#FocusOnReading No.8 – Guided Reading Countdown

During our recent #FocusOnReading we’ve written about and promoted the importance of reading comprehension and guided reading several times. Today’s contribution from our associate, Lynne Burns, provides further guidance on how to implement guided reading successfully in your school.

#FocusOnReadingTeachers sometimes say that Guided Reading doesn’t work for them and their class. If you feel this way then try following my top ten tips for ensuring successful Guided Reading sessions.

Choose your book or text carefully

Make sure that the book you choose has no more than 10% of the text that will provide a decoding challenge.  Any more than this and the children will struggle to comprehend what they are reading.  Imagine if you were trying to read a story where every 8th word was blacked out.  You would almost certainly find it difficult to follow the story, especially if the blocked out words were key content words.  You should also choose a text that is well written and is going to engage the children.  For fluent readers you should choose a text which reinforces what the children are learning in their English lessons where possible, but for children who are still developing fluency then choose a book which will help them to develop the specific decoding and comprehension skills that they need to improve.  Also, be creative with what you read.  You can read newspaper articles, websites or blogs, adverts, information leaflets or recipe cards picked up from the supermarket. You can also use extracts from longer novels or books but do make sure that the more able readers also have the opportunity to read longer books in their entirety over a number of weeks.

Ensure the children in your class can work independently

No Guided Reading session will work if the children who are not supported by an adult cannot quietly stay on task.  If they are noisy or keep returning to the teacher for guidance and support then the teacher led guided session will fail.  If the children find it hard to work successfully independently then you need to find out why.  The easiest way of doing this is to ask all the groups to work on independent tasks for a day or two while you observe them to see what the problems are.  It may be that the tasks are too hard, that certain children cannot sit near each other without talking, that the children don’t know what to do if they get stuck or what to do if they have finished early.  Once you know what is stopping the children from working well independently then you can put in place measures to address the problems such as adapting tasks, moving where individuals sit or setting extension tasks for fast finishers.

Keep groups flexible

Your Guided Reading groups will need to change regularly as children do not always make progress at the same rate.  Use your ongoing reading assessments to help you reorganise groups as often as you need.  Moving a child down a group can be unpopular with parents, but if you can clearly explain to families what elements of their reading need to develop then families are more likely to be supportive.  It is also really helpful if you can give families clear guidance about how they can support their child at home to develop their key reading skills, perhaps through providing some example questions, as families often focus only on decoding when supporting their child with reading.

Plan in advance

No Guided Reading session will work if you have not read the book in advance and have planned some key questions that you want to ask the children about the book.  Try to make sure that the questions you plan address different reading Assessment Focuses.  Using your ongoing reading assessment records will help you to know what areas the children need to develop next in order to make progress with their reading.  This can also help you to choose a book.  If, for example, less able readers need to work on developing early inference skills then you might choose to use This is the Bear by Sarah Hayes and plan lots of questions which will help the children to develop their ability to infer such as why do you think the dog put the bear in the bin?  If all of the school staff put their planned key questions for your Guided Reading texts onto a card and leave it in with the books then your school will quickly build up a bank of resources which can be used by all.  However, even if you are using questions planned by someone else, you must have read the book.

Three part structure

Most Guided Reading sessions should follow a three part structure.  They should start with an introduction where you might look at the title, the blurb or the contents page and some tricky vocabulary before making predictions or you might recap parts of the story which have already been read.  This is followed by the independent reading where the children all read from their own copy of their book.  Don’t read round the group with each child reading a section out loud while the others listen as this does not make the most effective use of the time and leads to children becoming disengaged. The children should read quietly or silently at their own pace while you listen to individuals in turn.  You won’t have time to listen to everyone each session though.  You are better to focus quality attention on one or two children each session.  The final part of the Guided Reading session is the returning to the text where you discuss with the children what has been read using your planned key questions as the starting point for the discussion.  Make sure you allow plenty of time for this final part of the session.  It is also a really good place to use hotseating or other drama techniques as a way for the children to show their understanding of the characters and events.

Dedicated time

Make sure that you have enough time to run your Guided Reading session properly. For Key Stage 1 you will probably need between 15 and 20 minutes but you may need up to 30 minutes for Key Stage 2 children.  Don’t try to squeeze your Guided Reading session in before playtime or lunchtime when you don’t have enough time to cover everything properly.  You will end up running out of time for the discussion about the book which is your main opportunity to gather assessment about the children’s comprehension skills and trying to cram things in will leave you and the children feeling stressed.

Whole school approach

Guided Reading works best when there is a whole school approach to how Guided Reading will be run.  Guided Reading should start in Foundation Stage and should run all the way up to Year 6.  By having a whole school approach children and staff know what is expected of them so the ground rules are already in place as the children progress through the school.

Pre and Post Reading Tasks

The teacher can only work with one group so the other children all need to be working on a meaningful, high value task for the times when they are working independently.  Quiet reading from a library book or class book box is not going to be suitable, but is too often what children are asked to do.  You need to plan pre and post reading tasks for the children to do linked to their Guided Reading text where possible.  Try to keep these tasks varied so the children don’t become bored.  How would you like it if you were asked to write a book review after every book you finished?  Where you really cannot link tasks to the Guided Reading text, then link it to work in English lessons or phonic lessons, but always make tasks meaningful.  Children could be spending up to two hours a week working independently during Guided Reading sessions so make sure that time is used well.

Be Flexible

When planning your Guided Reading sessions try to have a flexible approach and try to avoid a rigid timetable where you work with each group one day a week on the same day each week.  Some of your groups may need more adult time to help them develop their reading skills while other groups may need less of your time as they are more able to work independently to read, discuss and analyse texts within their group.  You may need to work with one group on two consecutive days on a particular text.  Although generally all lessons should have three parts to them, when you are working with your most able fluent readers you do not need to listen to them read on such a regular basis.  Your sessions with them may miss out the second part of the three part structure so that you spend quality time discussing what they have read, using your planned questions to help them develop their critical thinking.


Guided Reading allows you to spend up to half an hour each day sharing a fabulous book or text with a group of children.  What could be better?

Lynne Burns – Primary English Associate

Our thanks to Lynne for reinforcing  the significance of guided reading  as a successful strategy for teaching reading. If you enjoyed Lynne’s post, why not try some of these other posts about guided reading:

Guided Reading

Guided reading #2 (from good to great)

Watching the Detectives: teaching inference and deduction skills

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    1. Rachel Clarke

      Guided Reading is an approach to comprehension rather than a data exercise, in my opinion. Therefore, we don’t track but we do keep a record of what has been read and how the children have responded to questions. Does that help?

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