Guided reading is one form of small group instruction that should be taking place in upper elementary reading classrooms. Guided reading instruction is an effective way that you can provide support to students as they begin to transfer the reading skills and strategies you taught them during your whole group mini-lesson. Remember the whole goal of your reading block is to help students apply everything you teach them to their independent reading lives.
In case you’re new to guided reading, here are the nuts and bolts.
What is Guided Reading?
- It’s a small group lesson with just 5-6 students who are around the same reading level.
- The teacher provides all students with the same text that might be just a little bit challenging for the students to read or understand independently.
- Guided reading lessons last around 20 minutes and teachers should try to pull groups a few times per week.
- Teacher provides SOME support on a focused skill that will help students grow as a reader.
Guided reading instruction can be super effective IF it is done correctly, but there are things you might be doing during your guided reading lesson that could possibly be hindering your students from reaching their fullest reading potential.
Here are 5 things you might want to stop doing during your guided reading instruction….
But don’t worry, I make sure you know exactly what you should be doing instead.
1. Round Robin Reading
Hopefully this one goes without saying, but Round Robin Reading should no longer be a part of your guided reading instruction, or any type of small group lesson for that matter. Round Robin Reading is when the teacher asks each student to read a section of the text out loud for the group.
- Why you should stop doing this: Reading out loud during a group is not an effective instructional strategy. The whole point of guided reading is to provide support that will help students transfer what you taught them during whole group to their independent reading. During your guided reading instruction you are there to provide SOME support. In order to offer this support, students need to be given some time to actually read by themselves and try to wrestle with and apply the reading skills and strategies you have taught them. Also, not every students feels comfortable reading out loud and forcing them to read in front of the group just makes them feel more uncomfortable and could give them a bad feeling when it comes to reading.
- What you should do instead: Instead of round robin reading, you should give your students a chunk of time 7-12 min (depending on the length of your group) to read the guided reading text independently. During this time you can check-in with each reader. In upper elementary, most of your students should already be fluent readers which means you don’t even need to listen to them read, but you can check their understanding by asking them comprehension questions OR asking what reading strategy they are working on.
2. Preview the Text for Your Students
Many times teachers will spend the first few minutes of their guided reading instruction previewing the text and letting the students know what they will be reading. This often looks like the teacher sharing the title and reading a scripted blurb from the book or guided reading lesson out loud to the students that provide a short little summary of the text.
- Why you should stop doing this: When you do the previewing, you are doing the work for the students. The whole point of guided reading is to help students become more independent. If you do all the work of previewing the text for the students, they will never develop the tools to preview a text on their own.
- What you should do instead: Let the students be the ones to lead the book introduction. We want students to have the tools to be able to figure out what a text is about before they read it independently and letting them do this task with support during guided reading is a great way to boost their independence in this area. Instead of the teacher introducing the book, try asking these questions to get the students to preview the text as a group.
- Before you begin reading a text, what do you typically do to get your brain ready to read?
- How can we figure out what this text is all about before we start reading it?
- What are some things we could do to help activate our background knowledge before we begin reading this text?
- What steps do you take to preview a text before you read?
3. Highlight tricky vocabulary words
This is another thing that is often teacher-led. Usually, teachers will preview and teach tricky vocabulary words BEFORE students encounter them. The thought behind this is that if students already know what the word is before they encounter it, they will more likely be able to understand it.
- Why you should stop doing this: Not every student will struggle with the same word in the text. By identifying specific words at the start of the lesson and naming them as “tricky” you are basically telling students that every other word they read should be easy to understand. Students will be less likely to tell you if they come across a word they don’t know that wasn’t on the vocabulary list you shared. This could lead to confidence issues for some students.
- What you should do instead: Instead of telling students the exact words they might encounter that are tricky, remind them that they have the tools to figure out and solve tricky words. Remind them that they are problem solvers and if they encounter words they don’t know or understand then they can use tools to help figure out the meaning. Encourage students to jot down words or phrases that are challenging for them and you can talk through them later in the guided reading lesson. You also might want to provide them with a resource such as an anchor chart or a strategy card to help remind them what they can do when they encounter a challenging word.
4. Confirm student responses
It is so tempting to tell students “good job” or “that’s right” when they give the right answer.
- Why you should stop doing this: When you confirm a student’s answer for them, you are training them to come to you (or another authority figure) to see if they got the right answer. Your goal is to create independent readers. You want to make sure that your students have the tools to monitor their own thinking and make decisions about what they are reading on their own when you aren’t around to confirm their thinking.
- What you should do instead: Instead of being the one to confirm and affirm students, let them be the ones to affirm their thinking. Ask them follow up questions such as “why do you think that?” “How do you know if you’re correct?” “How can you confirm your thinking is on the right track?” These types of questions will help students realize that they don’t need the teacher’s approval but can check in with themselves when it comes to monitoring their own thinking.
5. Provide an explanation of the teaching point
It can be super tempting for the teacher to do the majority of the talking during the guided reading lesson… especially when it comes to the teaching point. My guided reading lessons would usually follow this routine: (insert time frame here)
- Why you should stop doing this: If the teacher is doing all the talking, they are the ones doing all the work. Your students hear you talk and explain a lot of concepts and more than likely, whatever your teaching point is for your guided reading lesson, your students have already heard you explain it. They might benefit from hearing a classmate explain the strategy or skill in a new way.
- What you should do instead: Instead of being the only one doing the talking, let your students help contribute to the teaching part of the lesson. If you noticed a student using a strategy or applying your focus skill, then let them share what they did with the group. Letting your students take part in the teaching of the lesson will build ownership, confidence, and ______.
AND a bonus tip – Don’t only focus on reading
…and just because I want your guided reading instruction to be awesome, I have a bonus tip for you. Don’t let your guided reading lesson be just about reading. Now you would think that because it is called guided reading that you should JUST focus on reading, but here is the truth. Reading and writing are so closely linked which makes it important to focus on writing as well.
After you have spent a few days reading and discussing the text, take one lesson to focus on writing about your reading before starting the next guided reading text. If you expect your students to write about their independent reading, then you definitely want to model and support “writing about reading” in small group as well and your guided reading lesson is a great time to do that.
Ok – I hope this post gives you a few practical tips that you can start doing right away to help improve your guided reading lessons. If you are looking for some more tips on teaching guided reading, check out my podcast, all about guided reading as well!
Considering that you’ve made it all the way to the bottom of this post lets me know that you’re the type of teacher who wants to continue to learn more and more about effective teaching strategies. Give yourself a pat on the back. Your students are so lucky you are spending your free time researching and learning on their behalf…. now go revamp your guided reading groups and see how it impacts your instruction!
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