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How many of you reading this article can relate to the following as a student or teacher? I remember as a student loving to be called upon to read. The eagerness and excitement of reading aloud gave me a sense of pride [maybe too much at times], and because I was your typical high achiever in school, was frequently called upon to participate in this activity. I also remember the dreaded sigh when one of my classmates who wasn’t as fluent a reader was called. Snickers and sighs of boredom or surprised reactions after a spell of daydreaming were some of the responses I remember kids having in class. I wondered why but never really gave it much thought. Fast forward a few years and I am standing in the classroom teaching students reading skills. The culture of this particular school is to use popcorn reading as a strategy for developing fluency with the students. I’m long-term subbing and notice the students have been trained to do this activity. Certain students are noticeably more excited than others, and there were certain students who were always the last to read. I noticed that these students were also the ones prone to misbehavior. I wondered how to reel these students in without losing the enthusiasm the others had for popcorn reading?


This may be something you’re considering, so what purpose is popcorn reading—or randomly calling students to read selections of text—supposed to serve in the reading classroom? In my experience, it’s often used as a classroom management tool, keeping students “in check” because they are unaware as to when their names will be called. Other pros to popcorn reading is that it allows the teacher to monitor fluency and creates some form of participation with students in the classroom.


Though these things may be true, there are some concerns that this practice brings about. For instance, many times students disengage from actively reading once their turn is over, potentially decreasing their comprehension of the content. Also, when students struggle and teachers assist, it shines attention on the miscues a student has, building insecurity and fear of reading for these students. Popcorn reading can actually slow down the instructional pace to an ineffective pace, as students may lose their places [because they’re behind or read ahead] or have difficulty processing the information read so they have to repeat it. With the many demands teachers have, time-grabbing instructional practices must be evaluated, revamped, or eventually discarded in favor of something more effective.


So if not popcorn reading, then what are some strategies that can be used?

  • Choral reading is one effective strategy where the class—including the teacher—read the passage in unison. This does help with decoding and fluency without singling out a particular person’s strength or weaknesses.
  • An additional strategy is adult read aloud, where adults who mastered reading demonstrate strong reading skills to their students while reading.
  • A favorite of mine is having students partner read, where they read together in pairs or alternate and then discuss the information learned from the texts read.
  • A variant of partner reading is buddy reading, where students read a familiar passage to younger students in the school. I’ve seen the biggest impact on my students’ lives when they get to read to younger children, from the strongest reader to those who need additional support.
  • Another method is to have students rehearse the reading prior to reading it aloud, which can not only remove some of the stress linked to popcorn reading but also aid students in decoding words prior to reading them in another format.
  • One of the most overlooked strategies is silent reading.  This 
  • Rereading helps with memory and comprehension, as the more exposre to a certain way 

Feel free to use multiple strategies during a single lesson.  This is by no means a slam on oral reading. With that said, it is time to reflect on whether popcorn reading—and strategies like it—are best for all children. Though a traditional practice that spans across generations, popcorn reading seems to have many negative effects on learners. As educators, reflecting on all our practices helps us become better, and that can only result in positive gains for our students.

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