If you are new to the guided reading instructional method, it’s likely that you have quite a few questions about how it works. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about what guided reading is and how to get started with it in the classroom.
Question: How do I choose a book for guided reading?
Answer: You will want to select a text that is within the students’ reach, one that is not too difficult but offers some new learning opportunity. Select a text that will stretch the reader a little but will allow the reader to be successful with the instructional scaffolds you will provide across the lesson.
Question: When should I start guided reading in kindergarten?
Answer: As a kindergarten teacher, you will want to look for indicators that your students are noticing and using print features. Through reading aloud and shared reading, you support the children’s early ability to think like readers. Through interactive writing and shared reading, they learn early reading behaviors such as left-to-right directionality, word matching, concepts of letters and words, and the use of punctuation.
Once your children are able to work well at centers, begin to pull these children three at a time to work with you in guided reading. Usually you will begin in late fall or early winter. Choose those who are noticing more about print first, but be sure to include all of the children by year’s end.
Question: What are other students doing while I meet with a guided reading group?
Answer: During the reading workshop, students not working with the teacher in guided reading or literature study are reading and writing independently. Work hard at the beginning of the school year to teach routines that make it possible for students to manage their own learning. The activities you choose should be simple, meaningful, and manageable. For younger children, literacy centers such as familiar reading, poetry, word building, writing with a specific focus, and listening to audiotaped stories are meaningful to students and can easily be maintained by the teacher to meet students’ evolving learning needs. In second grade, as students sustain their silent reading and writing for longer periods, you can introduce independent activities such as a reader’s notebook. When choosing or evaluating an independent activity, ask yourself the following questions: What did the students actually learn? How has this activity supported my classroom instruction? You can also take a few minutes at the end of reading workshop for one or two students to share their learning.
Question: Is guided reading a whole reading program?
Answer: No. It’s important to remember that guided reading is not a “program.” It is an instructional approach with the following research-based characteristics:
- The text is matched to readers in difficulty and complexity so that the readers can use effective strategies.
- Children are grouped by ability so that matching text and readers is possible.
- The teacher provides direct, explicit instruction to support all aspects of effective reading.
- Children have a designated period of time to read continuous text, practicing effective strategies.
- There is opportunity to extend meaning through writing and discussion, thus supporting comprehension.
- There is opportunity to do some very specific teaching about letters, sounds, and how words “work” across the lesson as well as following the lesson.
The effectiveness of the kind of instruction described above is supported by research. Guided reading puts students into an instructional context that is brief, focused, and fast paced. All the above are accomplished in guided reading, but a “reading program” includes much more. For example, an excellent program would include reading aloud carefully chosen books to children as a basis for discussion; it would also include poetry, writing in response to reading, book clubs or literature circles, readers theater, and shared reading. Guided reading is one critical component of a comprehensive approach.
Question: How many books do I need to have for use in guided reading in my classroom?
Answer: Leveled Books K-8 describes in detail the number of titles to level for a classroom collection or a school bookroom, but essentially you will want books at levels consistent with the grade level you teach, supplemented by books a few levels below and a few levels above so you can meet the diverse needs of your students. You will want to have four to eight copies of every title since you will meet with small groups of children and every reader will need a copy.
Question: How can I use chapter books in guided reading lessons?
Answer: As your readers move into reading longer books, you will want to divide a book into sections or a group of chapters they can read each day for several days. Some books will take two or three days and others may take five or six. It is important to introduce each section before the students read, as your scaffold will help them learn more through reading. You will also want to discuss the reading on the same day that they read in order to get their best responses. The discussion is also an opportunity to “lift” their learning from the text. Try to schedule your lessons with chapter books on consecutive days so your readers gain momentum. Also, you will not want to drag out the reading of a book over a long period of time.
Question: Is the gradient the same as the one used in Reading Recovery?
Answer: Reading Recovery is an early intervention program for the lowest performing children in grade one. A teacher works with one child at a time. The teacher is trained to select one book for one child from a very fine gradient of texts developed specifically for grade one. The Reading Recovery teachers needs a gradient with tiny increments of challenge.
In contrast, our gradient is for use with small groups of children from kindergarten through grade eight. A slightly broader gradient is used to accommodate the slight differences between children in a small group situation as well as different strengths and needs. You will notice small increments through grade 1, slightly larger increments at grade two, and still larger increments for grades three through eight.
Question: Time is always a problem for me. How can I be more efficient in my guided reading lessons so that they don’t take too long?
Answer: You can make some notes on a sticky and place the sticky on the front cover of the book to remind you of the few things you want to talk about as you introduce the text. This will keep you focused on what is important and help you be more efficient in your first few minutes of the lesson. Then be sure the book is at the right level and the children can read fluently; otherwise, the reading will take too long and the processing will not be good. Have in mind the key understandings you want to be sure come out in the conversation after the reading so the talk after the reading is productive and doesn’t last too long. Have your materials all ready for word work so your word work will take only about two minutes.
Question: Do you use readability formulas to create the list of leveled books?
Answer: We do not use traditional readability formulas to create our list. We have included some of the factors typically used in readability formulas such as word and sentence complexity, but we analyze a greater range of factors. In creating our gradient, we looked at a large variety of texts and tried them out with readers at different levels. We found that a complex range of factors contribute to a text’s level of difficulty, such as genre, content, print layout, text structure, and language structure. Other factors that we take into consideration during the leveling process are : sentence complexity, vocabulary, illustrations, and physical aspects of the text (length, size, layout, etc…). Our readability measurement formula is described in great detail in The Continuum of Literacy Learning.
Question: Should students use levels to choose their own books?
Answer: No. As a teacher you can use your knowledge of the levels to help guide student choices. But basically you want students to learn to select books for a variety of authentic reasons and also to develop the self-awareness they need to tell whether a text is right for their present abilities. Interest plays a big part as well. You want to teach students how to choose books they can read with understanding and fluency. You want to avoid having students see themselves as, for example, a “reader.”
Your understanding of your students will be a factor in helping them begin to take control of their own reading. For example, you want students to learn how to select texts that:
- They will enjoy and find interesting.
- They can read with confidence and competence.
- Will increase their content knowledge.
- Will expand the range of genres that they read and enjoy.
- Will help them understand themselves and their world.
Question: How do school librarians and libraries fit into the leveled approach to reading instruction?
Answer: We do not write specifically about school libraries because our work addresses mostly classroom libraries and leveled-book collections. We do believe that the library is extremely important and should provide a dynamic and rich program for students. School librarians are a wonderful resource for recommending books to read aloud. In Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency, Grades K-8, we write extensively about the role of the interactive read aloud. Also, of course, the school library is a great resource for independent reading.
We recommend that you do not level or label the books in the school library or the classroom library. (You can find this recommendation in the text mentioned above and in Leveled Books, K-8: Matching Texts to Readers for Effective Teaching.) We would not want students to self-select books by level or to think of themselves as a “level T reader,” for example. They need to be taught to choose books using many different criteria.
It is advantageous, however, if the school librarian knows the approximate levels of books. That knowledge can help the librarian develop a collection that will meet the needs of the diverse group of students in the school and make appropriate suggestions to particular students. The librarian can also help teachers make choices for classroom libraries.