Shadow reading

teaching language skills
Making reading aloud useful
Reading aloud can be a rather painful classroom activity but shadow reading is a great way to twist this to make it useful for pronunciation, vocabulary development and building confidence.

Let’s start with BAD reading aloud. Take an unknown text – give it to your learners. Right, Sara, please read the first sentence. OK Maria, read the next one…. Pierre, the next…. This isn’t great for many reasons. It puts the reader on the spot and it’s potentially embarrassing when they stumble over a word; everyone else has to listen when they could read it much faster alone silently and be honest, it’s just DULL. Want to know a better way? Keep watching…

I’m Jo Gakonga and if this is the first time we’re meeting, I’m an English teacher, a CELTA tutor and assessor and I’ve got a website at where I make video based material to support you whether you’re just starting out on your CELTA course or if you’ve got a bit more experience and you’re looking for some new ideas.

Reading aloud can be really problematic in English – there are so many words that don’t sound anything like they should (examples). But I’m going to show you that it can be great to develop pronunciation, to give learners confidence in speaking more fluently and to cement vocabulary and chunks of useful language in learners’ minds. I’m going to talk about a technique called shadow reading that you can use in class and for homework with very little preparation.

The first thing I should say is that reading aloud works best if you set the activity up well, so the first question is what text to use. There are a few things to bear in mind. You want a text that’s interesting and not too long (about 100-200 words is more than enough) and you also want to make sure that the level of language is within a range that your learners can understand reasonably comfortably.

OK – you’ve got a text –

Let’s deal with comprehension first. Maybe a picture? What can you see? Here’s a short text and a question to answer...

What are the FOUR musical experiences that this child enjoyed?

My earliest memory of music is the songs my mother used to sing to me when I was about three or four. We used to have music lessons at school too. When we were very young , we played musical instruments like the drum while the teacher played on a keybooard. My mother wanted me to take up the violin but I didn’t like it at all and I gave it up after a year. Then, when I was eight, I started playing the piano and I completely fell in love with it.

So far, so good. There are lots of ways that you can play around with this, but here’s one procedure.

Check any words or phrases that might be problematic, especially if the spelling is a bit misleading. Earliest/ Musical instruments/ piano / violin/ eight and also things that you know might be tricky – played – one syllable not two… used to have - weak forms and linking.

Ask learners in pairs to go through the text and underline the words that they think will be stressed (this will usually be nouns and verbs but might be other words too – my EARLIEST memory…). Then read the text at a normal speed so that the can see if they were right.

Now tell them that you’re going to read the text again and they should read it with you at the same time. If you’re in a class, they can talk quietly, under their breath. If you’re online, they can just hit the ‘mute’ button. BUT they MUST SAY the words, not just follow along. This is very important.

After you’ve done it once, you might want to draw attention to another aspect of pronunciation – weak forms of prepositions, intonation, particular problem sounds for the learners you have. Then do it again. You read, they read along with you.

Finally, get them in pairs and have them read alternate sentences to each other and correct each other if they can and then maybe discuss their own experiences of music in their childhood with the stipulation that they have to use the following phrases...
  • My earliest memory of music
  • I used to
  • When I was very young ,
  • I gave it up
  • Then, when I was..

As a follow up you can give them this kind of work to do at home by recording a short text and sending them the audio file, then asking them to record their version after they’ve shadowed it a couple of times.

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