Have you heard of the “Rock, Pebbles, and Sand” story?

Here’s a quick reminder…

Imagine a jar filled with rocks, sand, and pebbles. The big stones take up most of the space and the cracks in-between are filled with small pebbles and grains of sand. The jar is full.

But what would happen if you put the sand into the jar first?

There would be no room for the pebbles or big rocks!

So, what is the meaning behind this time management analogy?

The rocks symbolize the most important things in your everyday life or, in this case, reading instruction. The pebbles are other things that matter but hold slightly less importance, and the sand represents all the “small stuff.”

The “Rock, Pebbles and Sand” analogy can be applied to our reading instruction time. The “small stuff” is still important, but if you spend all of your time on them, you’ll run out of time for the core things that will accelerate your students reading achievement.

Big Rocks for Reading Achievement

Think about it…What are your big rocks for reading instruction?

I’ve got two big rocks that I consider as non-negotiable activities for reading instruction. I’ve come to this conclusion based on research and my experience as a teacher.

{To watch a video where I explain my big rocks hit play below or read on for a detailed overview}

The Two BIGGEST Rocks for Reading Achievement

My two big rocks for reading achievement are…

  • Teacher Read Aloud
  • Student Read Aloud

When we set up our lessons for small group instruction, we must be laser-focused on these two things.  


Because reading has two basic components: Decoding and Comprehension.

According to the “Simple View of Reading” theory, there’s a simple formula for reading achievement:

Reading Achievement = Decoding x Listening Comprehension

The formula has been supported by many research studies, and it validates the importance of Teacher Read Aloud and Student Read Aloud.

With these two activities, we’re able to accelerate reading achievement because they target sound-based decoding and word identification, which is vital for becoming a fluent reader. However, the only way that students can reach that level of success is with regular practice paired with feedback from the teacher.

Listening comprehension is dependent upon our language abilities, oral language abilities, and vocabulary. The best way to develop listening comprehension is with reading aloud practice.

Hearing things above a student’s reading level gives them exposure to new words and concepts. This, in turn, helps to lay the groundwork for launching differentiated reading instruction.

What are the Benefits of Reading Aloud?

Reading aloud comes with a waterfall of benefits.

It helps to build sound-based decoding skills, word identification, reading fluency and comprehension. It also gives students exposure to rare words that helps develop vocabulary and word recognition.

According to “What Reading Does for the Mind” by Anne E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich, the “relative rarity of the words in children’s books is greater than in adult conversation.”

That’s hard to believe, right?

But according to the study, college graduates communicate just 7.3 rare words per 1000 when speaking to friends or spouses in everyday conversation.

Surprisingly, children’s books have an average of 30.9 rare words per 1000 words.

What can we learn from these findings?

First of all, our colleges may be slacking just a little bit! 😉

Secondly, it reveals evidence that children’s books are, in many ways, far more advanced than day-to-day talk between two adults.

When we read out loud to children, we’re giving them exposure to language that they don’t hear very often, even when talking to college graduates!

Big Rocks for Reading Achievement

Reading Aloud in the Classroom

I suggest that you start practicing reading aloud as early as possible in the school year.

But how can you squeeze read aloud time at the beginning of the year when there’s a cascade of procedures and things you’ve got to get done?

Don’t worry! I’ve got just the solution…

The secret is to take it step by step or, in this case, week by week.

Week One Goals:

1. Establish the Read Aloud

The first step is to find books that the kids like and teach them the procedures for how to sit and listen to others reading.

During the first week, give your students a chance to enjoy the read aloud activities.

Set goals for your students to help give them more focus and ensure that they’re continually moving forward.

2. Establish & Extend Independent Reading

Give kids procedures and practice. Have them go out and select books they are interested in at their reading level and then begin to extend reading time every day. Maybe it’s five minutes of reading time the first day, then increase it to six or seven mins the next day, etc.

In the second week, you can start small group reading instruction with the groundwork laid down in week one.

In week three, you can take this a step further by increasing independent reading time and focus on re-reading, etc.

Big Rocks for Reading Achievement

Below is the original video I recorded for Facebook live on this topic, you can also watch the edited highlight video at the top of the post.