Teaching Guided Reading
Copyright 2006 Adam Waxler
What is guided reading?
What are some guided reading activities?
How about guided reading demonstrations or guided reading lesson
Using guided reading as a teaching strategy has become more and
more popular as the emphasis in education continues to focus on
how to increasing reading comprehension As a teacher mentor, I
often have teachers ask me questions about guided reading
similar to those above. However, as with any other reading
strategy, increasing reading comprehension depends highly on
what the teacher does "before" the reading assignment.
First, though, what is guided reading? Simply put, in guided
reading students are placed in small groups with similar reading
levels. Children read either silently or aloud to themselves,
but they do not read in unison. In early guided reading groups
books are chosen based on a 90% accuracy level. Books should
also match a child's interests and knowledge base.
Of course, two problems exist. First, to do all that guided
reading suggests can be quite challenging and maybe even
impossible since kids with similar reading levels do not
necessarily have similar interests or knowledge bases. And
second, the teacher still needs to tap into and build upon the
student's prior knowledge of the subject matter (before reading)
if the teacher truly wants to increase reading comprehension.
A great teaching strategy to overcome these obstacles and
improve guided reading instruction is to do a three to five
minute book introduction as a scaffold for the first reading of
Here is an example from an historical fiction guided reading
lesson I did with 8th graders during our unit on World War II.
Eve Bunting's book, "So Far From the Sea", is a beautiful story
about the Iwasakis, a Japanese-American family that goes back to
visit the "relocation" camp where the father was interned for
three and a half years during World War II. While the content is
serious, the book is actually a picture book written on a second
grade level. Nevertheless, an introduction to the book is
necessary to scaffold learning, clear up any comprehension
concerns, and ultimately make the guided reading instruction
more successful. I would start with the cover, both the title
and the illustration. I would point out the mountains in the
background and explain that the family is clearly very far from
the sea. I would then ask a series of questions: Is the family
happy or sad? Why are they standing next to a monument? What are
monuments for? Why is the mother holding flowers? By answering
these questions, the students conclude that the Iwasaki family
has brought flowers to some solemn place, and at least one
reason they are sad is that they are "so far from the sea".
Students can then predict where they think the Iwasaki family is
on the cover and the goal of the guided reading can then be to
discover if their predictions are correct.
However, I would not start the guided reading just yet. First, I
would take the students on a "picture walk" through the book.
The pictures in a book can go a long way towards increasing
comprehension. In this particular book, the father often
reflects back to his youth when he and his father were interned
in the prison camp. This reflecting, however, can create
problems for some readers. Fortunately, the illustrator, Chris
K. Soentpiet, has drawn pictures in both color and black and
white. The color pictures are present day (1972) at the
abandoned prison camp. The black and white pictures are during
World War II when 10,000 Japanese-Americans were interned at the
Manzanar War Relocation Center in eastern California. The
"picture walk" also provides a great opportunity to point out
any words that the students may have trouble with. For example,
I would certainly point out "Manzanar War Relocation Center"
written on a sign in an early illustration in the book. These
words come up often and the pictures provide a great opportunity
to explain their meaning.
By "walking" through the pictures to introduce the book, a
teacher can tap into students' prior knowledge and also have
students predict what the text is about. Furthermore, teachers
can clear up any comprehension concerns they may have about the
book, such as "jumping" back and forth between 1943 to 1972. The
"picture walk" will, in turn, increase students' interest in the
book and therefore increase students' motivation to learn. This
is all done prior to the actual guided reading. Remember, guided
reading is a great reading strategy, however, teachers must
still activate prior knowledge and clear up any comprehension
concerns if they really want to increase reading comprehension
and get the most success from their the guided reading.