Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

The Role of Big Books and Shared Reading

This is a guest blog post by Dr. Geraldine Haggard, who   is a retired teacher, Reading Recovery teacher leader, author, and university teacher.  

As the first article in a new series, this blog post is designed to share the history and purpose of big books. In subsequent posts, I will share suggestions for the use of three Hameray big books .


Don Holdaway refers to big books as “shared-book experiences” in his book   The Foundations of Literacy (1979).   He discussed students who are not fortunate enough to experience bedtime stories. These children neither possess the early oral language skills of their peers before entering school nor the warm personal experience with an adult who shared the excitement of reading. Holdaway found that when all the students could see the text in a shared reading book, they understand the role of print in reading. 

Once, I attended a trip led by Don Holdaway and visited New Zealand schools. I watched Don and teachers in New Zealand use of published big books and class-made big books. I saw children excitedly reading big books together after the books had been used with the entire class. The classes in New Zealand had children of different ages grouped together, so guided reading was a part of the many collective reading activities in the classroom. 






A teacher must choose a big book that the students will want to read and reread. The book should contain repeated phrases and sentences, rhyming words, and pictures that support the text. Such a book will strengthen the oral language skills of the students in a non-threatening way. 

In   Different Paths to Common Outcomes (1998) , Marie Clay recommends that the teacher move from whole to parts of words, emphasizing the semantic and syntactic cues.

The first reading is done by the teacher after an introduction to the book. The children are not invited to read along but may use any prior knowledge to talk about the book’s content. Thirty minutes is sufficient for the teacher to model, discuss, and guide students.

Later readings allow students to read along with the teacher in big groups, small groups, and independently.


  • Shared reading provides an opportunity for the entire class to participate, allowing everyone to feel successful and be a part of a happy experience with a book.
  • Children who fear that reading is difficult can have a sense of individual achievement.
  • The teacher can introduce new strategies, provide opportunities for practice, and help students truly understand the importance of the strategies.
  • Discussion allows students to use prior knowledge that will provide a foundation for strong reading comprehension skills.
  • The details of letters and words can be discussed and used later in writing.
  • Students become familiar with essential sight words.
  • The teacher can model the cross-checking strategy that is essential to good reading, teaching students the semantics and syntax behind questions: "Did that make sense? Did that sound right?" Clay believes that meaning and syntax came before print details.
  • Fluent reading by the teacher and emphasis of punctuation can help students use punctuation marks as they read text with emotion and meaning.
  • Research shares that multiple readings of a text are important. Shared reading big books can be a part of the class library, while smaller copies of the book can become home reading.

In New Zealand, I saw small groups of children revisiting and reading texts from shared reading. One student even assumed the role of the teacher!

In my next post, I will present example lessons that you can use with big books


Geraldine Haggard is the author of several books from Hameray's  Kaleidoscope Collection . She spent 37 years in the Plano, TX school system. She currently tutors, chairs a committee that gifts books to low-income students, teaches in her church, and serves as a facilitator in a program for grieving children.


Click the image below to download a brochure featuring Hameray's Big Books Collection !

Leveled Big Books