension, causes students emotional distress, and uses up valuable time in the classroom that could be spent on more effective reading strategies.
What are some better alternatives to popcorn reading?
Never fear, teacher friend. There are plenty of effective alternatives to popcorn reading that don’t jeopardize student self esteem. All you have to do is incorporate more of the ones below, as often as possible!
My campus uses these teacher materials and issues a copy of both the reading and writing textbook to all ELAR/RLA teachers. This book has high quality, evidenced-based strategies.
Choral reading is when the teacher reads a passage aloud that’s on an appropriate reading level for the group, and other students join in. That’s right – it’s a lot like a choir, but with reading instead of singing.
Choral reading is great because kids get to hear what it sounds like when the teacher reads with inflection and appropriate pacing, but they’re also staying engaged and joining in the task.
It’s a huge improvement over popcorn reading because if kids’ can’t read certain portions of words in the text, they can simply lower their voices to save face. Choral reading can be effective when reading all sorts of reading passages, but also when reciting word lists.
This ten second video clip shows you how choral reading sounds in a third grade classroom.
When teachers and students practice choral reading with passages, they can work on tone, inflection, fluency and pacing. The teacher can interrupt to ask comprehension questions as needed.
Word Study Sheets
Word study sheets are another great way to use choral reading. Perhaps your word work for the day is about the digraph CH. You can display a list of words that all include the /ch/ sound and spelling pattern, and read them to a steady beat together. Here, you’re working more on simple decoding rather than comprehension or fluency. This same method works well for sight word practice.
These are my favorite classroom management strategies. I hope you love them!
Guided Reading in Homogenous Groups
Guided reading in lower elementary is a great way to work on all facets of reading development, from decoding to fluency, vocabulary, comprehension and more. It’s a great tool for struggling readers, as it helps them to feel successful and motivated.
In guided reading, students work in homogenous groups with the teacher to read through leveled texts that are just right for their ability level. There’s no pressure to perform or embarrass themselves in front of their peers.
There are different strategies for guided reading, but at our campus, all students read quietly from the same set of leveled readers. When the teacher points to an individual student in the small group, they whisper read so the teacher can listen to how well they’re making their way through the text. Throughout the story or sometimes at the end, there’s a dialogue between students and the teacher about the story and comprehension questions are discussed.
Guided reading also provides an opportunity to reteach concepts like plot, sequencing, character development and more.
One-to-One Reading with the Teacher
Of course, in an ideal world, teachers would have endless time to practice reading one-on-one with their students. Many teachers do what they can to provide one-on-one practice with struggling readers, but it’s important to note that not every student needs extra reading time. They might need other kinds of interventions, like guided reading or word study.
One-to-one reading is extremely valuable for building fluency, vocabulary and comprehension skills, if you can find the time.
Shared reading refers to a skilled reader reading a passage aloud, demonstrating every skill that great readers use to be successful with a text. Students follow along carefully, sometimes even tracing along the lines with their fingers so the teacher can spot check for student engagement. Meanwhile, the skilled reader will often pause to ask questions, encourage students to make predictions, and more.
Audiobooks can be a great way to practice a version of shared reading. Kids love to listen to audiobooks, and if you provide the text so they can follow along, many students can be reading something they actually choose for themselves. Shared reading works best when the text is slightly too difficult for the student to enjoy on their own.
Some curriculum options will provide a digital copy of their student textbook that will read passages aloud for the class. While it’s not usually as engaging as their own teacher doing the reading, it can be a great resource for teachers whose voices are tired. They can pause the reader, stop to engage with students, and even locate evidence for their claims within the text.
Teacher-led shared reading is ideal, because it’s likely that students will prefer their teacher’s voice over that of a stranger’s or even a robotic reading of the passage. Teachers can pause as often as they like to interact with the text and their students, as well as model think-aloud strategies for students.
Teacher Read Aloud
A read aloud is different than shared reading. A read aloud is what happens when a teacher reads to their students, but the teacher doesn’t interrupt student thinking with their own thoughts, or to ask questions.
Put simply, a read aloud is a treasured reading strategy because it’s reading for the sake of enjoyment.
When children go to story time at the library, that’s just like a read-aloud. It’s similar to going to the movies; without the constant interruptions, students are free to think about the story as they’re listening.
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Partner reading works best when two classroom friends read a story or passage together. Each friend alternates reading by the paragraph or page.
Teachers can choose to partner two kids who read on a similar level, but I actually think it’s most effective when two friends who are comfortable with each other – regardless of reading ability – enjoy a book together. In this setting, the weaker reader is often more relaxed while practicing with their friend, and the more advanced reader can model fluency and offer encouragement. Together, they can talk about the book to build comprehension skills, or even complete a reader’s reflection together afterward.
Partner reading works great because kids’ self esteem is much less at stake, stronger readers get to learn by teaching, and together they get valuable practice in which they take ownership of their own reading time. This reading strategy is more active than some of the other options on this list and may require more student engagement.
So, what is popcorn reading? It’s something you never need to utilize in your classroom. At the end of the day, what matters most is what students are actually DOING during their reading time. If they’re struggling with one strategy, it’s probably worth trying an alternative approach to see if that works better for them. With some trial and error, you’ll find what works best in your reading classes!
The main takeaway is this: under no circumstance do you need to utilize popcorn reading, round robin reading, or any of the other methods described at the top of this post. Keep learning, teacher friends! I’ll do the same.