Guided reading is an instructional format where teachers serve students in small ability groups. The children are grouped by reading level. Different publishers use different leveling systems, but basically, students move from recognizing the very first concepts of print in level 1 or A (letter, space, and word) to discussing literary elements, author’s purpose, and theme in levels 20 or L and above.
Guided reading was initially designed primarily for students reading in kindergarten through second grade. Children moved through the first 20 levels pretty quickly since the concepts that are easiest to learn are introduced in the early levels. As students move up in the levels, there are fewer, but more difficult, concepts of print to learn so children stay in a level longer.
Eventually, authors like Fountas & Pinnell wrote Guiding Reader and Writers 3-6. They believe that readers benefit from working for 20-30 minutes per day in ability-grouped, skill- or strategy-based reading instruction designed specifically for their needs. The groups are dynamic meaning that, just as in K-2, students do not stay in the same group with the same children all year. They are grouped according to needs.
Guided comprehension circles used to be central to reading instruction and are gaining popularity once again. The format is more complex than most. Teachers take workshops to learn the nuances of providing a guided, balanced reading program in their classrooms. To learn just the basics, read this page. To learn the specifics, read about guided reading from authors Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.
- Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children
- Guiding Readers and Writers: Grades 3-6
Determine each child’s reading level
Students’ levels are determined when the child reads to the teacher from books provided by the publishers. Teachers learn to analyze the errors and count the errors to determine which level the child should read. Basically, a student’s instructional level is where she can read 90-95% of the text correctly and comprehend the reading. In levels L and above, students should be able to read a 95 out of 100 words correctly without prompting.
Select a leveled text
To prepare for guided reading instruction, the teacher creates groups made up of children reading at the same level. Students can work together if they are within 1-2 levels of one another. She selects a book or article ahead of time to match the reading level, skill, and content objectives a small group needs. Publishers use different numbering systems to level the books so teachers need to know the method used at their schools. Check the comparing chart if you have books with many different systems of marking.
Identify vocabulary to pre-teach
The teacher reads the books and identifies 3-5 words to introduce to students before reading the book. These words may be difficult for the children to figure out given the skills they have, but are critical to understanding the story. They may or may not be vocabulary words students need to know from memory. Often, the words are selected because they are words like names or old-fashioned terms students would never be able to figure out on their own. However, sometimes the books are about content the student is learning in science or social studies. The teacher would highlight words important to learning the topic.
Stage 1: Picture walk (K-2) or overview (3-5) and introduce vocabulary
In the first stage of the lesson plan, the teacher introduces the book to the readers. In the early levels, the teacher often has the only copy of the book, which she shows to the students. The children look through the book to get a sense of the story structure. They discuss the cover and look through the pages to access as much information as they can before they begin to read: the author, the title, the genre, and the topic. Previewing like this is called picture walking in the early levels. I often ask, "What are you reading to find out?" This question works better for me than, "What do you predict will happen?" Students base their answers to the first question on evidence and to the second question on imagination without evidence. Since I want readers to base predictions on evidence, I've switched to asking, "What are you reading to find out?"
With older groups, every child has a copy of the selection. The students scan the text to see what they know and what they want to find out. Previewing like this is called overviewing or scanning in the upper levels. The teacher might make a notice-wonder chart with the students’ responses. What do you notice? What does that make you wonder? Together, they set a purpose for reading.
An important initial step in guided reading is introducing language. The teacher introduces the troublesome words she noticed while planning as they look at the pages. She might say, “See that boy sleeping in the armchair?” In this way she has planted the word “armchair” into the child’s vocabulary. When the child reads that page, the teacher will check to see if the student remembers to use “armchair” to match the beginning letter he sees or if the student relies on memory and calls it a “chair”. This is also the time to draw attention to a pattern if there is one: a red cake, a blue cake, a yellow cake. Guided reading books are written with a pattern that often changes on the last page. The teacher will observe to find out if the child notices and reads the words correctly.
In the upper levels, the teacher might ask the students what they know about a particular author's language and how that will play out in this book. In reading Hatchet, for example, she might point out that Paulsen uses unconventional grammar. He often uses sentences like, "Night. It was hard dark. Hard dark." In this way, she prepares the students for the kind of sentences they can expect from Paulsen.
Stage 2: Each student reads to the teacher privately
The heart of guided reading is the second stage: when the teacher listens to each child read to praise progress and determine what else needs to be taught. In all levels of reading, the teacher rotates around the circle, listening to each child read. She gives support and asks probing questions where needed. The teacher takes notes.
In the emergent levels, the teacher holds the book and points to the words as the children read. The students are given their own copy and they read on their own for the second reading. If students finish before others, they reread again and again to improve fluency or they work from their "I'm Done" cards.
In the upper levels, students read a selection, a chapter, or an assigned number of pages. The teacher encourages students to choose a partner-reading option, anywhere from reading silently sitting side-by-side for support to chorale reading together.
The teacher is a partner, too. She rotates partners from day to day so that she can listen to each child read privately, take notes on progress, teach a little bit at a time, and make sure each reader sets and assesses reading goals. During this reading time, students note confusing passages and words. When their partners can't help, they get ready to bring those challenges to the group to discuss.
Stage 3: Bring your discussion question to the table
In the third stage of guided reading, children talk. In the lower levels, students might retell the story. The teacher might ask questions to see if students comprehended. The goal, according to Fountas & Pinnell, is that children ask their questions. At all levels, students and teacher help one another clarify confusing points. During this time, the teacher coaches students how to talk to one another.
Stage 4: Skill or strategy instruction
In the fourth stage, the teacher identifies weak skills and strategies noted during the first-third stages. Teaching more than one skill or strategy may be overwhelming and will not likely go into long-term memory. Therefore, the teacher should select concepts with the greatest generative value. That is, when choosing between two ideas, pick the one that the student will use the most.
For example, the teacher notices that her students don’t understand the difference between their and there and couldn't use rhyming patterns to sound out words. At the end of the lesson, she teaches to one of these discoveries. In the upper grades, students misunderstood the author's use of personification and they don’t know how to determine theme. She makes sure to clarify one concept and makes plans to teach more lessons to address needs.
Stage 5: Closure and reflection
Finally, the teacher moves into the last stage – after reading. At this time, the teacher encourages the students to explain what they learned that will help them read better. She may direct the students’ attention back to a page to clarify confusion she noted. Students might perform a fluent reading for one another. In the upper levels, students often reflect on what they learned about reading in their daybooks and how they will apply the learning to other reading tasks. Teachers may assign follow-up work as seat work, but it is optional.