Methods for Teaching Guided Reading

In trying to understand the best methods for teaching guided reading I ended up doing a lot more research than I had intended. As a result I have had to make that research an entirely different blog. It can be read here. I would love of course for you to read it completely, but I will attempt to summarise the research into the practical ways in which guided reading might be seen in our classrooms.

I have also provided the way I teach guided reading - The Book Club. I have trialled it for a complete year now with my year 5 class but I have also used The Book Club for one term with Year 2 and with year with a year 3 class. I would be very interested in completely honest feedback of my method, especially if you use a similar model in your own school.

A Good Guided Reading Lesson

There are common trends for all guided reading sessions: most are every day and for about 20-30 minutes. The most common guided reading sessions will have ability groups. Groups are may well be dynamic; they might change in response to assessment and student need; the intention is that they are flexible and fluid. The teacher will work with a different group one day of the week, thereby getting to work with each group once.

When working with that group the teacher will:

·       Match student reading ability to text levels giving everyone in the group the same text. The books aren't matched to 'ability' but matched to making progress.

·       Introducing students to skills in their reading processes: word solving, searching for and using information, self-monitoring and correcting, summarizing information, maintaining fluency, adjusting for purpose and genre, predicting, making connections (personal, other texts, and world knowledge), synthesizing, inferring, analyzing, and critiquing.

·       Assessment - The teacher will observe and make notes while students read

·       Introduction—Ask students to examine the book to see what they notice. Support students guiding themselves through a preview of the book and thinking about the text. Students may notice the book’s format or a particular element of the print.

·       Reading practice—Rotate from student to student supporting the child if they get stuck on words or points of comprehension either through questioning or peer-support.  

·       Discussion—Let students talk about what they noticed while reading. Support their efforts to think deeply and connect across the whole book. For example, a student may notice that an illustration opening the text shows ingredients in a pantry, and at the end, they are all over the kitchen.

The students not working with the teacher will often be working on differentiated activities. Normally a follow-up activity for the group that was with the teacher the day before. Perhaps if you have the resources, a teaching assistant might work with another group. Groups often complete comprehension activities, spellings, handwriting practise, use technology (even using blogging and Skype is popular), Students might reflect on the reading (Book review, wanted poster for a character, create their own endings, middles and beginnings). A wide variety of activities are possible and they often focus on skills, mostly in the form of consolidation. This can be a lot of work for the teacher, differentiating so many ways for each session is exhausting and as a result you might have a coloured timetable so that some overlapping of activities make your life easier. A group doing 'free reading' whereby they read any book of their choice for pleasure is a good slot that achieves the goal of 'freedom of choice' for the student and less work for the teacher.

The underlying classroom management strategy of guided reading is that you have to work exclusively with your guided group, attention to them is very important to the whole process, as a result the independent activities are, in short, ways of crowd-controlling the rest of the class. There is a push for those activities to be extremely progress driven. You often question the purpose of some of the activities. From my own experience, you wonder where on earth your students are getting a lifelong love of reading from. In KS2, the books tend to be quite long and you can't get through them in one session. Therefore, they overlap into several guided reading sessions. What can often happen is, they read with you on the Monday, follow-up activity on the Tuesday, Free read on Wednesday, Grammar activity on Thursday and Comprehension on Friday. It's a week before they get back to reading the book. I've certainly forgotten what's happened, the students are positively unmotivated and disinterested.

Sometimes teachers might allow time each day for students to read their guided reading book. This is a good idea, but it moves away from aiding students' development of skills in reading and just becomes a free read. They read at different speeds and you end up with students at completely different points. Some teachers allow their class to read some of their books at night, this is not always possible with resources and many schools don't allow guided reading books to be taken home. The opportunities for continuing the book during school time are not numerous - especially with added pressures to your timetable.

I decided I had a few issues with the way I taught guided reading.

·       Little encouragement for student's love of reading

·       Follow-up activities often not about reading at all and sometimes merely 'crowd-controlling'

·       Students just wanting to read more

·       Students wanting to take control of discussions and debates

·       Students wanting to be more independent

I wasn't happy and I decided to research guided reading more deeply. Once again you'll find it here if you have the time. I decided it was important for students to be able to decode, confident readers and mature enough to engage before I tried my new method. Therefore I didn't start it straightaway. I still do believe that this scheme should follow on from the phonics programme/ initial reading programme. After several months I decided to trial it with my Year 2 class. My session was called:

The Book Club

·       Students were split into 5 ability groups of 6 students.

·       Match student reading ability to text levels giving everyone in the group the same text. The books aren't matched to 'ability' but matched to making progress.

·       Appoint a student as 'leader' for the session. Given a dictionary to use.

·       Provide them with question starters they could use (They're nothing special, nor did I make them myself. They are great starting points. Most important thing to remember is the students choose the questions they want to discuss and use them to help themselves, not any assessment criteria you have - They can be found here)

·       Student initiates the guided reading session and acts as the teacher would (questions, help with words, encouraging expression) (One person speaks at a time, very high expectations needed of year 2's)

·       If the teacher is with that group, they model (took a while with a class of year 2's) the way the leader should conduct the session, as well as the way the other students should conduct themselves. (Big push on moving away from 'What does that word mean? - those questions are important but all too common - to comprehension questions which challenge meaning) I found I was continuously reinforcing the modelling as I worked with each group but over time I could move from modelling the learning to facilitating the learning. I could move a whole group forward by recommending to the leader to introduce to the group a new reading process: word solving, searching for and using information, self-monitoring and correcting, summarizing information, maintaining fluency, adjusting for purpose and genre, predicting, making connections (personal, other texts, and world knowledge), synthesizing, inferring, analyzing, and critiquing.

It took several months of modelling, expectations and practice. I used every opportunity. I made full use of shared reading and class texts - anytime during literacy. By the end of one term if you walked into my classroom during guided reading you would see: 5 different groups reading a text, each with a designated leader. The leader would be asking questions (improving their own understanding of the text), using dictionaries to check the meaning of words, understanding the difference between decoding and comprehension.

I honestly didn't think a class of year 2's could do it. The biggest problem I faced was classroom management. I was worried about it before I started and I knew I had to have unbelievably high standards to make it work. The potential problem was having 5 groups reading at the same time. I made sure that only one person from each group could speak at once. This didn't stifle discussion, quite the opposite, I actually found the time students waited for a person to talk meant their own answers were thought out and more deeply developed. Even with only 5 people talking at once, this could still distract each other from reading. I introduced the quiet reading voice, it worked remarkably well because students were conscious about the level of their voice. When they wanted to use expression, they would just revert back to their normal voice and it didn't seem alien to do so. They enjoyed deciding when the expression in the story warranted a voice increase.

The result was a classroom where the whole class was reading a text pitched to their level, they were quiet, could concentrate and could receive encouragement from their peers. They soon realised they didn't need me to read books, they could tackle any book they wanted.

I then moved into Year 3. I wanted to know whether it was just my original enthusiasm for something new, the particular cohort or whether it was a good method for guided reading. Thankfully, it was the latter. Part way through I reflected on the strategy and decided that it didn't encourage a few elements that were key to how I wanted my students to see reading. I wanted them to:

§  participate in more discussion

§  recommend books that they have read to their peers, giving reasons for their choices

I decided to introduce a session on Friday's replacing the 5th guided reading slot. I didn't put them in the same groups, I put them into mixed ability groups of 6. Students would take along the book they've been reading, have read or would like to read or just have ideas of topics they would like to discuss. They would take it turns to 'host their book'. Positive or negative they talked about their book, inviting questions, answering questions. Each in turn would 'host'. This is what I see reading as being, a discussion about themes, characters, things that moved you (for good or bad) I was worried this session would be seen as lacking in progress. I was wrong. They were using the skills they had learnt being the leader of their guided group. They transferred the skills. Asking questions that probe for understanding and not just surface-level questioning. Being able to summarise the book (Because they had to summarise to a weaker member of their group when they were leader). Their evaluation skill was brilliant. In order to talk about their book, they began to make connections between texts. They were being exposed to far more books than ever before.

Last year I took the method into my year 5 class and it was just as successful. I am hoping that by sharing this I will be able to receive some critique and be able to improve this even further. I hope that if someone sees a massive flaw they can point it out to me, it would benefit me greatly.

What I will say is, the students didn't just learn new skills during those sessions - they left with a love for reading. They valued reading as something more than just with the teacher, more than just follow-up activities. I managed to find a way to please people who wish to see progress, skills and did I say progress? But I also managed to do it in a way that left a positive impact on the literary lives of my students.  




02/09/2014 21:30

Hi there. Reading your blog with the intention of trying out a similar system with my year 5's (a very boy heavy class- hate reading). How did you go about introducing it? What input did you give initially? Thanks, I think this sounds like a fantastic idea!

02/09/2014 21:51

Thanks for taking the time to read, I'm glad you're interested.

The way you start it is very important, you have to be able to slowly integrate it. Giving the children time to get used to it and giving you confidence in their ability to do it competently.

To ensure transition, I will start with the normal method of guided reading. However, when you have your guided group you introduce the new method. You appoint a leader, take a back seat. Give support with using the question prompts, perhaps model what a good leader does. Model what a good group member does as well is important. Once you've done that for one week (and got through each group once) you make a judgement about their capability.

You keep doing that format week in week out, modelling, hopefully giving them more and more independence. Once you feel a group is able to go independently you let them. So you might have a situation where you take one group and there is one other group working in the new method, with 3 other groups using the existing system. Make sure you're happy with that group, the classroom management. You can make it a challenge, let the children know, if you're reading to be trusted etc you can work independently as a group. Week by week you'll have more groups working independently until all are doing so. That is one way of doing it. It makes you feel happy that they are ready and confidence and not just messing around in their groups.

An alternative I have tried is to have your guided group, working towards independence as above. With the other 4 groups just independent reading instead of normal 'activities'. This does depend on the amount of accountability you have in your school and how much progress they want to do. Do they need to see children 'doing work'?

Initally, I prefer the gradual model. You have complete control. It allows you to get used to it as well. Also it means that if you don't like the new way or it just doesn't work for you, then you can revert back without having to start a fresh.

Hope this answers your question. Let me know if I can be of any further help.


26/08/2015 20:14

This blog is full of motivation and this is what readers need. Many thanks for posting this. Thanks for posting all the tips. I learned new things from here. Definitely, I will recommend this page to people I know. Very informative, it will surely help a lot of readers. They will surely become more inspired in reading books.

02/09/2014 21:57

Thanks for taking the time to reply. This is really wonderful advice.
Couple more questions if you don't mind. Do you give them a specific focus week by week? Does one child stay as the leader through one book or swap? Do you give the leaders time to prepare or do they build up the questioning skills as they are reading? Do you give them question prompts or allow them to ask their own questions? Thanks! Can't wait to try this, can't believe I'm actually looking forward to teaching guided reading!

02/09/2014 22:15

First things first, my intention was to make guided reading relevant again. Relevant for the teacher (I'm glad you're looking forward to it) but most importantly it's purposeful for the children. They get to read and discuss.

Do you give them a specific focus week by week?

You can do if you feel they are struggling. What I found worked best was giving them the freedom to talk about the themes, characters etc they wanted to. They're the ones reading it, they should know. This was only made easier because of the way I used shared reading. During shared reading I emphasise the ways you can interpret text. Introducing the skills e.g. Authors intention, the way you feel, language used for impact and comparing texts to books or poems they've read before. You reinforce these when you look at a text as a class and also when you model being a leader during the teacher led guided reading session. As a result when they are independent, the questions will be more natural. It took time but training to be independently critical about a text takes time. They enjoyed the challenge. They enjoyed being trusted to critique it - their opinion mattered.

Does one child stay as the leader through one book or swap?

A new leader each day. Should work out that it gets around each child frequently. This worked fine. Even with the weaker ability children, they benefited from seeing others in their group modelling. A great thing I saw ( and a big reason why I advocate this) was the lower ability group discussing together the questions they could ask and helping the leader. This group included a child on level 1 reading . They could still contribute in discussion. Once you have that, you've cracked it.

Do you give the leaders time to prepare or do they build up the questioning skills as they are reading?

This is a great question. Your class is year 5 so I wouldn't see a problem with them coming up with questions, using the question starters to help of course. This is an important part of the strategy because the children learn to see questions in the text. They know what to look for. Great way of forcing comprehension questioning instead of decoding.

Do you give them question prompts or allow them to ask their own questions?

To begin with they get question prompts. Should be a link in the blog to the ones I used initially. Like I said above, with work during shared/guided/ normal lit lessons, they become familiar with the deeper meaning in a text. Becoming 'Text detectives' as I called them was a challenge and a reward.

03/09/2014 22:10

Sounds interesting. I think I might give this a go with my year 4s.

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Thank you for reading. Hope it works out for you and your year 4s.

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