There is no more magical time of day in an elementary classroom than reading time. Students tucked away at their desks or snuggled into pillows on the rug, lost in the dreamy lull of a good book. Small groups of children, gathered around a kidney-shaped table, conferring quietly with a teacher as they work together to unravel the complicated process of reading.
Having the opportunity to accompany students on the wondrous journey of learning to read is one of the greatest parts of the job. But it’s also a lot of work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the privilege and responsibility, have no fear. Here are the basics:
What is guided reading?
According to Fountas and Pinnell, who pretty much wrote the bible on guided reading, Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades, guided reading is “a context in which a teacher supports each reader’s development of effective strategies for processing novel texts at increasingly challenging levels of difficulty.” Which, in simpler language, means small-group reading instruction that allows teachers to meet students where they are and lead them forward with intention and precision. As a result, students are able to process increasingly challenging books with fluency and comprehension.
Why is it important?
Let’s be honest, in the course of a typical day, there is little time for classroom teachers to work one-on-one with students. Scheduling a guided reading block as part of reading time is a perfect way to meet with students in small groups to monitor their progress and help them work on skills that will make them better readers.
The benefits of guided reading for students, according to PBS, are numerous. When students receive individualized teaching time, they learn skills and strategies that allow them to develop as individual readers. With support and scaffolding, students learn to read for meaning and build the stamina to read difficult texts. In addition, guided reading is an opportunity for teachers to introduce quality literature to strengthen students’ reading comprehension skills.
What are best practices for making it work in my classroom?
Every classroom and every group of students are unique, but there are some universal standards for making guided reading work in any classroom community. Here are the basic guidelines:
Teacher works with small groups, ideally 3–6 students.
Students are grouped according to their current reading level and are working on most of the same skills.
Groups are flexible and fluid and based on ongoing observation and assessment, meaning that groups may be frequently adjusted as students learn and grow.
During the lesson, students read a text that is slightly higher than their comfort level.
The teacher coaches students as they read, introducing new strategies for fluency and comprehension.
The emphasis is on reading increasingly challenging books over time.
What does a guided reading lesson look like?
Every teacher has their own tips and tricks, but generally a guided reading lesson follows this basic pattern:
First, students work on their fluency by re-reading familiar texts for several minutes.
Then, the teacher introduces the new text. Sarah from The Letters of Literacy suggests a five-step process that includes looking at the book’s front and back covers, doing a picture walk, making predictions and asking questions, introducing new vocabulary words and concepts, and making connections to the text.
Afterward, students read the text out loud. Two suggested methods are whisper reading and chorale reading. Students do not take turns reading; instead, each child reads the text in its entirety as the teacher coaches each reader individually.
Next, the teacher leads a discussion of the text.
Finally, the teacher works on one or two teaching points with the students.
If time allows, students can do a few minutes of word work or guided writing.
What else do I need to know?
The depth and breadth of information available about guided reading is incredible. Here are a few resources to get you started:
These Books Answer All of Your Questions About Teaching Reading
25 Anchor Charts That Nail Reading Comprehension
What is Fluency and How Do I Support it in the Classroom?
20 Ways to Make Sure Readers’ Workshop Really Works
Improving Reading Comprehension with Think-Alouds
Going Beyond PIE: 5 Ways to Teach Students How to Find the Author’s Purpose
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