Oral Reading in the ESL/EFL Classroom

30 Sep 2016

Reading aloud or oral reading activity is a popular classroom routine to get through a text. In many cases, teachers often nominate students to read aloud one after the other. This procedure, described as round robin reading (Harris and Hodges, 1995) can lead to a number of problems.

  1. When students are nominated to read aloud, everyone is anticipating their turn rather than listening to what is read aloud. Often, students feel stressed by this anticipation

  2. When students are asked to read aloud a brand new page without being given any time to read it silently first, they are encountering the text for the first time during the read aloud. This means they are grappling with both a performance (reading aloud fluently) as well as comprehension (trying to understand what they are reading). This makes the task doubly challenging.

  3. When the rest of the class is following along with their books open, then the reading aloud is not meeting its objective. Are students meant to be listening or reading along? If they are to listen, then their books should be closed and they should just listen. If they are meant to read the page themselves, why not let them read it silently?

  4. Finally, we need to ask what is the purpose of the oral reading aloud? Is it meant for fluency practice? If so, then it is not effective because during oral reading only a few students get this practice. Too often, it's the best students who get to read aloud because weak students don't do a good job of this.

Does this mean that reading aloud has no place in our classroom? Not at all. As a rule, silent reading is what we aim for in the classroom but reading aloud can be a useful activity for beginning and advanced learners.

Through oral reading, we can monitor the reading progress of beginning learners. Advanced learners, on the other hand, get to practise reading fluently and expressively when they read aloud.

Towards more effective oral reading

Instead of making learners take turns to read out aloud, focus on giving more opportunities to students to read aloud. Here are some suggestions for how you can vary the oral reading activity to benefit your students.

  1. Echo reading
    Echo reading is a teacher- led activity that can be done with individual students or with a whole class. Young readers develop confidence and expressiveness in reading when they practice echo reading. The teacher begins by reading aloud a line or a sentence in a text expressively. The learners follow by imitating or echoing the teacher. This activity continues until the complete text is read. Practising this enhances proper phrasing and instills confidence in readers. When learners are reading with increased fluency, they are asked to read aloud on their own.

  2. Choral reading
    Readers in the classroom can read aloud together instead of individually. The teacher can read together with the class or allow them to read together. Begin by reading in a slightly louder and faster voice than the learners, and then slow down to your normal reading rate when learners show confidence in reading the text. You can also have small groups take turns to do choral reading as whole class reading sometimes lead to some learners mouthing words without really reading.

  3. Paired reading
    We can do paired reading in several ways. One way is to have students work in pairs and take turns to read a text aloud. Doing this allows each reader more opportunities to practice oral reading.

    A variation of paired reading is duet reading where a teacher pairs off with a student who needs help. Both student and the teacher read aloud alternatively from a text while the teacher tracks the place in the text with a finger. As the child becomes more fluent, the teacher may allow the child to read more words and also to track the place in the text. But the teacher always steps in to help the child read a word when the child has a problem reading it.

  4. Repeated reading
    Repeated reading is a strategy that helps students to develop fluency and to develop speed in reading. Select a text that is about 100 words long and if there are difficult words in it, explain these before the read aloud. Then read the passage aloud to your students. After this, you can have them read the text again as many as four times to develop their fluency (Rashotte and Torgesen, 1985).

    Repeated reading can be combined with paired reading where pairs take turns to read aloud a text a few times. The partner can help by taking note of the words that are wrongly read. Repeated reading can also be used in small groups.


Sometimes repeated reading can get boring. You can help increase interest by having pupils time each other's reading and charting the time taken to read the text. They should be able to read faster and more accurately with each repeated reading.

Dowhower (1987) and Herman (1985) suggested that reading about 85 to 100 words per minute might be a good target but for ESL and EFL students, you may want to consider a slightly longer time for every 100 words read. Do keep in mind that this rate is for oral reading as rates for silent reading are typically much higher. Recording the oral reading using their mobile phone or any recording device is also an interesting alternative as it allows readers to listen to their own reading.


The above information is contributed by Dr Cheah Yin Mee, Author with Marshall Cavendish Education and Associate Lecturer at Marshall Cavendish Institute.



Dowhower, S.L. (1987). Effects of repeated reading on second-grade transitional readers' fluency and comprehension. Reading Research Quarterly, 22, 389-406.

Harris, T., & R. Hodges, Eds. (1995). The Literacy Dictionary. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Herman, P.A. (1985). The effects of repeated readings on reading rate, speech pauses, and word recognition accuracy. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 553-565.

Rashotte, C.A. & Torgesen, J.K. (1985). Repeated reading and reading fluency in learning disabled children. Reading Research Quarterly, 20, 180-188.

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