SECTION 4: Whole class instruction

SECTION 4: Whole class instruction

A range of teaching can be done as a whole class to maximise the time students spend with the teacher. The opportunities provided will depend on the needs of the students in a particular class. Below are a series of activities that can form part of whole class instruction.

In this section

Read aloud and shared reading

Reading aloud provides an opportunity for students to be immersed in and experience stories, poems, and non-fiction texts. A teacher may read aloud purely for enjoyment or in a more interactive way, which engages students in discussion of the story or vocabulary explanation. Engaging students with well-crafted texts helps improve their understanding of language and provides opportunities for enriching vocabulary and conceptual knowledge, which are not afforded by everyday talk. 

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Reading aloud: teacher perspective

Anna Blay from Hokowhitu School describes how she incorporates reading aloud several times each day and the range of purposes it serves in her classroom. 

Whole class reading: Tawhero School

This video explores how teachers at Tawhero school utilise the reading of a book as a class as an opportunity to build vocabulary and knowledge of concepts of print during literacy session as well as across the curriculum. 

Big book reading

Big books allow children to see the text as it is being read. Children may be able to join in with the teacher as they read aloud. The teacher can model fluency and expression. Concepts of print can also be a focus. Big books might be fiction or non-fiction and can be used for their story or factual content. 

Big book reading

This video shows how big book reading can be used as part of a whole class lesson.

Picture books

Picture books are a specialised kind of literature where the story is told by both the pictures and the words. In a well-designed picture book, the pictures tell parts of the story that cannot be as effectively expressed in words and provide an opportunity for engaging students in inference. 

Picture book reading

This video demonstrates how a teacher approaches reading My Cat Maisie during a whole class lesson.


Poems provide opportunities for enjoying texts as well as the chance to build word knowledge. Teachers can engage students in identifying interesting vocabulary and in discussing the meaning of the poem. They also provide a useful opportunity to explore important literary concepts such as alliteration, assonance, metaphor, and rhyme. Some useful resources for poems include Jill Eggleton’s Poetry Links, which is available through Scholastic, and A Treasury of New Zealand Poems collected by Paula Green. There also are poems available on Te Kete Ipurangi

Whole class poem: rhyme and vocabulary

This video shows how a poem can be used during whole class instruction to explicitly teach the concept of rhyme and to build students’ vocabulary. 

Whole class phonological awareness

When teachers are knowledgeable about the phonological aspect of words, they can provide opportunities for students to engage with phonology during classroom literacy activities. Different aspects of phonological awareness that teachers will want to teach are:

Syllables:  Explore syllables during whole class teaching by:

  • Counting or clapping the syllables in children’s names
  • Finding a list of compound words and separating them into syllables: staircase = stair + case
  • Joining one syllable words to make compounds: week + end = weekend 

Rhyme: Share poems, nursery rhymes, and books that use rhyme to teach students about rhyme. Help them to identify rhyming words and also ask them to suggest additional words that rhyme with the words in the texts. Playing oral language games can also support knowledge of rhyme, for example: ‘Wibbly wobbly wu; the elephant sat on you; wibbly wobbly wable; the elephant sat on the table’.

Phoneme identity: This could include the quick review of known grapheme-phoneme correspondences, or activities such as finding words that start with the same sound through alliterative poems, word sorts, alphabet books, and games such as I Spy.

Blending and segmenting

Whole class phonemic awareness with children new to school

Dr Helen Walls discusses how to approach developing phonemic awareness with children new to school and demonstrates what this can look like in the classroom.

Whole class rapid review: read

This video shows how a teacher quickly reviews known grapheme-phoneme correspondences during a whole class recall activity. 

Blending is the skill needed to decode words. It involves seeing a letter and saying the corresponding sound, and then putting sounds together to make a word. Segmenting is the skill for spelling words and involves identifying the sounds, and the letters for each sound, to write the word. Opportunities to practise blending and segmenting include:

  • Saying 3 sounds and asking children to guess the word, for example /m/ /u/ /g/ which can be blended to form ‘mug’.
  • Show a picture and say the word, for example ‘cog’ and as children to identify the sounds and later the letters. When you bring the letters in, the activity becomes a reading and writing activity.

Blending with the whole class

The teacher supports her students to blend c-v-c words they have encountered earlier in the lesson after she says the phonemes that make up each word.

Explicit teaching of an orthographic pattern

This video demonstrates the explicit teaching of the orthographic pattern for ‘ou’ and ‘ow’ during a whole class lesson.

Alphabet teaching

Children need to know letter names as well as mastering the ability to associate each letter of the alphabet with a sound/phoneme. Letter sounds are essential for reading, as the name of the letter is not used to pronounce the word. However, there is evidence that knowing letter names acts as a bridge to help a child learn and memorise the sound. To teach alphabet knowledge you can:

  • Have an alphabet chart in the class and find ways to connect with it daily in the context of lessons and activities
  • Provide multiple opportunities for children to learn the alphabet using chants, songs, or poems 
  • Create an alphabet book for each child that they use to add pictures and learn letter formation
  • Use toys, objects, or pictures to group words that start with the same letters.


Learning correct letter formation to the level of mastery is vital for becoming efficient at the task of writing. Whole class handwriting opportunities can occur at multiple times throughout a day. Teaching letter formation should progress from large motor (in the air sky writing) to small motor (whiteboards or chalkboards) to paper. It can be helpful at first to give opportunities for mastering lines, zig zags, and circles without the worry of correct letter formation. 

Children who struggle with handwriting often benefit from a multisensory approach. For example, when students write with chalk on a blackboard in addition to using pencil on paper, the friction of the chalk on the blackboard helps consolidate the feeling of shaping the letters.  Activities designed to strengthen hand muscles for pencil control and activities such as mazes or connecting the dots are also beneficial.


Dr Helen Walls discusses the key things teachers need to be thinking about and doing when teaching handwriting and models how these can be applied in whole class lessons using an approach developed from the work of Barbara Brann.

Handwriting curricula and resources are available, including:

Shared and model writing

Shared writing involves the teacher acting as the scribe on a piece of large paper or whiteboard. The students contribute to the writing process by providing ideas about the story or the transcription, enabling young children to see how ideas can be transcribed from speech to the page. Teachers can guide students to consider concepts about print (direction, capital letters), letter formation, and spelling. In addition, a teacher can model how to put an idea into a sentence and then put that sentence onto paper.

Shared writing

Dr Helen Walls discusses how to employ shared writing during whole class instruction when teaching very early writers and demonstrates what this looks like in action, including key aspects of writing on which to focus. 

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