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Guided Reading Made Simple

You meticulously plan and prep for reading, writing, math, spelling, science, social studies and language I right?  But when it comes time for small group guided reading lessons, you fly by the seat of your pants!  It's okay...we have all been there!  Who has time to plan for five subjects AND 3-5 guided reading lessons each day?!  Today I offer you a way to plan your guided reading lessons in a very simple way, without re-creating the wheel.  It's almost like following a recipe....just get your ingredients all lined up and follow the steps.

You will want to plan your guided reading lessons ahead of time.  I like to plan all of my guided reading groups for a whole week.  I fill out my 2-page planning worksheet for each group, gather the books I will need and I am set for a whole week.  You can pick that up for free HERE!

Also, you will want to take notes during the lesson.  I take notes right on my planning worksheet, which simplifies things.  Take note of student strengths and difficulties as well as things you that you will want to work on for next time.  It would also be helpful to make notes about the text or materials that you used during the lesson as reminders for next time you use them.

In third grade, you will likely not need to meet with all students in a guided reading group.  My groups consist of students who are reading exactly at grade level or below.  I do not place students who are reading above grade level in a guided reading group.  I try to meet with them once every week or so to check in with their reading selections.  I have a daily whole-class reading lesson, and our school has leveled reading intervention time three times per week.  That is ample instruction for my higher achieving readers.  I have three groups, and I do my best to do a guided reading lesson with each one 3-5 times per week.

I keep my guided reading lesson plans in a binder with a tabbed section for each group.  I keep the books organized for each group in hanging files that I keep in a small rolling file cart.  That cart also has a drawer where I keep everything else including magnetic letters, sticky notes, marker boards and pens.  I try not to use a lot of fancy supplies for guided reading time so that I am not wasting time juggling a lot of materials.  Most of the work we do in guided reading involves a book, a marker board and possibly sticky notes.  On a rare occasion, I will use magnetic letters (with my lower achieving readers).  The fewer materials you use, the quicker your lesson will go.  Let's face is TOUGH to get a guided reading lesson finished in 20 minutes!!  I need things to run like a well-oiled machine!

Choose books that are either at your students’ instructional or independent reading level.  If the focus of the lesson is comprehension or fluency, it can help to choose books that students can read independently with 99-100% accuracy.  If you are lucky, you have a school-wide book room with plenty of leveled fiction and non-fiction selections.  If you are not lucky, I highly recommend Reading A-Z.  There you will find lots and lots of leveled readers.  You have to print them out and run the copies, but its better than nothing!  The books are high-quality teaching texts and perfect for guided reading!  When I use Reading A-Z books, I print out a set of 7, and keep them in ziploc bags so that I can use them again and again.

You will need to verse the rest of your class on what is expected from them when you are with a small group (whisper voices, no interruptions, etc.).   They should know what to do and be able to do it with little direction from you.  Many teachers have their students reading silently during this time.  Other teachers opt to do Daily Five rotations or literacy work stations.  Do what works best for you and your students, but make sure students have had a chance to practice the routine BEFORE you start your guided reading groups.  Otherwise, you will find that you have a lot of interruptions.

Time is short in a guided reading lesson, so students in the group should be on-task the whole time in order to accomplish the objectives of the lesson.  You will want to set up group norms as part of your first group lesson.  Students should be taught ahead of time that interrupting is not acceptable, and members of the group will take turns talking and respect each other’s ideas.  

The components of a guided reading can include:  

  • Reread Known Text
  • Introduce New Text
  • Read New Text
  • Comprehension Conversation (Within, Beyond & About the Text)
  • Written Response (optional)
  • Word Study (optional)

These components may not be included in EVERY lesson.  Some teachers like to alternate the written response activity and the word study, since there is usually not time to do both of these in one lesson.   Also, you may wish to order these components in a way that makes sense for your group.  Depending upon the amount of time that you have for each group, you may have to split the components into multiple sessions.   Again, do what works best for you and your students.

Most teachers will begin their guided reading session, with a quick re-read of known text (from a previous lesson).  You may wish to do a running record assessment on one of your students at this time.  Otherwise, you can listen to each student read independently (not round robin) as they are reading quietly to themselves, giving prompts for meaning, fluency and accuracy as needed.

When giving students a new book, you will want to give a thorough introduction of the book.  This will include decoding and discussing new, tricky vocabulary words.  You can do this separately from the text by writing the words on the whiteboard or on flashcards, and having students decode the words and determine their meanings.   You could, instead, do this as you introduce the book, having students find the words within the text as you do a picture/page walk.  Have students clap out the new words, listening for their parts, or syllables.  This will aid in decoding.

As part of the introduction, you will want to give a synopsis of the book, introducing the characters, setting and plot of the story.  You may want to refer students to certain pages to point out illustrations and or text/dialogue that will be important to note as students read the story independently.  You may ask some thought-provoking questions and encourage students to make connections during the introduction, but avoid getting into a long conversation.  This should not take more than a few minutes.

Finally, you may want to offer a decoding or fluency strategy for students to try as they are reading.  Also, you should give them a purpose for reading by telling them to notice something or think about something as they are reading that will help them to focus on meaning.  This could be framed as a question (i.e., As you read, think about what kind of person Danny is.  As you read, be thinking about why the author wrote this book.).

Students should have a reader’s notebook that they bring with them to their guided reading book.  This can be just some blank loose leaf paper stapled together, a composition notebook or a spiral bound notebook.  1-2 times per week, students should write about their reading.  Most teachers will give students a specific prompt to write about, and then give students a brief amount of time to do this.   It will mostly be just a few sentences or a graphic organizer that they write in relation to a book they have just finished.  You could also have students do this as part of their homework, and then have them share their responses at the next session.

Most students will benefit from a short word study activity.  It could connect with words that are in the book they are reading, but it should focus on student need.  There are a variety of phonics assessments available that can help you to determine what your students may need to work on.  I recommend the Elementary or Primary Spelling Inventory, which is part of the Words Their Way program.  Most of the word study that I do with my guided reading groups is word sorting (words their way), and/or making and writing words (using a white board).  Very low readers may need more intensive word study and phonics work using magnetic letters and/or elkonin boxes,and possibly a phonics program such as Read Well.

If your students take the NWEA reading assessment, you can use their RIT scores to help plan your guided reading lessons.  You will want to group your students using their RIT range (in combination with other reading assessments).  NWEA has a learning continuum that organizes the skills students need to master according to their RIT range.  I use the continuum to help plan focused guided reading lessons.  I simply pick on of the skills from their RIT band and use it as a learning target in the lesson by including it in the comprehension conversation and/or the written response.

Our school also uses the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark system to assess our students.  You can find a RIT conversion chart HERE!

I have put together a Guided Reading Kit that includes a collection of resources that will make planning your lessons soooo easy!  It includes:

  • Planning for Guided Reading - A tips sheet for planning and implementing effective guided reading groups
  • Lesson Planning Pages (shown above) - A print-and-go worksheet to make planning for guided reading super easy!
  • Prompting Guide - This invaluable guide includes "on the run" teacher prompts to use while students are reading aloud (fluency, decoding, self-monitoring, and comprehension), fiction and informational written response prompts, comprehension conversation prompts (within, beyond and about the text). Print, place in page protectors and you are ready to go!
  • Learning Target Checklists (example shown above) - These are organized by RIT band and include all of the skills students in each RIT band still need to master. Includes checklists for informational text, literature and vocabulary. These are based on the NWEA learning continuum. These checklists make planning for each group super easy!

I hope you find this post helpful in getting guided reading started with your students!


Flexible Seating - The REAL Scoop!

I took the leap and implemented flexible seating in my classroom this year!

Here are the things that I LOVE and the things I DON'T LOVE about it.....


Students have the opportunity to make decisions about where they sit.  This helps them learn about making good choices, being responsible, and taking charge of their own learning.

Many seating options, including yoga ball chairs, wobble stools, flex bands, seat cushions, bean bags, camp chairs, and even working on the floor, are available to my students.  They can work in a place where they are comfortable!

I love that students can MOVE!  Wobble stools, flex bands, yoga ball chairs and other options allow students to move as they sit.  I also have standing tables for my non-sitters.  In addition, I do allow my students to move about the room as needed, and this allows my wigglers the freedom they need to take moving brain breaks!

If a student is having a conflict with the person sitting by them....they can get up and move away!  I can't tell you how this has simplified things!

Students always have the choice to work next to someone or by themselves in a quiet area.  I have a class set of study carrels, which easily turns any spot into a private "office."

No more late nights trying to work out the perfect seating arrangement, separating talkers and making sure to give everyone a turn sitting next to "that one kid that bugs everyone."

I am able to arrange my classroom in a much more visually pleasing arrangement that is also more spread out.  This has given our classroom an amazing feeling of open space and makes things a bit quieter (because the kids are spread out around the room).

The kids LOVE it and surprisingly, the parents do too!


It is very, very difficult to pass out papers when students are not in the classroom (since they don't have a desk of their own).  I have come up with a system that works for me to resolve this issue, but it is still kind of a pain.

We have to use storage bins and cubbies for keeping student supplies and materials.  It works...but is not as convenient as having a desk or chair pocket right on hand.  Students are forever having to go get something out of their bin...which takes up more time than I would like.

Most of our whole group lessons must take place on the floor.  There are some benefits to this (students are in close proximity to me when I'm teaching), but during longer lessons, students can become fidgety and uncomfortable.  Also, being on the floor makes it difficult to use manipulatives for math.  We have made this work, but I can see how it would be difficult for some (more challenging) groups of students.  Students do have assigned floor spaces, which helps a lot!

Substitute teachers DO NOT understand or enjoy flexible seating!

Some students clique together and have to be strongly encouraged to sit with new friends every once in a while.  This is currently a real issue in my class.  We are planning a class meeting to come up with some solutions!

Although we have many, many different and appealing seat choices, students still argue over the BEST ones (i.e., the wobble stools and yoga ball chairs).  I had to implement a VIP seating schedule for our comfy camp chairs and Big Joe bean bags!

I really, really like flexible seating!  It works great with my class this year and I think it has gone a long way to help us to create a very special sense of community in our classroom!

I would not say that it is for every teacher or every class.  It takes EXTREME organization and planning, not to mention $$.  Also, some classes just need more structure and flexible seating is the opposite of structured!  It could be a disaster for a classroom full of students that struggle with listening, following directions and getting along with one another.

I would love to answer any questions that you have about flexible seating!  Thanks for visiting!


2016 Classroom Reveal!!

I still have some things to finish up, but my classroom is mostly ready for a new school year!  I am making the dive into flexible seating.  I don't have a lot of options at the moment, but I have made the best with what I have.  I plan to add more choices as the year progresses...and as some funding hopefully comes through!  Enjoy the photos...I'd love to know what you think!!

Have a great year!!


Setting Up a Scoring Toolkit for Student Writing

Instruction begins when you, the teacher, learn from the learner; put yourself in his place so that you may understand . . . what he learns and the way he understands it. ~Soren Kierkegaard

I just love that really does capture what assessment is all least for me.  I find it really hard to grade the writing of the children that I teach.  They put their little hearts on the who am I to judge what they have to say or how they have said it?  But in order for my students to become better writers, I must learn to evaluate their writing and give meaningful feedback in a way that pushes them forward in their journey as writers.  It is a means to an end.  Writing is such a powerful tool and I want my students to sharpen their skills (and their pencils) so that they may see themselves as writers...and from that, find their voice in school and in life!

Our school district has adopted the Writing Pathways program, by Lucy Calkins, for assessing student writing, so that resource is highlighted in this post.  However, the elements of your scoring kit can come from whatever resources that you use in your school district.  I have some things that I will gift you in this post and some suggestions for where you might find resources if you are starting with nothing.

Here is a scenario that maybe rings a bit familiar to you you:

Your students just spent an hour in class completing their on-demand prompt.  You are excited to see what they did!  You pack that stack of papers into your adorable Vera Bradley bag to take home with you this weekend.  On Saturday morning, you pour yourself a cup of hot coffee, grab a purple flair pen and place the stack in front of you.  Crap!  Where is that rubric?  So, you head to the computer to find it, which is like finding a needle in a haystack.  Once you have that, you can finally begin scoring.  Right out the gate, you find yourself struggling to understand that darn rubric.  Did she tell the story "bit by bit"?  What does that even mean?!  Did she show what happened to 'and in' the characters?  Ugh!  Five minutes in and you have the worst headache since the end of the first day of school...the year you taught Kindergarten!  So, you gingerly rub your temples, place that stack back in bag (for safe keeping) and promise that you will give it another go....maybe next weekend.

Trust me....I've been there!  What I hope that you can accomplish today is to have the information and resources that you need to put together a scoring toolkit, so that when you sit down to score your students writing prompts this fall, you will have everything that you need in one place.....right at your fingertips....without the headache!

Following is a list of what you will want to have in your toolkit and a brief description of each item and why its important.  So let's get started!

Your "toolkit" is basically a binder with tabs.  You will want a tab for each writing genre:  Narrative, Opinion and Informational.  You might also want a few extra tabs for extra stuff you add.  I added one for the Progressions that come with Pathways because I find those extremely helpful with scoring.  Behind each tab are all of the resources that I will use to help me to score my students' writing prompts:  rubrics, student checklists, exemplars (student and teacher), scoring sheet, and a form for notes and strategy groups.

Obviously, you will want to have the rubrics that your school or district uses to score writing.   Pathways has a very consistent rubric for all grade levels that has helped our staff develop a common language for discussing and evaluating student writing.  If you want to improve student writing at your school, a consistently used rubric is critical!  If you have not adopted Pathways, I have a Writing Assessment Kit that contains common core aligned rubrics and checklists that you could use in a pinch (see the end of the post for more information).

I cannot tell you how helpful these checklists have been in helping my students to set writing goals!  They are also something that I can use as a reference when I score.  The Pathways checklists are a kid-friendly version of what is on the rubric, and I love that they are illustrated!  There is also a double checklist that you can use with students at the beginning of the school year that shows the previous grade's checklist and the current year non the same page!  It is important to note that the checklist states the expectations for the END of the school year (so students have all year to get there).

Pathways offers a teacher created annotated text (for each grade level) that gives specific examples of what is expected within the context of an actual written text.  So when you start scoring, and you're like, "What does that mean?"  you can use this example to get a better idea of what that skill looks like in a piece.  You could also use examples that you have written for your students.  I put together a whole collection of Teacher Mentor Texts to use with my students and have made them available in my TPT store, so if you don't have Pathways, these might come in handy (mine are not annotated, but you could easily do that yourself or with students).  (Tip:  A great time to write a Teacher Text for your students is while they are doing their on-demand prompts!)

It is also helpful to have student exemplars, or good examples of student work that show clearly the items expected on the rubric.  Pathways has some examples, but you certainly have access to plenty of your own!  I try to make it a habit to keep a file of student writing to use for lessons.  Our copy machine at school actually scans to a file, so it is super easy to copy a student's paper and keep it as a digital file for future use!   Our third grade team has a shared Google file where we share student writing sweet is that?!

I have a form that I use to take notes on my students' writing.  I like to look for class trends or group trends.  For example, I might notice the majority of students in my class struggled with use of transition words.  I make a note to do a mini-lesson on that soon.  Or I notice that a small group of students are just not getting the structure of a personal narrative, so I will plan a strategy group for those kiddos.  I keep a form for organizing some possible strategy groups as well.  I find that if I don't write that stuff down as I just might not happen at all!

You will also need an organized way to record student scores.  I like to record their score for each segment on the rubric, so that I can see those trends that I talked about above.  Here is the one that I can grab it HERE for FREE, along with the notes and strategy groups forms shown above.

As I said, all of these reference pages go behind the genre tab in your toolkit binder.  You will have a tab for each genre and the corresponding pages behind each tab.

I added an extra tab for the Pathways Learning Progressions.  These progressions show the expectations for every grade K-6, so that if your students are performing above or below grade level, you can pinpoint exactly where they are at!

There you have it!  I hope you have put together an amazing scoring toolkit!  Now you just need a cute cover (I might have just included one in that FREEBIE mentioned above) and you will be ready to impress your grade level team (they will all want one)!

If you are interested in learning more about Writing Pathways by Lucy Calkins, you can see the preview and purchase the book at the Heinemann site.  I promise you that this is NOT a paid advertisement.  LOL!

I mentioned some of my own resources too...

I have one of these for fourth grade too!

If you haven't subscribed to Third Grade Doodles yet, I encourage you to do will get updates about new products and free stuff.  In fact, just for subscribing, you will receive a cool FREE GIFT!  Look for the SUBSCRIBE widget in the side bar!  Also look for other posts in this series about Teaching Young Writers!

Have a wonderful week!
Love and peace,