George Lucas Educational Foundation

11 Alternatives to "Round Robin" (and "Popcorn") Reading

Round Robin Reading (RRR) has been a classroom staple for over 200 years and an activity that over half of K-8 teachers report using in one of its many forms, such as Popcorn Reading. RRR's popularity endures, despite overwhelming criticism that the practice is ineffective for its stated purpose: enhancing fluency, word decoding, and comprehension. Cecile Somme echoes that perspective in Popcorn Reading: The Need to Encourage Reflective Practice: "Popcorn reading is one of the sure-fire ways to get kids who are already hesitant about reading to really hate reading."

Facts About Round Robin Reading

In RRR, students read orally from a common text, one child after another, while the rest of the class follows along in their copies of the text. Several spinoffs of the technique offer negligible advantages over RRR, if any. They simply differ in how the reading transition occurs:

  •     Popcorn Reading: A student reads orally for a time, and then calls out "popcorn" before selecting another student in class to read.
  •     Combat Reading: A kid nominates a classmate to read in the attempt to catch a peer off task, explains Gwynne Ash and Melanie Kuhn in their chapter of Fluency Instruction: Research-Based Best Practices.
  •     Popsicle Stick Reading: Student names are written on Popsicle sticks and placed in a can. The learner whose name is drawn reads next.
  •     Touch Go Reading: As described by Professor Cecile Somme, the instructor taps a child when it's his or her turn to read.

Of the thirty-odd studies and articles I've consumed on the subject, only one graduate research paper claimed a benefit to RRR or its variations, stating tepidly that perhaps RRR isn't as awful as everyone says. Katherine Hilden and Jennifer Jones' criticism is unmitigated: “We know of no research evidence that supports the claim that RRR actually contributes to students becoming better readers, either in terms of their fluency or comprehension." (PDF)

Why all the harshitude? Because Round Robin Reading . . .

  •     Stigmatizes poor readers. Imagine the terror that English-language learners and struggling readers face when made to read in front of an entire class.
  •     Weakens comprehension. Listening to a peer orally read too slowly, too fast, or too haltingly weakens learners' comprehension -- a problem exacerbated by turn-taking interruptions.
  •     Sabotages fluency and pronunciation. Struggling readers model poor fluency skills and pronunciation. When instructors correct errors, fluency is further compromised.

To be clear, oral reading does improve fluency, comprehension and word recognition (though silent/independent reading should occur far more frequently as students advance into the later grades). Fortunately, other oral reading activities offer significant advantages over RRR and its cousins. As you'll see in the list below, many of them share similar features.

11 Better Approaches

1. Choral Reading

The teacher and class read a passage aloud together, minimizing struggling readers' public exposure. In a 2011 study of over a hundred sixth graders (PDF, 232KB), David Paige found that 16 minutes of whole-class choral reading per week enhanced decoding and fluency. In another version, every time the instructor omits a word during her oral reading, students say the word all together.

2. Partner Reading

Two-person student teams alternate reading aloud, switching each time there is a new paragraph. Or they can read each section at the same time.


The Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) exercises pair strong and weak readers who take turns reading, re-reading, and retelling.

4. Silent Reading

For added scaffolding, frontload silent individual reading with vocabulary instruction, a plot overview, an anticipation guide, or KWL+ activity.

5. Teacher Read Aloud

This activity, says Julie Adams of Adams Educational Consulting, is "perhaps one of the most effective methods for improving student fluency and comprehension, as the teacher is the expert in reading the text and models how a skilled reader reads using appropriate pacing and prosody (inflection)." Playing an audiobook achieves similar results.

6. Echo Reading

Students "echo" back what the teacher reads, mimicking her pacing and inflections.

7. Shared Reading/Modeling

By reading aloud while students follow along in their own books, the instructor models fluency, pausing occasionally to demonstrate comprehension strategies. (PDF, 551KB)

8. The Crazy Professor Reading Game

Chris Biffle's Crazy Professor Reading Game video (start watching at 1:49) is more entertaining than home movies of Blue Ivy. To bring the text to life, students . . .

  •     Read orally with hysterical enthusiasm
  •     Reread with dramatic hand gestures
  •     Partner up with a super-stoked question asker and answerer
  •     Play "crazy professor" and "eager student" in a hyped-up overview of the text.

9. Buddy Reading

Kids practice orally reading a text in preparation for reading to an assigned buddy in an earlier grade.

10. Timed Repeat Readings

This activity can aid fluency, according to literacy professors Katherine Hilden and Jennifer Jones (PDF, 271KB). After an instructor reads (with expression) a short text selection appropriate to students' reading level (90-95 percent accuracy), learners read the passage silently, then again loudly, quickly, and dynamically. Another kid graphs the times and errors so that children can track their growth.

11. FORI

With Fluency-Oriented Reading Instruction (FORI), primary students read the same section of a text many times over the course of a week (PDF, 54KB). Here are the steps:

  1.     The teacher reads aloud while students follow along in their books.
  2.     Students echo read.
  3.     Students choral read.
  4.     Students partner read.
  5.     The text is taken home if more practice is required, and extension activities can be integrated during the week.

I hope that the activities described above -- in addition to other well-regarded strategies, like reciprocal teaching, reader's theater, and radio reading -- can serve as simple replacements to Round Robin Reading in your classroom.

Tell us your favorite fluency or comprehension activity.

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Debbie Fast, EdD's picture

Check out this book for even more great alternatives:
Good-bye Round Robin, Updated Edition: 25 Effective Oral Reading Strategies Updated ed. Edition by Michael F Opitz (Author), Timothy Rasinski (Author)

Russ Ewell's picture
Russ Ewell
Parent of 3 and Android + iOS Educational App Developer

I like PALS - My only input, and I usually don't provide these thoughts since you know more than me...PALS would be great if there was an inclusiveness. I love inclusion the idea one student can use their strength to help another students weaknesses. What I see in adults is a difficulty learning from peers, and sometimes I think this is because we don't encourage enough peer learning in schools. PALS is awesome if it involves giving students ownership of helping their fellow student improve. I have seen this work wonders using technology in schools, and with reading. Hope Technology School does a great job with this

Marilyn Yung's picture
Marilyn Yung
Middle School Language Arts Teacher

What an affirming post! I always thought that round robin reading often diminished the excitement of the literature, since the ideas of the text were often lost when non-fluent readers took their turn. I regularly read aloud to my 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.When I read aloud to students, they are better able to follow along, become absorbed in the ideas, and interject with their questions and insights because we are so "into" the ideas of the text. I am intrigued by the other creative ideas in this post and can't wait to try them soon.

Peg Grafwallner's picture
Peg Grafwallner
Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist

It seems at the high school level, most of our students partake in silent reading. While it has a purpose, any time we can get our kids partnering for a social activity like reading is a win for all of us!

Kevin England's picture

How insightful! I am in a teacher training program, but have substituted for many years. I always thought "popcorn reading" was essential, but could always see students tuning out. At home, we take turns reading the Bible for our daily devotions with my 11 year-old daughter. She's far above her grade level (just finished 6th grade), but she tunes out regularly--she's only engaged when it's her turn to read. I'm thinking of experimenting with having us all silent read a chapter, and then chorally reading--then checking for understanding, reviewing unfamiliar parts and words, etc. I may even have her draw a picture (or all of us) about a part of the text.

This made me really see the value of teacher read-alouds. I previously thought this was mainly an avenue for student laziness. I always valued choral reading, and also had students fill in missing words and phrases (less pressure), but I (and the regular instructors) always put a lot of focus on a form of "popcorn reading." I had no idea of the lack of evidence for effectiveness! In combination with my study of the PALS system-and other dealings with ELL students-I shall have a fresh, open perspective/understanding of the challenges. In fact, I'll be writing my paper on this subject this very night! Thanks for such a well-written treatment of this subject!

Todd Finley's picture
Todd Finley
Blogger and Assistant Editor (Contractor)

Thank you for your kind words, Kevin. I think that the reason that Popcorn Reading has continued this long is that it intuitively seems like a good idea. There are probably a lot of those practices in education.

Lisa Powers's picture

Students learn best when they are engrossed in a topic they're interested in. They should be researching, discussing, writing, reading, sharing, questioning while completing the project their assigned.

Amanda Guy's picture

Love this! As a middle school English teacher, I am utilizing several of these strategies in my classroom. These strategies offer students something different than they are used to, while providing me the opportunity to model fluency and reading comprehension. Imagine my surprise when I looked to see that the author of this article was once my professor at East Carolina University! That fact made me love the article even more!

ekatebini's picture
I am excited about research in education!

This was very helpful. Also, was anyone else horrified by the "Combat Reading" description?! I certainly was!


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