Teachers of young children have always recognized the importance of reading a variety of books to children. There is one particular kind of book and one particular kind of reading, however, that have special benefits for building the reading and writing foundations—shared reading with predictable Big Books.

Shared reading is a term used to describe the process in which the teacher and the children read a book together. The book is read and reread many times. On the first several readings, the teacher usually does all of the reading. As the children become more familiar with the book, they join in and "share" the reading.

Predictable books are the best kind of books to use with shared reading. Predictable books are books in which repeated patterns, refrains, pictures, and rhyme allow children to "pretend-read" a book that has been read to them several times. Pretend reading is a stage most children go through with a favorite book that some patient adult has read and reread to them. Perhaps you remember pretend reading with such popular predictable books as Goodnight Moon, Are You My Mother?, or Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Shared reading of predictable books allows all children to experience this pretend reading. From this pretend reading, they learn what reading is, and they develop the confidence that they will be able to do it. They also develop print concepts and begin to understand how letters, sounds, and words work.

In choosing a book for shared reading, consider three criteria. First, the book must be very predictable. The most important goal for shared reading is that even children with little experience with books and stories will be able to pretend-read the book after several readings and develop the confidence that goes along with that accomplishment. Thus, you want a book without too much print and one in which the sentence patterns are very repetitive and the pictures support those sentence patterns.

Second, you want a book that will be very appealing to the children. Since the whole class of children will work with the same Big Book, and since the book will be read and reread, you should try to choose a book that many children will fall in love with.

Finally, the book should take you someplace conceptually. Many teachers choose Big Books to fit their units, build units around the books, or share Big Books by the same author or illustrator to study style.

Shared reading is called "shared" because we want children to join in the reading. There are many ways to encourage children to join in. Many teachers read the book to the children the first time and then just invite the children to join in when they can on subsequent reading. You might also want to "echo read" the book, with you reading each line and then the children being your echo and reading it again. Some teachers like to read the book with the children several times and then make a tape recording in which the teacher reads some parts and the whole class or groups of children read the other parts. Children delight in going to the listening center and listening to themselves reading the book!

In addition to books, many teachers write favorite poems, chants, songs, and finger plays on long sheets of paper and these become some of the first things children can actually read. Most teachers teach the poem, chant, song, or finger play to the children first. Once the children have learned to say, chant, or sing it, they then are shown what the words look like. The progression to reading is a natural one and children soon develop the critical "of course, I can read" self-confidence. Once children can read the piece, many teachers copy it and send it home for the child to read to parents and other family members.

After the book has been read, enjoyed, and reread in a variety of ways, most children will be able to read (or pretend-read) most of the book. This early "I can read" confidence is critical to emerging readers, and the shared book experience as described is a wonderful way to foster this. When engaging in shared reading with predictable Big Books, try to simulate what would happen in the home as a child delights in having a favorite book read again and again. First, you focus on the book itself, on enjoying it, rereading it, talking about it, and often acting it out. As you do this, you develop concepts and oral language. When most of the children can pretend-read the book, you focus their attention on the print. Provide writing activities related to the book and help children learn print conventions, jargon, and concrete words. When children know some concrete words, you use these words to begin to build phonemic awareness and letter–sound knowledge.

Children Understand What Reading Is for as they Engage in Shared Reading

As children join in the shared reading of a predictable book, they experience what reading is. They know what it feels like and sounds like and, most importantly, they develop the confidence that they can learn to read. Think of shared reading experiences as the training wheels on a bike. Training wheels allow a child to get the feel of the bike, to steer and stop, to ride faster and slower, without also having to concentrate on keeping the bike upright. Once the child develops confidence in bike riding and some bike riding skills, the training wheels are removed and the child rides without them—but often with a parent running alongside the bike! Soon, the child will ride the bike completely on his or her own. Shared reading allows children to experience reading before they have all the print tracking and decoding skills to read on their own. As they develop these skills, they will move toward being independent readers and will no longer need the training wheels support provided by shared reading.

Children Develop Print Concepts as They Engage in Shared Reading

Once you and the children have read and reread a favorite predictable Big Book several times, you can use that Big Book to help them develop print concepts, including some important jargon such as word and sentence and tracking print from left to right. The most concrete activity you can use to build these print concepts is called Sentence Builders. In Sentence Builders, you write all the words and punctuation marks from several pages of a book on separate index cards. The cards are distributed to various children and these children build a sentence by matching their card to the words and punctuation marks in the book.

Children Learn Some Words as They Engage in Shared Reading

Imagine that you have read and reread Brown Bear, Brown Bear or any of the many favorite predictable books with your students. You have written the words on cards and let the children match the words to sentences in the book and build the sentences. You have done the Sentence Builder activity several different times, allowing different children to be different words. Children are going to learn some of the words. Many children will learn the concrete words that name the animals, such as bear, bird, and duck. They might also learn some of the color words, brown, red, and yellow. Because words are repeated in all the sentences, some children will learn some of the abstract connecting words, such as what, do, you, see, I, and at.

Emergent literacy research shows that children from literate homes have often experienced 1,000 hours of reading and writing before coming to school. Many of the books read to young children are predictable books that they insist on having read over and over and from which they learn some of the words. Shared reading simulates this experience and gives everyone the opportunity to encounter what reading feels like, to understand print concepts, and to learn to read some words.