#FocusOnReading – No5 – Give guided reading a chance.


Recently I’ve noticed a trend. A small swell of teachers who are saying that guided reading doesn’t work and that teaching reading comprehension to whole classes is a much more effective way to teach reading. As an advocate of guided reading, I struggle to agree with teachers who are dropping it. When given the time and resources, and when taught by a skilled practitioner, I believe that guided reading is the best approach that we have of meeting the learning needs of all young readers. Today’s blog post from our Primary English Associate, Lynne Burns supports this view. Like me, Lynne is experienced enough to remember teaching reading before the widespread introduction of guided reading in the late 1990s. In this heartfelt article she pleads the case for the use of guided reading and the use of both scheme and real books as we open-up the world of reading to children. 

When I first started teaching, far more years ago then I care to remember, it was before the introduction of Guided Reading.  I used to teach reading by listening to each child read one to one at least twice a week, which was equivalent to spending over a day a week teaching reading.  Except, of course, I wasn’t really teaching reading and I definitely wasn’t promoting a love of books.  There was rarely, if ever, time to share a whole book with a child.  The children usually read one or two pages to me while I corrected any decoding errors.  If there was time, I might ask them a couple of questions about the part of the book they had read.  The books the children read were dull, old fashioned reading scheme books; books that I would never have dreamt of reading to the whole class or using as a text in my English lessons. But this was just the way things were done and I was too inexperienced to do otherwise.

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#FocusOnReading No4. – So you think you know about comprehension?

It’s been a busy few days here at Primary English HQ. Just a few days ago we hosted the headline event in our #FocusOnReading: our Reading Conference, featuring the fabulous James Clements. Unfortunately for us, our associate Andrea Sherratt was unable to join us due to a prior commitment in London. This is not to say that she was not maintaining the Primary English #FocusOnReading, as she was at the Institute of Education learning more about comprehension. In this latest installment in our #FocusOnReading series, Andrea shares a few snippets of sage advice garnered on her trip to London.


So I thought I knew about comprehension!

For me, there is always something quite exciting about the journey to a training course; the expectations, anticipation and the wondering about unknown. My journey down to training in London yesterday was no different.

The event was a two day ‘Inference Training’ trainer course, delivered by Tony Whatmuff, from Leicester LA. The purpose: to become equipped to support whole school improvements in comprehension, and I must admit to assuming there probably wouldn’t be many new insights that I hadn’t already covered in my MA studies of ‘Literacy Learning and Literacy Difficulties’. But how wrong I was. A personal lesson that there are always new things to be learnt. Every day’s a school day!

From the very first moments of the training, it became clear that this was going to be a turning point in my understanding of how to efficiently and effectively support children’s development of comprehension. So let me share with you just three of the many insightful points I have gleamed over the last two days.

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#FocusOnReading – No.1

This term at Primary English HQ we’re taking a #FocusOnReading. Through a series of CPD events and regular blogs we aim to support our schools as they #FocusOnReading and ensure that every child can read, and read well.

To launch our #FocusOnReading campaign, our first contribution comes from our associate Andrea Sherratt.  As Coventry Local Authority’s Reading Recovery and Every Child a Reader (ECaR) Teacher Leader Andrea is a real expert in teaching children how to read.  In this short blog Andrea reflects on the huge impact school, parents and carers can have on reading proficiency through just 10 minutes of daily reading. 

What a difference 10 minutes makes!

Have you ever said, “There are simply not enough hours in the day!”? Are you looking for improvements in reading progress but feel you are battling to juggle the two single handed?

A report out today from the Save the Children Foundation  stated that ‘one and a half million children will reach the age of 11 unable to ‘read well’ by 2025 unless urgent action is taken to tackle the reading crisis facing Britain’s pupils’.


Good Morning Britain presenters share their favourite children’s books and offer advice to parents on hearing their children read.

This has prompted ‘Good Morning Britain’ to launch #take10, an initiative to encourage all of us to remember the importance of literacy in achieving a brighter future. It’s a multi layered approach for schools, parents and communities to come together with the goal of improving reading skills for our children. By taking just 10 minutes every day to hear a child read we can all  have a huge impact on reading progress.

But what’s the best text material to send home? 

In order to improve reading skills and become effective readers, children need to build their ‘reading mileage’. Simply decoding text is not enough to build stamina and develop understanding, and so by reading a familiar text that a child may have seen 2 or 3 times before, is a great way to build fluency, phrasing and expression. think of this as ‘putting the cherry on the cake’!  Sending home familiar texts allows the child to grow in confidence while taking pressure off parents to ‘tutor’ their child. Rather, they can simply listen and talk about the book with their child.

When a child returns to school after having read at home, the difference is marked and progress accelerates. By encouraging parents to #take10 it becomes a team effort not just a one man/woman mission! 

Andrea Sherratt –  Reading Recovery and (ECaR) Teacher Leader, Coventry LA.

Our thanks to Andrea for kicking off our #FocusOnReading campaign. If you think that #take10 sounds like just the initiative that your school needs then take a look at the ‘Good Morning Britain’ website for videos of their presenters reading virtual books and providing tips and advice for parents.

Rachel Clarke – Director: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Creating a reading school


This week we take a look at how to create a reading school. In a change to our usual approach we pose a number of questions for you to ask about the organisation and management of reading in your school.

Reading Spaces

What do the reading spaces in school look like? How are the used? Who uses them?

  • Consider library, classroom reading spaces, outdoor reading spaces etc.,

  • Involve children in a critical appraisal of reading spaces. Where do they prefer to read?

  • Is the quality and range of book stock regularly reviewed and updated?

Guided Reading

Is effective guided reading taking place?

  • Is there an understanding of the different organisation needed in guided reading for children at level 3 and above?

  • Are the resources appropriate? Are they will managed?

  • Is guided reading taught by the teacher or by teaching assistants? If the latter, what training is provided?

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Once upon an ordinary school day

Once upon an ordinary a day an ordinary teacher was looking for an ordinary book to read with her ordinary children during their ordinary guided reading lesson, when..she stumbled across a quite extraordinary book indeed: Once Upon an Ordinary School Day by Colin McNaughton and Satoshi Kitamura.

The ordinary teacher sat down in her ordinary chair, put on her ordinary glasses and started to read the book. She liked it. In fact she loved it and she realised that it would make a perfect text for guided reading with Y2 children.

The first thing that the ordinary teacher did was to make a word cloud using the text from the book. As she expected the largest word was ordinary; and school was quite large too. She knew that this word cloud would make a really extraordinary pre-reading activity for her children and that it would allow them to make predictions about the text that they were going to explore.

The next thing that the ordinary teacher did was to find a way of turning her ordinary children into detectives. Like every good teacher she delved into her ‘bag of magic’, rummaged around for a while and pulled out her very ordinary looking ball of elastic bands. She peeled off elastic bands and wrapped them around her copies of Once Upon an Ordinary Boy so that the children would be unable to open them past the phrase,

Then, something quite out of the ordinary happened…”.

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Love your school library

Do you love your school library?

Does your school library encourage children to develop a lifelong love of books and reading or is it a dusty store of dated books no-one wants to read?

We’ve collated this short check-list to help you encourage children into your school library:

  • Develop a buying team – select children from each class to support book selection. Use them to select books and canvas opinion – this creates a buzz when the books arrive as the children are excited to see the books they’ve chosen.

  • Be a book pusher! Encourage children to add post it notes (see our post-it notes blog) to books with mini reviews. You could make a feature display of these like many book shops do now.

  • Ask bookshops for promotional book posters, they get lots and will often pass them onto schools when they are finished with them. If you don’t ask you don’t get!

  • Have an extreme reading competition and get the staff to join in too. The winning entries could be made into reading champion posters to be displayed in school.

  • Have a simple display of what each class is reading that can be kept up to date and changed easily. Create collections that support the texts and topics being studied in each year group and rotate these as the topics change.

  • Have a cull, be honest, get rid of books that are tatty or dated. You can then replace them even if slowly with better quality books. You could run a sponsored read to raise money.

  • During guided reading you could send an additional adult to the library with a group of children to teach them both library skills and how to select books.

  • Make sure that your library includes a variety of texts. Don’t forget to include comics, magazines and newspapersFirst news is a must for your library and you might also want to explore subscribing to The Phoenix for a really diverse weekly comic.

  • Have a library champion. This could be a member of staff charged with running the library or could be a parent volunteer or school governor. What you need is someone who is passionate about books and reading and who has time to make the library the heart and soul of the school.

  • Don’t forget the technology. Libraries are about information as well as reading. Make sure children are able to access information through computers and tablets as well as from books.

  • Make it comfortable. We all like to read in different places so provide a variety of seating and open and closed spaces.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. We’d love to hear how else you’ve made sure that your school library promotes a love of reading.

Charlotte Reed and Rachel Clarke – Directors, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited.

What’s the Same, what’s different?

What’s the same, what’s different’ is currently one of my favourite activities for anything! It’s a great way to get the children talking; makes a great starter activity or assessment; it’s a perfect post reading guided reading activity and so the list goes on…

What’s the same, what’s different – characters:

Do you need to compare characters in a story? Take Glinda the Good and The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz – they’re both witches; they both have magical powers; they both wear something on their heads; one is wicked and one is green – you get the picture. Alternatively you may want to encourage children to compare characters across books following guided reading sessions? For example, compare Lila in The Firework Maker’s Daughter and Maia in Journey to the River Sea – they’re both girls; they’re both adventurous; they both end up in boats; Lila has a father but Maia is an orphan; Lila is poor but Maia’s family has money.

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The Selfish Giant – Guided Reading Resource

Here at Primary English HQ we LOVE guided reading and if you read our posts regularly you’ll know that we write about it frequently.

What the national curriculum says

We’ve just finished a round of training and conference workshops where we looked at the place of guided reading in the new national curriculum. Yes, we know guided reading’s not a statutory requirement but when the national curriculum document itself recognises how ‘reading opens up a treasure-house of wonder and joy for young minds’  we know that guided reading needs to be central to your school provision. (Our blog post Guided Reading discusses the importance of quality and enjoyable texts for guided reading.)


Our literary heritage

In our recent work we’ve taken a particular look at the Y5 ad Y6 requirement for children to ‘read books from our literary heritage’. You may currently be reading books by significant children’s authors and older children’s literature with your children; and this new objective is not really so different – so long as you remember that it is about older children’s literature. We emphasis the children’s bit of that statement as on our travels we’ve unearthed a few ‘grown-up’ classic texts with some rather ‘adult‘ content finding their way into primary classrooms. By all means use the classics with children, but do make sure you know the texts well enough to avoid unsuitable themes. Even better still, use some of the fabulous abridged versions available from many of the educational publishers.


The Selfish Giant

By keeping one eye on accessibility and the other on engagement, the text that we’ve been using in our workshops is The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde – written in 1888. If you’re unfamiliar with this text it is a rich and evocative story of selfishness and rebirth. It is packed with figurative language and has sufficient challenge to engage the most demanding of Y6s. The version we’ve been using is the Puffin Picture version (illustrated by Michael Foreman and Freire Wright) as the illustrations add a useful scaffold for children who may otherwise struggle to access the syntactical and linguistic challenges of an older text. You can though, use any version or find the text online as it should remain unchanged.


Guided reading activities

Our conference delegates have enjoyed working on reading activities including: making predictions about the text from a word cloud; analysing the text using Aiden Chambers’ Tell me’ structure; and thinking about giants in a variety of children’s literature using our ‘same but different’ thinking frames. We linked each of these activities to the aims statements from the new national curriculum as a way of ensuring that not only were aims met, but they were done so in an engaging and creative manner.

The Selfish Giant is a wonderful text from our literary heritage that we’re certain your children will love reading as a guided group text. Our Selfish Giant – Guided Reading Resource is now available to purchase from our resources area. Just click here

Rachel Clarke – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited


Autumn term round-up

As December comes racing to an end we’ve decided to look back on some of our most popular blogs in our autumn term round-up.

Writing is always a popular theme on the Primary English website and this autumn term has been no different. Our article on modelled writing proved hugely popular in schools and has been read by hundreds of visitors to our website. This has also been the case with our more recent article on ways to create better writers.

The most popular search term bringing visitors to the Primary English website is guided reading. We know that it concerns hundreds of teachers around the country so this term we brought you two posts about guided reading. One about moving guided reading from good to great and improving reading comprehension with PEE. Do keep visiting us as during the new year we will be adding to our articles about guided reading with a particular look at guided reading in KS1.

We’ve looked at leadership twice this term. Once to look at updates to the Ofsted framework and secondly at how to use the DODD acronym to organise your subject leadership activities. One of our most popular posts of the term was the one we wrote about vocabulary and how to provide quality opportunities to teach vocabulary in the primary classroom.

It’s been a busy few weeks and we’re now looking forward to a good rest before starting again in the new year.

Rachel and Charlotte – Directors: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Improving reading comprehension with PEE

Can I have a ‘P’ please Bob?”

Forgive me if you’re not old enough to recognise that particular cultural reference. If you are, then enjoy a little sepia tinged snigger just like you did on weekday teatimes back in the day.

What is PEE?

In this short post we look at how to improve reading comprehension through the use of PEE. Popular in KS3 English classrooms for several years, PEE has now found its way into Y6 classrooms and is an invaluable aide-mémoire to support children working at the higher levels in reading comprehension. In this article we start at the higher levels but also track back from PEE to show how to support children’s reading comprehension at the earlier stages of development.

So, what does PEE stand for?

P – point

E – evidence

E – explain

Very simply, when answering comprehension questions children need to assert the point they are making. The evidence is the quote or quotes from the text that they use to support their point and the explanation is where they expand on their point and if possible give a personal opinion.

Children working at level 5 need to be able to locate specific information from across a text and explain how it supports their point. What we’re asking these children to do is synthesise and analyse text. These are higher order thinking skills at the top of Blooms taxonomyPEE helps them to do this successfully.

Reading comprehension with PEE

This, of course, is lofty stuff for the majority of children in primary schools. However, by tracking back from PEE we can scaffold the skill of reading comprehension so that eventually all children will be able to PEE. What do I mean? Think of those children working at levels 3 and 4. Can they make a point and quote the evidence in the text? And what of the children working at levels 1 and 2. Can they offer an opinion and show you where in the text there is something that supports their idea? “Find it, prove it” as some teachers like to say.

PEE is a universally useful way to support reading comprehension across the key stages so long as we remember to track it back and think about the developmental stages of the children we’re working with. So, next time you’re doing reading comprehension take time to have a PEE!

If you found this post useful you may want to read our posts about AF3 – inference and deductionguided reading, and guided reading from good to great.

Rachel Clarke – Director: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

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