Guided Reading—Making It Work Right Away

As teachers, we know how important it is to get our class working and problem-solving independently so that we can effectively differentiate instruction. This includes, but is not limited to, guided reading instruction. There is a multitude of specific systems that need to be in place to successfully implement guided reading instruction starting from the beginning of the school year.

I find the following to be successful in an elementary school classroom: 

Assess right away!

Before we can even group students by level and ability, we need to assess them. Every school and district does this differently, but usually assessment involves administering and analyzing running records. Running record data is so valuable because it shows us exactly what skills and strategies our students use for both word-solving and comprehension. It also shows us data about their fluency, accuracy, and exactly how they tackle unfamiliar words.

All of this information will ultimately be essential in guided reading groups, because it is the basis for instruction! I recommend using last year’s data as a starting point for assessments. In my district, we use running record data to determine a student’s independent and instructional guided reading level. My ultimate goal is to have my beginning-of-the-year assessments done within a month of school starting. After this, I group my students according to their instructional reading level. 

Have a plan for what the rest of your class will be working on

Now that we’ve assessed and grouped our students, it’s time to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s time to think about what your other students will be doing when you’re working with your guided reading group.  It is important for them to be engaged in meaningful, literacy-based activities such as: independent reading, writing a reader’s response, e-reading, or using literacy apps on iPads/tablets. I suggest doing a combination of these activities and having some type of a daily rotation.

Explicitly teach your class how to do the activities above 

What does independent reading, e-reading, working on a tablet/computer, and writing a reader’s response look like and sound like? Students need to know the answer to this question, and it is our job to explicitly teach this to our class. I usually make a looks-like/sounds-like t-chart for each activity and brainstorm with my class what each one looks and sounds like. Then we post the corresponding anchor chart in the classroom. We do this during the beginning of the year to set the expectations immediately.  Most reader’s workshop units have “routine” teaching points like these built into the “launching the reader’s workshop” unit—don’t skip over them!

Students should know what to do when they need something

In an earlier post I explained all about how to foster independence in your students during small group instruction. Go here for ideas and strategies.

Plan ahead

First and foremost, put guided reading into your weekly lesson plans. I know this sounds obvious, but it is so helpful in ensuring that you get to all of your groups each week. Some students and groups need more support so planning in advance also helps teachers schedule accordingly. You should also think about what texts you need for each group and exactly what you plan to do with those texts. How do you know what to do? What do the kids need? Look at that running record data! Don’t haphazardly pick texts. Don’t sit with your group and in the moment think to yourself, “What should I do with them?”

Bottom line—have a plan!

Be organized

As I mentioned earlier, it is important to have homogeneous reading groups. You may also have some type of a class list that includes every child’s level and ability. This should be something you can look at with a quick glance. 

It is also important to have a system for note-taking and then filing away those notes. In my guided reading notes, I always include:

  • Text title & level
  • The names of the children in the group
  • Student behaviors before (during the book introduction), during, and after reading
  • Teaching point
  • Next steps
  • Possible follow-up work (this may include, but isn’t limited to: word work, reader’s response)

Below is a sample guided reading note-taking template.

When I’m finished, I put the notes in my “Guided Reading” binder. I keep the notes in chronological order so that I can access and review them easily. 

Lastly, be sure to have an organized guided reading area/table. Any materials you (or your students) may need during a guided reading lesson should be accessible and near you—you shouldn’t need to leave your group!

This may include, but isn’t limited to: your group notes, the binder/folder that you have filed notes into, books for each group, pencils, a table-top easel, post-its, magnet letters, mini whiteboards, and any other guided reading tools you have accumulated over the years! 

Guided reading instruction is a critical component of our reading block! It is an important opportunity for teachers to hone in on exactly what their students need, in a small group setting. In order to prepare for that very first guided reading lesson, we need to be organized, thoughtfully plan, and establish classroom routines that support effective guided reading instruction.