Teaching Practice Spotlight: Planning the First Guided Reading Session to Support Readers

I have been asked many questions about guided reading lately, and one reason may be that it is not being taught as it normally would be due to COVID. So, here is a bit of information on guided reading and some of my thoughts on how I implement guided reading with students. Guided reading is one component of a reading program where the teacher works with a small group of students who are reading similar levels of texts and also have similar reading processes. It is a practice that can really support students as they are reading – both with decoding and comprehension.

The Structure of Guided Reading

During guided reading, the students are grouped by their reading ability. This means that the students in a group are reading similar levels of books and also have similar reading processes. In order to group the students, it is necessary to assess the reading skills of the children in your classroom so that you have them grouped properly. It is important to note that these are not fixed groups. Children will regularly change groups throughout the school year as they progress in their reading. It is important to “ability group” during guided reading so that the reading needs of the students are targeted before they are sent off to read independently. I personally believe that guided reading is most effective when the students work with the same text for 2-3 guided reading sessions. This allows the students the opportunity to practice applying the strategy multiple times with the support of the teacher. Below are some ideas for the first session.

Some Ideas for Session One

The first session is where you present and introduce the book to the students. This is also the time to introduce vocabulary and do word work with the students so that reading comprehension is not an issue once the students start the decoding process. Whenever possible, show the students pictures of the vocabulary words that you are introducing and always make vocabulary learning an active process. For example, when teaching verbs, have the kids act them out by having them run in place, laugh, cry, sulk, or act out whatever other verbs are in the book.

Picture Walk: You may decide that you need to do a picture walk with the students and discuss concepts about print (such as the title of the book, author and illustrator, top and bottom of the book, how we treat books, words vs. pictures, etc.). If you believe this is necessary for the students, in terms of their knowledge or engagement, then do it. But, it is important to note that you do not need to do this work for each session and in fact, you shouldn’t because it is taking time from other valuable strategies that the students need. 

Present the Reading or Comprehension Strategy: Take about 5-8 minutes (no more than 10 minutes) to teach the strategy that you are focusing on for the day’s reading and have the students practice the strategy before they begin reading. If you have been teaching guided reading for a while, you can point out how the strategy they are learning connects to previous strategies they have learned. 

Get the Kids Reading! Once you have reviewed the word work and taught the strategy, get the kids reading the story. Each child needs to read the entire text. The students should absolutely not be randomly called upon to read aloud (otherwise known as popcorn or round robin reading) as this is an ineffective strategy and will not support their comprehension and disrupts fluency. Instead, the students should be reading the entire story aloud in a quiet voice (whisper reading) or they can read the book to themselves. You should rotate to each student and ask them to read aloud for you during the guided reading session so you can take anecdotal notes on each child or take a quick running record of each student’s reading. 

Ending the Guided Reading Lesson: After the kids finish reading, you may decide to re-teach the strategy to individual students, if it is needed. Before finishing with the group, you should ask one or two comprehension questions (questions that will spark a short discussion rather than questions that elicit a yes or not response) so that you know if the students understood what they just read.

Guided reading is a teaching practice that gives students the opportunity to develop as readers through support from the teacher and peers. While in more normal times, it is a practice that helps readers develop, during COVID it has been a challenging practice to implement. Check out next week’s post for some ideas on how to plan a second guided reading session as well as how to implement this teaching practice during COVID. 

*Photo: A few leveled books that can be used for guided reading