#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.

Read More

#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.

Read More

#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.

Read More

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?

Read More

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.

Read More

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

All content on the Primary English website is protected by copyright.

Guided Reading #2 (from good to great)

Guided reading

Guided reading is the aspect of Primary English teaching that we’re asked about more than any other. We’ve written about it several times in our articles: guided readingwatching the detectives: inference and deduction and UKEd chat – CPD from the comfort of your own home. As advocates of guided reading; and knowing that it concerns teachers so much, we’ve written this article to help you move your guided reading from good to great.

A recipe for success?

We’re often asked if we have a recipe for the perfect guided reading lesson, something that will get you an outstanding lesson judgement. We haven’t: and we don’t believe that such a thing exists. Lessons are outstanding in the context of the teaching and learning that has preceded them. What we have got though are some ways of integrating imaginative teaching strategies (Ofsted, School inspection handbook: Outstanding grade descriptor – Quality of teaching in the school, p.39) into your guided reading lessons.

Flipping it about

In our article guided reading we introduced the idea of ‘flipping the learning’. That is, giving power to children working within NC levels 4, 5 and 6 so that they come to guided reading sessions having already read the text. By doing this the guided reading session becomes more like a book group discussion. However, children below level 4 still need the structure of the guided reading session. How can you make the most of this session then to ensure that all pupils learn ‘exceptionally well’? We think a creative approach to questioning can offer a solution…

Shaking up questioning – statements

We’ve taught and observed a lot of guided reading sessions which means we’ve heard a lot of questions. We haven’t though heard so many statements; where you take the question, phrase it as a statement and ask the children whether they agree or disagree.

This is a non-chronological report. Agree or disagree.”

Goldilocks was a criminal. Agree or disagree.”

This type of questioning can be used with children at all levels. A child working at level one may tell you that Goldilocks was a criminal because she broke into the three bears’ home. Whereas a child working at level 5 may be able to tell you about a variety of text, sentence and word level features which ensure that the text can’t possibly be a non-chronological report but is an explanation instead. Practise this in the guided session and you may find that you can set this sort of question as an independent task.

Shaking up questioning – right and wrong

Provide children with two opposites. Their task is to decide which is true and how they know.

“Why is this a traditional tale and this not?”

Why is this a good choice of word to describe James and this is not?”

“Why is this a good written response to the question and this is not?”

Imagine choosing a great adjective from a text and then a less effect one to describe James (you could even add one of your own here). Getting children to explore the quality of language by comparing two examples is often more effective than the simple question, “Can you find a good adjective in the text?” The idea of comparing written responses to a question is really just like the practice we use in writing – of comparing a good and not so good example in order to generate success criteria. In guided reading it is a structure which enables us to train children to make a point, find the evidence and explain – PEE as lots of teachers like to call it.

Shaking up the questioning – starting with the answer/the end

This type of question can be tricky to devise but is worth the effort as it facilitates reasoning skills and also makes strong links to children’s prior knowledge.

The answer is a persuasive text. Why?”

Here is my drawing of the main character. What can you see?”

Just think about the knowledge a child must have in order to tell you why the answer is a persuasive text. Imagine how much knowledge they must have about a character to be able to confirm that the drawing is that character; and then tell you where in the text that information has come from.

Finding out more

These ideas for moving guided reading from good to great were inspired by the work of Shirley Clarke in her book Active Learning Through Formative Assessment. It’s a book we turn to regularly and as with all teaching. The ideas we’ve shared here in the context of guided reading can be transferred to good effect across the curriculum. After all great teaching is great teaching, whatever the subject.

You can now download our book of prompts for guided reading absolutely free of charge by visiting our resources page. These are presented as traditional questions but can easily be adapted to the structures shared above.

Rachel Clarke – Director: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited.

All content on the Primary English website is protected by copyright

Watching the detectives: teaching inference and deduction skills

The answer is in the text.”

Come on, hands up everyone who’s uttered those five words to the children in their class. It’s fair comment when asking them retrieval questions such as the name of the main character, or recalling which character said a particular phrase. But what about those “Reading between the lines” questions that we ask? Not so easy then, is it?

Asking children to be reading detectives can be quite challenging, which is why we decided to tackle it here. First things first. Do you know the National Curriculum Reading Assessment Focuses? You do? Brilliant. Then you know that being a detective is Assessment Focus 3 (AF3): Inference and Deduction. One assessment focus, two skills.

Inference – finding the clues

Deduction – solving the clues

Read More