Guided reading is an instructional practice or approach where teachers support a small group of students to read a text independently.
Key elements of guided reading
Guided reading sessions are made up of three parts:
- before reading discussion
- independent reading
- after reading discussion
The main goal of guided reading is to help students use reading strategies whilst reading for meaning independently.
Why use guided reading
Guided reading is informed by Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development and Bruner’s (1986) notion of scaffolding, informed by Vygotsky’s research. The practice of guided reading is based on the belief that the optimal learning for a reader occurs when they are assisted by an educator, or expert ‘other’, to read and understand a text with clear but limited guidance. Guided reading allows students to practise and consolidate effective reading strategies.
Vygotsky was particularly interested in the ways children were challenged and extended in their learning by adults. He argued that the most successful learning occurs when children are guided by adults towards learning things that they could not attempt on their own.
Vygotsky coined the phrase 'Zone of Proximal Development' to refer to the zone where teachers and students work as children move towards independence. This zone changes as teachers and students move past their present level of development towards new learning. (Source: Literacy Professional Learning Resource, Department of Education and Training, Victoria)
Guided reading helps students develop greater control over the reading process through the development of reading strategies which assist decoding and construct meaning. The teacher guides or ‘scaffolds’ their students as they read, talk and think their way through a text (Department of Education, 1997).
This guidance or ‘scaffolding’ has been described by Christie (2005) as a metaphor taken from the building industry. It refers to the way scaffolds sustain and support people who are constructing a building.
The scaffolds are withdrawn once the building has taken shape and is able to support itself independently (pp. 42-43). Similarly, the teacher places temporary supports around a text such as:
- frontloading new or technical vocabulary
- highlighting the language structures or features of a text
- focusing on a decoding strategy that will be useful when reading
- teaching fluency and/or
- promoting the different levels of comprehension – literal, inferential, evaluative.
Once the strategies have been practised and are internalised, the teacher withdraws the support (or scaffold) and the reader can experience reading success independently (Bruner, 1986, p.76).
When readers have the opportunity to talk, think and read their way through a text, they build up a self-extending system.
This system can then fuel itself; every time reading occurs, more learning about reading ensues. (Department of Education, Victoria, 1997; Fountas and Pinnell, 1996). Guided reading is a practice which promotes opportunities for the development of a self-extending system (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996).
Teacher’s role in guided reading
Teachers select texts to match the needs of the group so that the students, with specific guidance, are supported to read sections or whole texts independently.
Students are organised into groups based on similar reading ability and/or similar learning needs determined through analysis of assessment tools such as running records, reading conference notes and anecdotal records.
Every student has a copy of the same text at an instructional level (one that can usually be read with 90–94% accuracy, see
Running Records). All students work individually, reading quietly or silently.
Major focuses for a teacher to consider in a guided reading lesson:
Before reading the teacher can
- activate prior knowledge of the topic
- encourage student predictions
- set the scene by briefly summarising the plot
- demonstrate the kind of questions readers ask about a text
- identify the pivotal pages in the text that contain the meaning and ‘walk’ through the students through them
- introduce any new vocabulary or literary language relevant to the text
- locate something missing in the text and match to letters and sounds
- clarify meaning
- bring to attention relevant text layout, punctuation, chapter headings, illustrations, index or glossary
- clearly articulate the learning intention (i.e. what reading strategy students will focus on to help them read the text)
- discuss the success criteria (e.g. you will know you have learnt to ….. by ………)
During reading the teacher can
- ‘listen in’ to individual students
- observe the reader’s behaviours for evidence of strategy use
- assist a student with problem solving using the sources of information - the use of meaning, structure and visual information on extended text
- confirm a student’s problem-solving attempts and successes
- give timely and specific feedback to help students achieve the lesson focus
- make notes about the strategies individual students are using to inform future planning and student goal setting; see
Teacher's role during reading)
After reading the teacher can
- talk about the text with the students
- invite personal responses such as asking students to make connections to themselves, other texts or world knowledge
- return to the text to clarify or identify a decoding teaching opportunity such as work on vocabulary or word attack skills
- check a student understands what they have read by asking them to sequence, retell or summarise the text
- develop an understanding of an author’s intent and awareness of conflicting interpretations of text
- ask questions about the text or encourage students to ask questions of each other
- develop insights into characters, settings and themes
- focus on aspects of text organisation such as characteristics of a non-fiction text
- revisit the learning focus and encourage students to reflect on whether they achieved the success criteria.
Source: Department of Education, 1997
The teacher selects a text for a guided reading group by matching it to the learning needs of the small group. The learning focus is identified through the analysis of running records (text accuracy, cueing systems and identified reading behaviours), individual conference notes or anecdotal records, see
In this video, the teacher uses the practice of guided reading to support a small group of students to read independently. Part 1 consists of the before reading discussion which prepares the small group for the reading, and secondly, students individually read the text with teacher support.
In this video (Part 2), the teacher leads an after reading discussion with a small group of students to check their comprehension of the text. The students re-read the text together. Prior to this session the children have had the opportunity to read the text independently and work with the teacher individually at their point of need.
Point of view
In this video, the teacher leads a guided reading lesson on point of view, with a group of Level 3 students.
The teacher selects a text for a guided reading group by matching it to the learning needs of the small group. The learning focus is identified through:
- analysis of running records (text accuracy, cueing systems and identified reading behaviours)
- individual conference notes
- or anecdotal records.
The text chosen for the small group instruction will depend on the teaching purpose. For example, if the purpose is to:
- demonstrate directionality - the teacher will ensure that the text has a return sweep
- predict using the title and illustrations - the text chosen must support this
- make inferences - a text where students can use their background knowledge of a topic in conjunction with identifiable text clues to support inference making.
Text selection should include a range of:
- texts of varying length and
- texts that span different topics.
It is important that the teacher reads the text before the guided reading session to identify the gist of the text, key vocabulary and text organisation. A learning focus for the guided reading session must be determined before the session. It is recommended that teachers prepare and document their thinking in their weekly planning so that the teaching can be made explicit for their students as illustrated in the examples in the information below.
Jessie, Rose, Van, Mohamed, Rachel, Candan
Tadpoles and Frogs, Author Jenny Feely, Program
AlphaKids published by Eleanor
Curtain Publishing Pty Ltd. ©EC Licensing Pty Ltd. (Level 5)
We are learning to read with phrasing and fluency.
I can use the grouped words on each line of text to help me read with phrasing.
Phrasing helps the reader to understand the text through the grouping of words into meaningful chunks.
An example of guided reading planning and thinking recorded in a teacher’s weekly program (See
Guided Reading Lesson: Reading with phrasing and fluency)
Mustafa, Dylan, Rosita, Lillian, Cedra
The Merry Go Round – PM Red, Beverley Randell, Illustrations Elspeth Lacey ©1993. Reproduced with the permission of Cengage Learning Australia. (Level 3)
We are learning to answer inferential questions.
I can use text clues and background information to help me answer an inferential question.
Questions as prompts
Why has the author used bold writing? (Text clue) Can you look at Nick’s body language on page11? Page 16? What do you notice? (Text clues) Why does Nick choose to ride up on the horse rather than the car or plane? (Background information on siblings, family dynamics and stereotypes about gender choices).
An example of the scaffolding required to assist early readers to answer an inferential question. This planning is recorded in the teacher’s weekly program. (See Guided Reading Lesson: Literal and Inferential Comprehension)
- an example of guided reading planning and thinking recorded in a teacher’s weekly program, see Guided Reading Lesson: Reading with phrasing and fluency)
- questions to check for meaning or critical thinking should also be prepared in advance to ensure the teaching is targeted and appropriate
- an example of the scaffolding required to assist early readers to answer an inferential question. This planning is recorded in the teacher’s weekly program.
It is important to choose a range of text types so that students’ reading experiences are not restricted.
Quality literature is highly motivating to both students and teachers. Students prefer to learn with these texts and given the opportunity will choose these texts over traditional ‘readers’. (McCarthey, Hoffman & Galda, 1999, p.51).
Research suggests the quality and range of books to which students are exposed to such as:
- electronic texts
- levelled books
- student/teacher published workStudents should be exposed to the full range of genres we want them to comprehend. (Duke, Pearson, Strachan & Billman, 2011, p. 59).
When selecting texts for teaching purposes include: levels of text difficulty and text characteristics such as:
- the length
- the degree of detail and complexity and familiarity of the concepts
- the support provided by the illustrations
- the complexity of the sentence structure and vocabulary
- the size and placement of the text
- students’ reading behaviours
- students’ interests and experiences including home literacies and sociocultural practices
- texts that promote engagement and enjoyment.
Teacher's role during reading
During the reading stage, it is helpful for the teacher to keep anecdotal records on what strategies their students are using independently or with some assistance. Comments are usually linked to the learning focus but can also include an insightful moment or learning gap.
- finger tracking text
- uses some expression
- not pausing at punctuation
- some phrasing but still some word by word.
- finger tracking text
- reading sounds smooth.
- reads with expression
- re-reads for fluency.
- uses pictures to help decoding
- word by word reading
- better after some modelling of phrasing.
- tracks text with her eyes
- groups words based on text layout
- pauses at full stops.
- recognises commas and pauses briefly when reading clauses
- reads with expression.
Teacher anecdotal records template example
Explicit teaching and responses
There are a number of points during the guided reading session where the teacher has an opportunity to provide feedback to students, individually or as a small group. To execute this successfully, teachers must be aware of the prompts and feedback they give.
Specific and focused feedback will ensure that students are receiving targeted strategies about what they need for future reading successes, see
Guided Reading: Text Selection;
Guided Reading: Teacher’s Role.
Examples of specific feedback
- I really liked the way you grouped those words together to make your reading sound phrased. Did it help you understand what you read? (Meaning and visual cues)
- Can you go back and reread this sentence? I want you to look carefully at the whole word here (the beginning, middle and end). What do you notice? (Visual cues)
- As this is a long word, can you break it up into syllables to try and work it out? Show me where you would make the breaks. (Visual cues)
- It is important to pause at punctuation to help you understand the text. Can you go back and reread this page? This time I want you to concentrate on pausing at the full stops and commas. (Visual and meaning cues)
- Look at the word closely. I can see it starts with a digraph you know. What sound does it make? Does that help you work out the word? (Visual cues)
- This page is written in past tense. What morpheme would you expect to see on the end of verbs? Can you check? (Visual and structural cues)
- When you read something that does not make sense, you should go back and reread. What word could go there that makes sense? Can you check to see if it matches the word on the page? (Meaning and visual cues)
Independent reading promotes active problem solving and higher-order cognitive processes (Krashen, 2004). It is these processes which equip each student to read increasingly more complex texts over time; “resulting in better reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling and grammatical development” (Krashen, 2004, p. 17).
It is important to note that guided reading is not round robin reading. When students are reading during the independent reading stage, all children must have a copy of the text and individually read the whole text or a meaningful segment of a text (e.g. a chapter).
Students also have an important role in guided reading as the teacher supports them to practise and further explore important reading strategies.
Before reading the student can
- engage in a conversation about the new text
- make predictions based on title, front cover, illustrations, text layout
- activate their prior knowledge (what do they already know about the topic? what vocabulary would they expect to see?)
- ask questions
- locate new vocabulary/literary language in text
- articulate new vocabulary and match to letters/sounds
- articulate learning intention and discuss success criteria.
During reading the student can
- read the whole text or section of text to themselves
- use concepts of print to assist their reading
- use pictures and/or diagrams to assist with developing meaning
- problem solve using the sources of information - the use of meaning, (does it make sense?) structure (can we say it that way?) and visual information (sounds, letters, words) on extended text (Department of Education, 1997)
- recognise high frequency words
- recognise and use new vocabulary introduced in the before reading discussion segment
- use text user skills to help read different types of text
- read aloud with fluency when the teacher ‘listens in’
- read the text more than once to establish meaning or fluency
- read the text a second or third time with a partner.
After reading the student can
- be prepared to talk about the text
- discuss the problem solving strategies they used to monitor their reading
- revisit the text to further problem solve as guided by the teacher
- compare text outcomes to earlier predictions
- ask and answer questions about the text from the teacher and group members
- summarise or synthesise information
- discuss the author’s purpose
- think critically about a text
- make connections between the text and self, text to text and text to world.
Teacher anecdotal records template example
Peer observation of guided reading practice (for teachers)
Providing opportunities for teachers to learn about teaching practices, sharing of evidence-based methods and finding out what is working and for whom, all contribute to developing a culture that will make a difference to student outcomes (Hattie, 2009, pp. 241-242).
When there has been dedicated and strategic work by a Principal and the leadership team to set learning goals and targeted focuses, teachers have clear direction about what to expect and how to go about successfully implementing core teaching and learning practices.
One way to monitor the growth of teacher capacity and whether new learning has become embedded is by setting up peer observations with colleagues. It is a valuable tool to contribute to informed, whole-school approaches to teaching and learning.
The focus of the peer observation must be determined before the practice takes place. This ensures all participants in the process are clear about the intention. Peer observations will only be successful if they are viewed as a collegiate activity based on trust.
According to Bryk and Schneider, high levels of “trust reduce the sense of vulnerability that teachers experience as they take on new and uncertain tasks associated with reform” and help ensure the feedback after an observation is valued (as cited in Hattie, 2009, p. 241).
To improve the practice of guided reading, peer observations can be arranged across Year levels or within a Year level depending on the focus. A framework for the observations is useful so that both parties know what it is that will be observed. It is important that the observer note down what they see and hear the teacher and the students say and do. Evidence must be tangible and not related to opinion, bias or interpretation (Danielson, 2012).
Examples of evidence relating to the guided reading practice might be:
- the words the teacher says (Today’s learning intention is to focus on making sure our reading makes sense. If it doesn’t, we need to reread and problem solve the tricky word)
- the words the students say (My reading goal is to break up a word into smaller parts when I don’t know it to help me decode)
- the actions of the teacher (Taking anecdotal notes as they listen to individual students read)
- what they can see the students doing (The group members all have their own copy of the text and read individually).
Noting specific examples of engagement and practice and using a reflective tool allows reviewers to provide feedback that is targeted to the evidence rather than the personality. Finding time for face-to-face feedback is a vital stage in peer observation. Danielson argues that “the conversations following an observation are the best opportunity to engage teachers in thinking through how they can strengthen their practice” (2012, p.36).
It is through collaborative reflection and evaluation that teaching and learning goals and the embedding of new practice takes place (Principles of Learning and Teaching [PoLT]: Action Research Model).
Teacher Observation template example
In practice examples
For in practice examples, see:
Guided reading lessons
Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Christie, F. (2005). Language Education in the Primary Years. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press/University of Washington Press.
Danielson, C. (2012). Observing Classroom Practice, Educational Leadership, 70(3), 32-37.
Department of Education, Victoria (1997). Teaching Readers in the Early Years. South Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman Australia.
Department of Education, Employment and Training, Victoria (1999). Professional Development for Teachers in Years 3 and 4: Reading. South Melbourne: Addison Wesley Longman Australia.
Dewitz, P. & Dewitz, P. (February 2003), They can read the words, but they can’t understand: Refining comprehension assessment. In The Reading Teacher, 56 (5), 422-435.
Duke, N.K., Pearson, P.D., Strachan, S.L., & Billman, A.K. (2011). Essential Elements of Fostering and Teaching Reading Comprehension. In S. J. Samuels & A. E. Farstrup (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (4th ed.) (pp. 51-59). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Fisher, D., Frey, N. and Hattie, J. (2016). Visible learning for Literacy: Implementing Practices That Work Best to Accelerate Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.
Hall, K. (2013). Effective Literacy Teaching in the Early Years of School: A Review of Evidence. In K. Hall, U. Goswami, C. Harrison, S. Ellis, and J. Soler (Eds), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Learning to Read: Culture, Cognition and Pedagogy (pp. 523-540). London: Routledge.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Publishers
Hill, P. & Crevola, C. (Unpublished)
Krashen, S.D. (2004). The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research (2nd Ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
McCarthey,S.J., Hoffman, J.V., & Galda, L. (1999) ‘Readers in elementary classrooms: learning goals and instructional principles that can inform practice’ (Chapter 3) . In Guthrie, J.T. and Alvermann, D.E. (Eds.), Engaged reading: processes, practices and policy implications (pp.46-80). New York: Teachers College Press.
Principles of Learning and Teaching (PoLT): Action Research Model Accessed
Scaffolding: Lev Vygotsky (June, 2017)
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.