Is Round Robin Reading Really that Bad?

  • 29 July, 2019

Blast from the Past: This entry first posted on July 29, 2019; repost on October 23, 2021. This one got lots of hits, downloads, and reprints the first time around. I think this was for two reasons: First, round robin continues to be widely used in reading programs and for much of the reading done in social studies and science. Second, this posting included not just reasons not to use round robin, but it offered some practical guidance to do better. It is always works best to tell people what they can do, rather than focusing on what they can’t or what they shouldn’t.

Teacher question:

I teach fourth-grade social studies at my school, and I have an ongoing argument with our reading coach. Perhaps you can help me. She says that the way I teach is bad, but it works, and I see no reason to change. My students take turns reading paragraphs aloud and when each one finishes then I ask them questions or explain what the book said. I like it because the students are attentive and when I do have them try to read the book silently, they don’t get it. Can you help me with the reading coach?

Shanahan’s response:

You know, when I became a teacher, the professors were telling us that, too. They told us that what they called “round robin reading” was a horrible practice and that only bad teachers used it.

In fact, I agreed with their judgment. I could remember such turn-taking reading when I was a boy. Our teachers were pretty harsh, so when a student made a mistake or read the wrong sentences, it was terribly embarrassing.

We were supposedly paying attention when the other kids read, but what we were really doing was counting sentence so that we could practice a bit and miss out on the embarrassment.

That, of course, didn’t always work.

One day, I thought I’d figured out which lines I was supposed to read, and I would have if the kid before me hadn’t screwed up. The teacher rapidly assigned that kid’s part to me and I wasn’t even sure where to start.

I looked dumber than usual!

No, I was not a big fan of round robin reading. The professors were right. Round robin was bad.

Then I became a third-grade teacher, and I had my own social studies book to teach.

And, I bet you can guess what I did. I used round-robin reading. I used because it kept the kids on task, I could be sure they read the text, and frankly, I didn’t know what else to do. Sound familiar, right?

Nevertheless, I still agree with your reading coach. I was wrong and, respectfully, I suspect that you are, too. As are literally thousands of teachers—they were telling me not to do it 50 years ago, but these days round robin appears to still be de rigueur (Ash, et al., 2009), and it will be 50 years from now if we don’t end it ourselves.

What does all that mean? Simply that while I sympathize with you, I think there are better ways to go in terms of teaching social studies and teaching reading.

By grade four, kids should be doing most of their reading for comprehension silently, not orally. Studies have long shown that 9-year-olds comprehend better reading aloud than silently but you have to start somewhere. I’d encourage you to try.

Last year I was working with a group of middle-school kids. I assigned some pages in their social studies book and, just like you, when we reached the discussion, it was evident that they had blown off the reading. I guess I could have gone back to oral reading—I would have all those years ago. But this time I went the other way. I told the kids how disappointed I was and gave them a second chance. On that go round, they did the reading—perhaps not perfectly, but they did the reading and that is a start.

Talk to your kids about the importance of silent reading, tell them why you want them to get some practice in doing it, and that they are going to have learn to read social studies and science and the books from other subjects silently.

Initially, keep the text segments brief—maybe a paragraph each, just as you were doing with your round robin reading. That will allow you to question the kids about the content and you’ll be able to tell how they are doing. When they have trouble with it, have them read it again. (You will be teaching social studies, reading, and persistence).

If they still have trouble, have them read a sentence at a time and question them intensively. For example, here is a sentence from a fourth-grade social studies text:

In the Middle Ages, monasteries and convents had libraries.

Where were the libraries?

What is a monastery?

What is a convent?

What is a library?

When were the libraries in the monasteries and convents?

Once the kids start having some success, move the goal. If they can read single sentences silently with comprehension, then have them try paragraphs. If they can handle single paragraphs, then try assigning 2 or 3. Keep stretching them out.

Recently, I was speaking to some teachers about the teaching of oral reading fluency (that is teaching kids to read text aloud with accuracy and with appropriate speed and expression). Research shows that teaching kids to read text fluently has a positive impact on reading comprehension.

The teachers wanted to know if they could use round robin to support fluency development.

The fluency instruction that has worked does require that the kids do oral reading, and round robin reading is certainly oral.

But there are some problems that would have bothered my old professors.

One thing I should point out is that kids get to do very little reading in your social studies lessons. The only kids who are really reading is the sweaty-palmed ones who are reading aloud (the other kids aren’t really following along).

Let’s face it, in a 30-minute social studies lesson, each kid would typically get to read a minute or less. That means social studies would add fewer than three hours of reading time per year—not enough to help the kids.

What if, instead of that, you had the kids read sections of the text aloud to each other (partner reading) and then discuss and answer your questions? You should circulate among the partners making sure that they are reading well and when they are not, they need to reread; such repeated reading is effective in promoting fluency.

The reading part of social studies can be done quite effectively either silently — giving kids great reading comprehension practice; and it can be done orally using partner reading and repeated reading (and this can be supplemented with some occasional reading while listening, that is chorally reading the material along with you (I’d lead off with that, and then turn the kids loose on it, either silently or aloud).

When I talk to middle school and high school social studies teachers, they tell me the worst barrier to their success is the fact that their students often struggle to read social studies texts. They, too, fall into the trap of round robin reading (because the kids don’t act out and they can be sure they cover the material that way). Sounds familiar right?

Why not help them out?

Start teaching your kids to read social studies now. Instead of finding a way around that goal with round robin reading that gives kids way too little practice and not exactly the right kind of practice, let’s plunge kids into reading and rereading their social studies silently and orally in an effort to try to figure out the content.

My regards to your reading coach.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Sam Bommarito Jul 29, 2019 03:04 AM

First you are sooooooo right RR is bad.
All your ideas are useful. Tim Rasinski believes repeated reading for a purpose also helps Especially have a look at his Megabook He even includes passages by great figures like JFK and MLK. Good on so many levels!!!!

Carole Davies Jul 29, 2019 03:06 AM

I used reciprocal teaching to teach nonfiction text. My students loved it and research shows it's highly effective. This method also teaches skills that students can use independently. I highly recommend it!

Sherry Moser Jul 29, 2019 03:10 AM

Thanks, Tim. This is a consistent conversation with my Elementary undergrads. I will direct them to this blog for back up!

Stephanie Jul 29, 2019 03:27 AM

Round Robin reading gives the teacher a false sense that the class is engaged, when in reality it is the opposite. The student who has already read is no longer paying attention, the student reading is worried about embarrassing himself, and the rest are awaiting their turn.

Yet, what is the barrier that keeps Round Robin reading alive? It's easy. It looks good on the surface if someone walks in your classroom. Yet, outside of school walls you do not sit in meetings and discuss the book study by Round Robin reading. In order for students to engage in more authentic literacy situations, Round Robin needs to become the rare act rather than the regular routine. Thank you so much!

Hilde Stroobants Jul 29, 2019 06:15 AM

I was a fluent reader, but when I had to read out loud, I would not remember what I had read because of the stress of reading out loud. Great advice in this message.

Lori Bolone Jul 29, 2019 10:10 AM

There are definitely alternatives to RRR. I remember waiting in absolute fear throughout upper elementary grades and middle school and even high school when a teacher would RRR throughout the classroom. What about choral reading or echo reading in the upper elementary grades-- partnered with pair reading and then consistent independent reading cross-content? I have had great success with the choral and echo reading in elementary and even used it at the secondary levels for intervention. Both strategies open a window for progress monitoring also.

Literacy Specialist Jul 29, 2019 11:16 AM

Thank you for your insights on a recurring issue. There are a variety of alternative strategies, as already mentioned. In middle school, it is important for students to take the reins of their content reading and comprehension. I've noticed that many students respond positively to reading in triads. One reads a section, one questions, and one answers and then the roles switch. Teaching silent reading and self-questioning supports the student in developing independence. For students far below grade level, providing a cloze or note-taking outline may be required.

Nancy Jul 29, 2019 12:07 PM

Yes!!! One of the biggest problems with reading informational text silently is that teachers ask students to read too much at a time. Tim's suggestion to read SHORT portions (a paragraph, even just a sentence) is perfect. This keeps kids engaged and allows the teacher to monitor comprehension--with nobody getting lost. You can also get in a little oral reading (and retrieval of precise evidence) if you say, "Could you read me the sentence where you found that detail?" One potential problem to try to avoid is to have them respond to questions in their own words rather than just quoting from the book. Some kids are very savvy about finding the right quote, but don't really understand the meaning.

Kay Brewton Jul 29, 2019 01:10 PM

Thanks Tim for once again coming to our rescue! Sharing with all of the teachers and administrators who attended your three days with us.


Sandra Jul 29, 2019 01:23 PM

My (and my students) favorite comprehension check is Quizizz. After they read the passage, I have questions prepared online, and students anticipate this so read through the passage with the intent of learning the material. After reading time, they complete the quizizz. At a glance, I can see who has mastered the content- and as a bonus I have a mark for them without spending my evening marking. As we review the questions when the quiz is complete, this is my opportunity to clarify and expand on discussions. This helps those who may have struggled with the reading to have an opportunity to learn the material. My students are always disappointed when we don’t have a quiz-they ask for one daily. I find it a highly effective way to engage students and make sure they all have learned the material in class.

Martha Kohl Jul 29, 2019 02:20 PM

Totally agree. I've often encouraged partner reading with many different variations to increase oral fluency as well as aid in comprehension. Here's a link I've referenced at times as well:

Jennifer Throndsen Jul 29, 2019 02:22 PM

As the former Coordinator of PreK-12 Literacy for Utah, and now as the Director of Teaching and Learning for Utah, I can understand your perspective. When I took the position as the Literacy Coordinator, I joked that eradicating round robin reading was one of my primary missions in taking the position, but in all honesty we can do better and these strategies can help all our children become successful readers without the pitfalls of RRR. We have used RRR for a very long time in our system and luckily there are very few things we do instructionally that have a negative impact on student achievement, but there are strategies that are more effective than others. In this case, there are many other strategies that would have much greater impact. I created a list of 6 strategies that are replacements for RRR and increase student engagement and opportunities for practice. These strategies greatly increase the number of students participating in reading, provide scaffolded support for students who are still developing their reading skills, and increase accountability for all students to be active players in their education. Here is a link to a poster of the 6 strategies as well as a description for each one: Thanks for being willing to ask your question!

Rachel Owen Jul 29, 2019 02:39 PM

Early in my career I adopted alternatives to RRR when my county Office of Ed provided training by Anita Archer. I also learned alternatives to asking a question and then calling on a single student. Here is a link that demonstrates some of her techniques.

Rachel Owen Jul 29, 2019 03:02 PM

My comment, I suppose, is more about group size than reading instructional strategies.

I teach ELD at the middle school level. I have a number of kids who, at the beginning of the lesson, will ask me if they can read aloud during the lesson. Perhaps this is because we are generally sitting in a small group (4 or 5) with no more than 10 students total in the room? When they enter their social studies class later in the day, I know they aren’t going to do the same thing in that class of 32 students! I wish every student in every school could have at least one period a day with just a small group.

Also, I put a great deal of emphasis on training my students to do their part to maintain a safe atmosphere for asking questions and making mistakes. And again, this is easier to do with a small group of students, many of whom I have for a few consecutive years.

Deb Jul 29, 2019 04:56 PM

Agreement all around. To build on Tim's suggestion about partner reading, and Carole's suggestion to use Reciprocal Teaching, I also have been incorporating the major thinking of Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris into my reading work with students. The overarching idea in their book Who's Doing the Work? is that teachers have embraced scaffolding TOO much and it's time for us to put more of the onus of learning on students. So, in this social studies case, partner reading (or reading independently) followed by partner discussion, would be much preferred over RR. In that partner discussion, students can talk about everything from vocabulary to overall meaning to sharing how they decoded a difficult word, and so much more. A follow-up whole class discussion can be fruitful for all - students are empowered to share their learning, students learn from their peers, and the teacher has the basis for not only a rich conversation but also informal assessment of HOW students are reading and where/ in what they warrant further instruction.

Elizabeth Jul 29, 2019 05:54 PM

What methods could you recommend in order for teachers to have a chance to hear students reading?

Lisa Jul 29, 2019 07:18 PM

What about primary children? Is there a place for RR in 1st & 2nd?

Nancy Barth Jul 29, 2019 07:39 PM

Another thing to consider is whether the student you are asking to read aloud can actually read the words. Social studies texts are often written without grade level in mind, let alone reading level. My current dyslexic student is ten. She can read CVC words, is learning some vowel teams, can read two syllable words with closed syllables, and open and closed one syllable words. She couldn’t read monasteries or libraries.

Tim Shanahan Jul 30, 2019 03:22 AM

It makes great sense to teach oral reading fluency. I prefer paired reading as it uses time especially well. If you have 24 kids in your class you can have 12 pairs reading, with as few as one books and as many as 12. The teacher circulates among the pairs and you can usually evaluate 5-6 readers per 30 minute period and I’d do this daily.


Kellie Jul 30, 2019 01:53 PM

Thank you for your blog. You challenge teachers to make informed decision about their practice. What I especially love about this post is that you acknowledge why teachers keep coming back to this practice and give a strong alternative approach that truly helps students develop as readers. Thank you!

Ms. Dori Jul 30, 2019 05:58 PM

On occasion, as an alternative to partner reading of texts, give the students a little extra time to read all of the text, each student reading silently to himself/herself then discussing it as a class or with the partner. The text might need to be broken down in "digestible bites", but every student will be reading and discussing all of it.

Cheryl young Jul 31, 2019 04:31 AM

Repeated reading, after the teacher has modeled the prosody can build comprehension, I have found. Even if it is just a few sentences at a time. After several go arounds, a discussion can become rich with analysis of structure and references to earlier connections from past texts. This is a slow process but I have found that a few paragraphs can yield a full range of new learning, while teaching students to attend to the nuances present in the text. Quality over quantity. I am a special ed teacher - by the way... I am wired for small bit golden nuggets of success. Wink.

Esther Jul 31, 2019 06:25 PM

I disagree with Stephanie in that I engage in Round Robin reading with other adults on a regular basis in book studies where we are reading the material together in its entirety or in small parts. I think the difference is my interest level. As an adult, I'm engaging because I want to and it doesn't matter if I don't engage -- I'm only hurting myself. As teachers, we have to hold kids to a higher standard than voluntary participation in class readings.

Flora Aug 17, 2019 04:46 PM

THANK YOU! I have been looking for something like this for a few years! I do not like round robin reading because students don't pay attention and it is down right boring!

Rachel L Bodner Aug 30, 2019 03:07 PM

Not only do I love your response Mr. Shanahan, I also think there are ways to do this that may be less intimidating for content area teachers, in terms of both pedagogy and simple time for planning. Of course, at the beginning it would be require some labor and explicit instruction/modeling. Perhaps the teacher preps questions for students to use in partnerships, and then a graphic organizer for whole-group debriefing and note-taking (this can even be done on one chart paper or projected display and then the teacher can take a snap shot with her phone/computer and have kids tape copies into notebooks the next day). After a few weeks, students can start writing questions for their sections, and the debrief can be students questioning each other! The work of creating the questions will be just as helpful in supporting comprehension as the student-led follow up (and hold them all accountable during and after the read).

lmusa Sep 21, 2019 01:58 PM

Hi Lisa
"What about primary children? Is there a place for RR in 1st & 2nd?" we are required to do guided reading and during this time all students are reading and the teacher leans in more closely to the child that she wants to hear read. this is a suggestion to omit the RR reading. If it happens to be social studies or science this could also be done as long as you are walking around while the kids are reading the text. I like the idea Mr Shanahan used about chucking the text from one sentence,multiple sentences to paragraphs; then asking questions to check for comprehension.

Jeannette Oct 23, 2021 05:35 PM

Content is difficult for kids sometimes. Partner reading helps so much. I have the kids start off partner reading, annotating at stopping points and then transition to silent reading. I do a lot of assessment using technology so I can offer feedback to each kid while they are working independently. Kami has many features to assist kids as well as allowing teachers to monitor performance.

Virginia Antinovitch Oct 23, 2021 05:37 PM

What is the best way to hear kindergarten and first grade students read In small group? The books only have 1-2 sentences per page. I need to hear them read in context, not just words in isolation. Sometimes, we all read a page together, sometimes I will ask a question about a page and when someone knows the answer, they have to read the sentence that contains the answer out loud. Sometimes I will model phrasing in a sentence and have the kids repeat the sentence and listen to their phrasing. Sometimes I just have one read a page out loud so I can listen and intersperse pages of silent reading and ask questions after each page. It's not round robin, but I do need to listen to the kids read aloud.

Denise Oct 23, 2021 05:59 PM

Agree! I think all teachers have used round robin reading at some point in their career. But when we know better, we do better. I will be sharing this blog! It's too important not to! Thank you for revisiting this topic!

Jen Oct 23, 2021 08:27 PM

Thank you for your valuable insights Tim. You mention students aged 9 and up. What about younger students from ages 5-8. It is tricky to hear every child read but this taking turns gives you a little opportunity to hear them in an organized way. Also many are needing significant assistance at the beginning. How would you recommend hearing each child read in this age group?

Timothy Shanahan Oct 23, 2021 08:55 PM

When kids start out, they cannot read silently. During that period, you don't have much choice but choral reading or round robin. Like you, I value listening to the individual readers so round robin it is. However, for most kids, by the middle of first grade kids are sufficiently fluent to be able to engage in the same kinds of activities noted here. I'm a big fan of paired reading with a lot of teacher involvement (there is also a place for activities like Listening While Reading).
Hope that helps.


Yehudis Margulies Oct 24, 2021 12:34 AM

Hi. What are your thoughts about round robin reading in a small group of 3-5 1st, 2nd, or 3rd graders who need intensive reading intervention to build decoding skills and oral reading fluency? If this is not good practice, what alternatives would you recommend?

Leah Falkowski Oct 24, 2021 04:38 PM

What is the most effective reading technique to use with students if Round Robin is bad? Would you use a mix of cloze reading, partner reading and Choral Reading?

Timothy Shanahan Oct 24, 2021 05:12 PM


That just is wrong headed so many ways. What we know of the kind of reading that you describe (it can be done) is that it tends to inaccurate... in other words, if you don't read the author's words, you end up making up your own message. That isn't reading and teaching kids to read rather than skim is teaching them to comprehend better than skimmers.

good luck.


Timothy Shanahan Oct 24, 2021 05:15 PM


When kids are starting out, choral reading is a reasonable choice. However, by the time they can "really read" -- for most kids by mid-Grade 1... I would shift to paired reading. Not the paired reading I see in too many classrooms, with the kids on their own and the teacher in another part of the room, but kids reading to each other aloud, with the teacher being closely engaged (coaching readers, coaching the partners, evaluating student performance, etc.).


Timothy Shanahan Oct 24, 2021 05:16 PM


See my response to Leah.



Marcy Anshen Aug 19, 2021 07:18 PM

As an adult, I read very quickly. I can get the meaning without reading every word. Adults that learned to read every word may find themselves to be slow readers. That is very likely to effect their reading for their lifetime.

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

Comment *

Is Round Robin Reading Really that Bad?


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.