Literacy Instruction for
Students with Significant Disabilities

“The focus is on interaction and meaning making. Teachers read with students not to students.
The goal is for the student to lead the interactions during shared reading.
– Karen Erickson & David Koppenhaver


What is shared reading?

Shared reading is an evidence-based instructional approach. The focus during shared reading is on the interaction and meaning making that occurs when a child and adult look at or read a book together. Shared reading would benefit any emergent reader, regardless of their age, and can be done individually or in small groups.

Don’t expect every student to attend or be interested in every book right from the beginning – the more you do shared reading, the more students discover about the sorts of books they like and the more they learn about how exciting books can be, the more engaged they will be during this reading time together.

During shared reading the adult reader:
  • encourages communication
  • follows students’ interests
  • attributes meaning to all attempts: purposeful or random
  • encourages the student to touch and interact with the book
  • makes connections between book and students experiences
  • thinks aloud to model thought processes
  • models using student’s communication system
  • uses objects to sustain attention, interest and help students make connections.

Which students would benefit from shared reading?

Students who:
  • are interested in books but can’t yet read them independently
  • are not yet interested in reading books
  • have not yet developed intentional or symbolic means of communication
  • can read but require continued support to make meaning from text
  • are emergent readers learning what reading is and how books work
  • are early conventional readers can continue to benefit from opportunities to engage in shared reading.

 How can students benefit from shared reading?

Shared reading:
  • builds emergent literacy understandings
  • builds expressive and receptive communication skills and understandings
  • builds critical background knowledge
  • develops concepts about print
  • demonstrates how meaning is made from print
  • demonstrates reading as a fun and enjoyable activity

How can we teach shared reading?

During shared reading:
  • the focus is on interaction and making meaning
  • the adult reads with, not to students
  • the goal is for the students to lead interactions
  • teachers begin by guiding students, encouraging engagement and interaction, and supporting communication

Role of the adult in shared reading is to:
  • encourage communication at ALL times
  • respond to any form of communication and attribute meaning
  • connect content of the book to the personal knowledge and experience of the student
  • model use of student AAC systems
  • select books carefully


Follow the CAR and Put the CROWD in the CAR are both approaches to structuring shared reading interactions. Following the CAR provides a
framework to get students started by encouraging and building participation.

Putting the CROWD in the CAR is an approach for expanding and refining shared reading practice (Whitehurst et al., 1988). Using the CROWD will help move students beyond participation and interaction toward language development. Teachers and students would begin using the CROWD approach.



Follow the C.A.R.

  • Lead with a COMMENT
    • Stop and wait 5+ seconds
  • Ask a QUESTION
    • Stop and wait 5+ seconds
  • RESPOND by adding more

Continue to Follow the CAR until you are confidently waiting, making comments, and asking students to participate without requiring it. You can begin putting the CROWD in the CAR when you are doing all of these things and your students are starting to lead the shared reading interaction with their own comments, responses, and questions.

 Put the CROWD in the CAR

  • Completion- leave a blank at the end of a sentence, students fill it in, typically used in books with repetitive phrases, rhyme
  • Recall- questions about what just happened
  • Open- Ended- questions that do not have a specific answer, “Tell me what’s happening in this picture.”
  • Wh-Questions- typically focus on pictures, “What does that man have?”
  • Distance- Questions that build a bridge between the book and personal experience, “There were farm animals in the book. What farm animals did you see at the farm?”

Where can I learn more?

Tar Heel Shared Reader
Developed by a team at the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, this variation of the popular Tar Heel Reader website emphasizes shared reading and provides PCS  symbol support for core words that can be used in discussing each book. A comprehensive set of free professional development modules provide training and examples of Tar Heel Shared Reader teaching practices. Each module requires between 45-60 minutes to complete. Various formats allow for flexibility in order to best meet scheduling needs.
Quick Start Guide:
Find a book:

Tar Heel Shared Reader: Putting the CROWD in the CAR module

Shared Reading – Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM)
This module describes shared reading, a reading approach that emphasizes interaction and engagement with books. In the DLM assessment, students frequently engage in a shared reading of a text before rereading a text to respond to questions.
Online Self-Directed Module
Facilitated Module Materials for Groups