Guided Reading - Building a Bridge to Reading Independence


Building a Bridge

Guided reading is the bridge between teacher-led reading activities and independent reading. It is an instructional strategy that helps students learn and practice the skills they need to become better readers. It can be used in many different grades, but it is most common in kindergarten, first, and second. Guided reading provides the support that children need to become readers.

through guided reading... teachers can show children how to read and can support children as they read... It is the heart of a balanced literacy program — Fountas and Pinnell (1996)

During guided reading, a teacher works with a small group of students that are working on similar skills. These groupings are not static, but change to reflect student needs and strategic teaching. During the lesson, the teacher selects a text that the students can read with support while working on the specific skill being taught. As children read the text, they practice and apply reading skills such as: using sight words, decoding words, using context clues, looking at word structure, and deciding if a word or sentence makes sense. During these times of supported reading, the teacher is able to scaffold students to a higher level of performance in a risk free setting.

While there are many adjustments and variations related to the age and level of children, in guided reading:
- A teacher works with a small group. -Children in the group are similar in their development of a reading process and are able to read about the same level of text. -Teachers introduce the stories and assist children’s reading in ways that help to develop independent reading strategies. -Each child reads the whole text... -The emphasis is on reading increasingly challenging books over time. -Children are grouped and regrouped in a dynamic process that involves ongoing observation and assessment. — Fountas and Pinnell (1996)

At the beginning of the kindergarten year, I am very concerned that students learn to track print. This is the primary strategy I teach during my first guided reading lessons. I call this strategy: Point at the word your voice is saying. It is important the children first learn to match their oral language to written language before we move on to other reading skills and strategies. I start with traditional guided reading books, but later add paper books to our lessons to provide a take-home, hands-on opportunity with text. The book “The Family” is a great example of one of the paper books that I use to help children learn the strategy of tracking print. I strategically teach this skill to my students using a mini lesson that comes before reading. The mini lesson is a powerful part of guided reading, during which I prepare students for the task ahead of them. Grab this leveled reader for FREE!


The Mini Lesson

Guided reading lessons usually open with a brief mini-lesson, during which a teacher prepares the students for reading. The objective of the lesson is tied to a skill the students will need in order to read the text successfully, and will be tailored to fit the needs of each individual group. Each group may work on a different mini lesson with a different book, or the same text can be introduced with different mini lessons. For example, when reading a book about bears, the teacher might give these three different lessons to different groups:

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Place the word cards in a row to construct a sentence. “Think Aloud” as you place the cards, talking about the words, and drawing attention to the space between words. “I have a sentence. I will take my finger and point under each word that my voice is saying.” Point at each word one by one in a slightly exaggerated fashion. Ask students to read the sentence one by one pointing at each word as the word is spoken. After the activity, remind students that when you read today’s book, they need to point at each word as it is read. For lower level groups, use objects rather than words and allow students to practice naming an object only when their finger is pointing at it.


To practice the words in, the and will, (or the sight words included in your selected reader), first show the students each word in flash-card style. Next, pull out a small deck of cards (about 3 or 4 of each word) with the words in, the, and will printed on them. “We are going to play Hot-Potato-Word!” “To play, I will draw the top card and read it. I will then pass it to ____ (the person at my left), and then he will read it and pass it and we will read and pass until it gets back to me. I will then put the card in a container to cool it down.” After play, show the students a page of the book, ask them to find one of the sight words on the page, then remind them to look for the words in, the, and will (or your words) as they read the day’s book.



To practice this skill, use cards with words only, and cards with words plus pictures (like the cards provided with our mini-lesson kit). “We are going to read words by using picture clues.” First show the children a card with a word only. “Who can read this word?” (the majority of students will be unable to read the card). Next show a card with a word plus a picture. “Who can read the word now?" (most all students will now be able to read the card). “Why was it easier to read the word on the second card than the first?” (Let students respond). “It was easier because you were able to use a picture clue to help you read the word.” Continue with the remaining cards. Turn to a page in the reader that contains a word that the children are unable to decode, but can discern with a picture clue. Have the children practice reading that word, then remind them to use picture clues as they read their book.


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Introducing the Book

The key to guided reading is providing children enough support so that they will be able to read the text successfully while still using their problem solving skills. After the skill/mini-lesson portion of a guided reading lesson, it is time to introduce the book to the children in order to prepare them for independent reading. The teacher should be familiar with both the students and the text in order to prepare an introduction that will provide the right scaffolding for reading. Introductions can serve various functions, such as activating children's prior knowledge, introducing new or unusual language from the text, discussing themes or features of the story, introducing new vocabulary, or anything else that will help the group read the text successfully with a few opportunities for trying out their skills.

This is not a case of telling the children what to expect. It is a process of drawing the children into the activity before passing control to the children and pushing them gently towards problem solving the whole first reading of the story for themselves. — Clay (1991)

For example, if the book is about turkeys, a teacher could activate prior knowledge by asking students what they already know about turkeys (you can simply accept responses and make it an oral conversation, or you may wish to record responses and make a list or a spider-graph to record responses). Next, the teacher uses the responses to draw interest toward the text about to be read.  The teacher may also wish to follow student responses with a personal experience with the subject. My students always love to hear my story as a young child growing up on a farm that not only had cows, horses, pigs, and sheep, but thousands of turkeys! I show them a old clip of when my brother put me in a pen with the turkeys. The clip shows me running from the turkeys while the mercilessly chase me wherever I go. After the video, I show a turkey feather that I kept from my childhood days on that farm.

Another simple, but effective way to introduce a book is to take a “Picture Walk.” The picture walk is a time for students to discuss pictures, make predictions, front-load vocabulary, and fill conceptual gaps. 

To begin the picture walk, the teacher holds one copy of the text for students to view. As she turns the pages one-by-one, she asks questions such as “What is this a picture of?” “What is happening in this picture?” “What clues about the story do you think this picture is giving us?” “What word(s) can you use to describe this picture?” “What picture do you think will be on the next page?”

During the picture walk the teacher should implant vocabulary that is found in the book. For example, if a page contains the word brown, the teacher might say on that particular page, “Yes. It is a bear. He looks like a brown bear to me.” If the word snout is found on the page, the teacher might say, “I think the bear on this page has a huge snout!” “Do you know what a snout is?”

Following the introduction, the teacher passes each student a copy of the guided reading book and invites students to point at each word as s/he reads the story. During this reading, the teacher models good reading behaviors such as tracking print, phrasing, inflection, etc. as students follow or read along.

Next, the group turns back to the cover and reads together as a group (choral reading). During this time, the teacher guides, observes and supports. Following this reading, the students re-read independently as the teacher focuses on one student at a time. Following, the students should re-read the book at least one more time. One way to accomplish this is to have a basket of book-buddies (stuffed animal pets) available for the students to read the story to in the classroom library, at another table, or other location in the room, and then return back to the reading table when that task is completed. This will allow the teacher to keep one or two students at the table that may need additional scaffolding.

Reflect and Respond

Following the reading, it is a time to reflect and respond to the text and the strategies used to read the text.

Making puppets as a response to reading.

Making puppets as a response to reading.

There are numerous ways that students can be given an opportunity to make connections with a recently read guided reader. One is simply by using conversation: “Turn to your neighbor and tell them your favorite part of the the story.” 

Another way is to construct a Story Map listing the characters in the story, setting, and problem. Or you may choose to make a Retelling Map listing the beginning, middle, and end of the story.

You may also choose to have a Guided Reading Journal for each student. Following the reading of the guided reader students can turn to their next page and write at their level of independence, about the story. Or you may ask them to concentrate on specifics of the story such as sight words, CVC words, rhyming words, beginning sounds, or other skills of focus.


After students have received instruction and support, they need to read the book at an independent level. Provide opportunities for them to read to teacher, read to peers, read to self, and read to parents.

One of the most important pieces of a guided reading lesson is assessment through running records. This is a very useful tool and deserves a whole section of its own. Look for that soon!

If you would like to learn more about guided reading, this is a great resource!

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