Getting Started with Guided Reading

Guided reading is all about differentiation. There is almost always a wide range of reading abilities in the same class, so relying on whole group reading instruction will inevitably leave a lot of kids out. Guided reading allows you to address the needs of diverse learners in your classroom. It also gives you a lot of control over which skills you teach to which students and provides opportunities to collect data and give immediate feedback to your students. Guided reading can help kids make some significant gains in their development as readers. During guided reading instruction, the teacher works with a small group of students that are all at the same reading level, reading the same book, and working on a specific reading skill or concept. Depending on scheduling, teachers usually meet with each small group 2-3 times per week. So how do you set up this magical learning activity in your class? Here are four quick tips to get you started.

Group by Reading Level and Skills

It’s always helpful to gather data from your beginning of the year reading assessments, running records, and reports from programs you are using like Lalilo. Use all this data to make groups of students according to their reading level. For each group, take a second look at their reading data and see if you can find any common trends. Often you’ll see that kids working on the same reading level will need support with similar skills. Make a list of the skills they need to work on to push their reading up to the next level, and use these skills to drive your guided reading instruction. This guide can help you decide what skills kids need for each reading level.

Simple Lesson Planning

Lesson planning is often the bane of most teachers’ existence, but planning for guided reading can actually be a lot easier than you think. The goal for guided reading instruction is to provide explicit instruction for one specific skill or concept at a time. This goal helps keep planning for these lessons super simple. Sometimes, all you really need is a clear student-friendly objective and some examples.

These lessons often take the shape of a typical I do, We do, You do, with most of the time spent on the students practicing and the teacher offering feedback. Once you have the skills and objectives, think about a book that will help you practice it, and plan your lesson around that book. The lesson should be around 10-15 minutes usually with some kind of warm-up that might have the kids working on phonics or word work skills, then a quick book intro and a teaching tip or skill to try while reading. The bulk of the lesson involves kids reading quietly to themselves and the teacher listening and offering feedback. Here’s a great resource for questions to ask your students during Guided Reading. This listening and feedback time is a great opportunity to take notes on what kids are doing and not doing yet as readers. This data can then be used to plan future lessons. To give you an idea of what a guided reading lesson looks like in the classroom, check out this video of a 5th grade guided reading lesson or this one in a 1st-grade classroom.

Batch Planning

Thinking about planning lessons for several different small groups might sound overwhelming. To increase efficiency try batching your planning and stagger instruction when you are starting out. Set aside an hour or so per week and plan for just one or two groups at a time. When you plan for these groups, plan out a month’s worth of instruction. Remember the lessons should be short and simple, so planning a month’s worth of lessons for one or two groups won’t take too long. Since the lessons for each group should build on each other, it’s helpful to plan them out in batches to create consistency.

When you are getting started, stagger the instruction. To start out, plan a month of lessons for groups one and two. The next week, start teaching groups one and two and plan for groups three and four. In the third week continue teaching groups one and two, start teaching groups three and four and plan for groups five and six. By the fourth week, you’ll be teaching all six groups and be ready to plan for the first two groups again. Each time you plan for a group, it’s a good idea to look at your notes on their progress and set out new objectives for them. This is a good time to see if any of your students have “leveled up” and are ready for a new group. It’s so important to remember that guided reading groups are meant to be flexible so that kids are continuing to grow to the next reading level.

Build a Bank of Lessons

Planning out several objectives for each group helps make planning future lessons a lot quicker. While you plan your lesson, it’s a good idea to think about what other skills and concepts that book can teach and make a list for future lessons. Over time you’ll build up a bank of guided reading books and lessons and planning will go a lot faster. Use a common lesson plan template. I love the one in The Next Step in Guided Reading. This book is also a great resource for growing your guided reading practice.

Guided reading might seem intimidating at first, but with solid planning and practice it will become a valuable tool in your reading instruction toolbox. What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for starting guided reading? Comment below and give your advice for starting out with this teaching strategy!

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