Tips and Techniques for Shared Reading for Special Education and Differentiated Learning

Reading to students with interaction and purpose can significantly boost your students' language skills.

Take a look at some of the activities your students could do:

Shared reading is an interactive reading experience.  It involves students being involved in a read aloud experience with a teacher, where the teacher supports and guides the students through the reading process. 

This can include discussions about predictions, vocabulary, traits and descriptions, and more. 


Shared reading is NOT  a program to teach students reading skills in any particular sequence.  It is a part of other classroom literacy activities


Good shared reading sessions involve asking open-ended questions, rather than specific, close-ended questions with a “right” answer.  Encourage interactions and participation.  Accept all answers and discuss them.

Click for My Adapted Book & Shared Reading Resources



Foundational reading skills include learning to love books, learning how books work, discovering that print has meaning, enjoying books that are read and enjoying rehearsing and memorizing and retelling them.

This retelling stories is a crucial part of the Oral-Literate Continuum, according to Carol Westby and Karen Erickson, among other researchers. Westby has long talked about the important of story retelling by children as a very important part of both their language development and development of literacy skills.  Repeated reading has an impact on students’ language and reading skills, as well as their lifelong love of reading.

Can include - but does not need to include -  paired reading, echoic reading, where the child gets a turn to “read” even before they can independently read print.

Studies show that children should be read to a minimum of 15 minutes per day.  Many students with special needs, or those from some environments do not get even this minimum amount.  Start with brief reading then, as attention span grows, extend the time.

For students in special education who are just developing - or have not developed any - literacy skills, it is an essential classroom tool for increasing background knowledge, providing access to texts, and increasing important language skills.

Recognize that students may also ask questions - often the same question repeatedly.  This is because they learn language a little bit at a time, and each time your answer may mean more to them.


For nonverbal students, it is important to provide a way for them to direct turning the page, “read” out loud the repeated line or rhyming word, make comments and ask questions.  While it is ideal for each nonverbal or minimally verbal student to have his/her own aac system with voice output, it is possible to use lower tech, static display devices for within activity language.


Shared reading strategies help the child to understand that what is heard matches what is written on the page.  They also facilitate vocabulary development, development of higher level thinking skills; such as inference, prediction, comparison, analysis.


When teachers think out loud during shared reading, they model for students how to deal with unfamiliar vocabulary and concepts, text features and structures.  Teachers need to model strategies in order for students to learn to use them.

You can ask questions, although these should not be the focus of a shared reading session

Take advantage of the fact that children often focus on the pictures longer than they remember the text.  So take advantage of the book’s great illustrations, labeling, describing, comparing what is shown.


Good shared reading sessions begin with previewing the book, and allowing predictions based on illustrations.


Activate students’ background knowledge prior to reading the book. This includes talking about the topic of the book and related experiences, as well as, activating specific knowledge of the skill(s) involved in the purpose set for reading.  

Prediction is especially important. Stop throughout the story to predict what might happen next. Prediction questions increase comprehension.

Set a single purpose for reading prior to reading, with a different purpose each time you read the book.  A given book will be read multiple times, with a different purpose set each time.

After reading, review the purpose that was set.  Talk about the  purpose skill as it relates specifically to the book, so that students understand how what you asked them to do while listening relates to what they heard. Then follow up with the activity that involves that skill, as it relates to that book.



When I’m working with students who use aac, I am also very focused on them learning how to find the words they need to talk about the book in their aac systems.  Many students start out with a simple, generic reading board or page, but my goal is for them to be able to find specific vocabulary to talk about the specific story.


The book is about a trip to the zoo. What animals do we see at the zoo? Where are animals in your aac system’s organization?  What kind of animals are at the zoo?  Can you find wild animals, as opposed to farm animals?

The pace of language development is significantly impacted by the amount and the robustness of the language the student hears.  It is also significantly impacted by the amount of vocabulary the student has access to use - either his verbal lexicon or his AAC system.

For students using aac, make sure they have ample ways to make comments and ask questions; not just respond to your questions. Use their aac system when responding to them.  A generic reading board is included here.

Just as you expand on what a verbal child says, do the same with the child who uses aac.  If the student uses a single word/picture, expand with an adjective or create a noun+verb sequence, use synonyms, add prepositions, etc.











Remember that good shared reading strategies and sessions meet many of the Common Core State Standards; including Emergent Literacy Skills, Reading Foundation Skills, Early Literacy Skills, and Language Skills.

According to the Special Education and the Common Core State Standards White Paper, from the International Center for Leadership in Education, the goal of the CCSS - to hold all students to “robust and relevant” standards of skills they will need to be successful - applies to all students; including special education students.


Using Shared Reading in Your Class Every Day Can Greatly Increase Your Students’ Language and Literacy Skills

Using consistent formats for activities makes learning and executing the tasks easier for students.

Shared Reading Before - During - After activities address  Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language skills.


Try my Shared Reading Strategies and Templates.



Take a look at my Adapted Books for Special Education:

Language Activities Adapted for Owl Moon
Language with Storybooks: Stellaluna
Language Activities for The Rough Faced Girl
Language Fun with Bill and Pete
Language Activities Adapted for Thunder Cake
Language Fun with The Snowy Day