Practical Tips for Running a Guided Reading Lesson

In my previous blog post, What is Guided Reading? I defined guided reading and shared the research and history behind this approach to building comprehension. In this blog post, I wanted to follow-up to give you some Practical Tips for Running a Guided Reading Lesson. If you are not a fan of guided reading, no worries. Perhaps you would like to try reciprocal reading or shared reading. This blog post is for those teachers who would like to know more about guided reading.

Is there one right way?

Let’s start with this doozy of a question. Is there one right way to run a guided reading session? NO! Well, you won’t hear me saying that! Researchers actually advise against doing a guided reading lesson in a ‘rigid way’, and suggest teaching guided reading in the way that will best meet your students’ needs. By using your professional judgment, data, and observation, you can make guided reading your own. It’s one tool in your kete (basket) of reading approaches and has no mandate to be taught a certain way. I feel like we can all take a deep breath now.

How do you make up groups?

Children need to be able to decode most words independently in a text before they begin a true guided reading programme. Prior to this, shared whole-class reading is a great tool for exploring sounds, words, and language.

Start by making broad initial groupings from data you have received and your own observations. Three-four groups are manageable but I know of teachers who run a programme with more groups than this. Remember, you know what works for you.

I recommend keeping groups to six or fewer students so you can notice needs, explicitly teach and have the chance to observe each child regularly.

Your groups do not need to be set in stone. If you choose to have more fluid groups, you can change according to formative assessment observations or by topic interests. Tip: use student names on velcro dots for easy group changes.

The way you group may vary from time to time to suit a purpose. Some lower students benefit from working with their peers in a slightly harder group, and some benefit from working in a group mixed-level interest group, e.g. a student with particular expertise or knowledge of dinosaurs. If the group is mixed-level for a positive reason which is designed to meet particular students needs, it can be beneficial periodically (ERO, 2018).

My biggest tip in terms of grouping for guided reading is this: Do it your way – not because it is the latest trend but because it has student needs at its heart and because you can explain it using your professional judgment.

How do you plan guided reading?

  • Make it easy for yourself.
  • Limit the goals to one surface word-level goal and one deeper feature, e.g. decoding new words and inferring from actions or dialogue.
  • Use these goals for several weeks – one lesson won’t embed them. Your students need a chance to practice (and practice…and practice).
  • Use follow-up activities to embed the learning and reinforce it (see our activities)
  • You could also use the same learning goals and the same text for several groups but with different achievement expectations, e.g. a text about Matariki to increase comprehension of a topic studied.
  • Establish the needs from diagnostic (PAT/STAR) and ongoing formative assessment (Running Records/Probe and observation).
  • Write goals from those assessment results and your observations
  • Other places to find goals include the literacy progressions, and lists from resources such as Cameron and Dempsey (pp 124-5, 2019).     
  • Share the learning goals with the students and ensure the session is about them e.g., Is it a character study, using question marks, inference. Students need to know the WHY behind the guided reading lesson.

How do you prepare for a session?

Spend less time preparing than the lesson will take! Here is what I have used in the past to be ready for guided reading lessons:

  • Choose a text according to the goal.
  • Read the text and write ideas on post-it notes your copy of the text. You don’t need to read the full text in each session.
  • Make sure you have something to write on during the lesson: paper, whiteboard/table, modelling book – pens, markers.
  • Prepare your guided reading space. You know what suits your students best – a jellybean table, floor dots or cushions, or hanging out on the floor.
  • A notebook or spare post-it notes to write formative assessment notes e.g. ‘M’s inference is poor, S & T starting to locate adverbs. These can be new goals for the future.

How do you run a guided reading session?

Before I take you through a step-by-step approach to running a guided reading session, remember the research. Research says it up to you to choose an approach that meets the needs of your students. Here are some ideas. Take them or leave them – no pressure!

1. Sit your group in a circle with one space for yourself.

2. Give each student a copy of the text with instructions NOT to open it.

3. Prediction – look at the cover, title, and/or table of contents and brainstorm with your students. Is it fiction? Who are the characters? What is the topic? Where is the setting? When did these events happen?

4. Introduction: look at the first page. Before reading, look for clues in pictures or big words that jump out and link into prior knowledge, e.g. a baby goat is a kid. Introduce important topic words, names, new vocabulary, and ideas which the students need to make meaning. Set them up for success.

5. Split the text into three or four sections for one session.  Assign the reading passage, e.g. a page, a paragraph.  You can do the actual reading in multiple ways depending on your students’ fluency and needs:

  • Read silently or whisper to yourself
  • The teacher might choose one child to whisper read to them while others read silently.
  • Read aloud together with the teacher to the end of the first passage (supported reading).
  • Students move to their own place and whisper read. The teacher moves around and observes, or uses tap and read (when I tap you on the shoulder, read out-loud).
  • Another approach is to send the group away to re-read the entire text (ERO, 2018).

6. Set the thinking task. Either:

  • Set a question before students read so they are thinking as they read e.g., as you read, find a phrase that explains how old the main character is and be able to explain your evidence.
  • Ask the question after reading so they have to reread to find it e.g., how many adverbs can you find in that passage and what verbs were they describing?
    • Fast finishers can record their interesting words or locate their evidence using stickies on their book

7. Thinking and talking time: instill the expectation that this is the important part of the session. Everyone thinks and talks about the text together. Share the students’ thinking by asking them to share with their partner, hold up their written answers so everyone can see, or ask questions to the group such as: ‘Did anyone find some other evidence?’ ‘Who had a different idea?’ ‘Can you point to the word/phrase…?’

8. Introduce the next section of text. Repeat the process above several times.

9. Finish the session with a quick review of the purpose, and the learning. Teach to your goal and note observations you want to remember.

10. Discuss any follow-up tasks as it may be a day or two until you see this group again.

Some examples of video-guided reading sessions can be found here.

How long should a guided reading lesson be?

Plan for 10 to 15 minutes, three-four times a week for less fluent students, and 20 minutes, one-two times a week for more fluent students. Research recommends quality sessions over quantity ERO (2018), Cameron & Dempsey (2019). You probably won’t cover all the text in one session. Don’t stress! The main aim is a guided time to read, think and discuss a text.

Some final reminders

  • Use the text over several sessions so students get to experience a full plot.
  • Students could:
    • finish the text independently or with a buddy.
    • take it home to finish reading it.
    • put it in their browsing box for the future.
  •  A good resource shouldn’t be rushed just so you can get through as many books as you can.
  • Don’t feel you have to get through all the groups and all the goals. You will be teaching reading explicitly at other times.
  • Vital goals can be covered in a class shared reading session.

My final reminder is this: Researchers actually advise against doing a guided reading lesson in a ‘rigid way’, and suggest teaching guided reading in the way that will best meet your students’ needs. Keep your students’ needs front and centre and you will be well on your way to helping them improve their reading skills!

Ease the pressure on yourself. Keep it simple and have fun!

Our reading resources

We have a great range of reading comprehension resources that would fit nicely into your guided reading programme:

Everybody likes a freebie

A collaborative reading activity, sure to engage your sports-mad students. Using the information sheet and their own independent research (QR codes and additional web links are included), students present their learning about Richie McCaw. Use as an A4 poster or use the large poster pieces that make an A2 poster… and yes, it's FREE.

A collaborative reading activity, sure to engage your sports-mad students. Using the information sheet and their own independent research (QR codes and additional web links are included), students present their learning about Richie McCaw. Use as an A4 poster or use the large poster pieces that make an A2 poster… and yes, it’s FREE. Click here to download this free resource today.

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*ERIC – Early Reading In Classrooms

(LARIC – Later Reading in Classrooms

  • Aitken, J., Villers, H, and Gaffney, J. S. (2018). Guided reading: Being mindful of the reading processing of new entrants in Aotearoa New Zealand primary schools, Set 2018: no. 1, NZCER, Wellington
  • Cameron and Dempsey (2019). The Reading Book, S&L Publishing, Auckland, NZ.
  • Ciuffetelli, A Guided Reading Research Review (2018). Cengage Learning, Australia.
  • Education Review Office, (2018). Teaching approaches and strategies that work. He rautaki whakaako e whai hua ana. Keeping children engaged and achieving in reading, Crown, Wellington, New Zealand.
  • Ford, M.P. & Opitz, M.F. (2011). Looking back to move forward with guided reading. Reading Horizons, 50(4), 225–40.
  • Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2012). Guided reading: the romance and the reality. The Reading Teacher, 66(4), 268–84.
  • Hattie, J. and Clarke, S. (2019). Visible Learning Feedback, Routledge.
  • Iaquinta, A. (2006). Guided reading: a research-based response to the challenges of early reading instruction. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(6), 413–18.
  • Ings, W. (2017). Disobedient Teaching: Surviving and creating change in education. Otago University Press, Dunedin, NZ.
  • Johnston. P. (2004)  Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning. Stenhouse, University of Illinois
  • McNaughton, S. (2020). The Literacy Landscape in Aotearoa New Zealand – Full report. Auckland: Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.
  • Ministry of Education of New Zealand. (2003). Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4. Wellington, NZ: Learning Media Limited, 44(3), 131–6.
  • Morgan, D.N., Williams, J.L., Clark, B., Hatteberg, S., Hauptman, G.M., Kozel, C. & Paris, J. (2013). Guided readers in the middle grades. Middle School Journal, January, 16–23.
  • Swain, C. (2010). ‘It looked like one thing but when we went in more depth, it turned out to be completely different’: reflections on the discourse of guided reading and its role in fostering critical response to magazines. Literacy, 44(3), 131–6.
  • Villaume, S.K. & Brabham, E.G. (2001). Guided reading: who is in the driver’s seat? The Reading Teacher, 55(3), 260–3.

Onwards and upwards,

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