How To: Guided Reading Planning & Organization

· · · · · ·

This whole guided reading beast can feel overwhelming at first. Rest assured friends, it can be conquered! We’ll walk through step-by-step so you can easily create lesson plans, stay organized and maximize your time with small groups AND individual students. So whether you’re a total newbie or a seasoned pro, your Guided Reading time will be more efficient and effective than ever before.

First up, create a schedule that works for you and the time you have.

If you’re like me, you use centers as the foundation of literacy lesson planning. This time is a perfect opportunity to pull students for guided reading. (More on how to make sure other students are engaged during this time in our next post!) And, especially in lower elementary, it can be helpful to allot more than one day for each group of centers (ex: two centers one day and two the next day) In Kinder I preferred to split centers into two days (and sometimes three — putting in a buffer day a couple times a month REALLY gives your schedule flexibility if you fall behind). With two days, I had enough time to meet every student for guided reading either in small groups or individually.

Once you’ve got a schedule, determine how many times you will meet with each group (or individual) per week. Head here for more on that.

Then, make sure you’ve got your students grouped appropriately. Remember you can ALWAYS switch this up throughout the year and group in different ways. The Teaching Texan Guided Reading Organizer (or whatever method you use) makes it easy to regroup students as needed. For more tools and tips to group students effectively, start at this post.

Easy Assessments

Assess quickly and consistently to keep students in the right groups

At the beginning of the year it’s great to start with some thorough and “official” assessments. There’s no substitute for something like Fountas & Pinnell to make sure you have students at the correct level. And I recommend running these full assessments again at least twice during the year beyond your initial assessment (after winter break and around the end of April work really well). We all know that these official assessments are necessary for documentation purposes and are great to have on hand for parent conferences or any time you need to meet with administration.

But of course we are always assessing “unofficially” and keeping pace with our students’ growth and progress on a weekly and daily basis. For this, there’s no reason to go whole hog and pull out that F&P. I recommend these simple activities to assess students’ levels quickly and effectively.

  • Fluency — are your students able to read/recognize sight words in context or only when doing flashcards? Do they sound like they are conversing with a friend in phrases, or are they choppily reading one or two words at a time? Can they sound out words that are new to them?
  • Comprehension — how successfully do they answer comprehension questions? What detail can they provide? Do they merely provide the answers or add their own interpretation and commentary?

Using all of the data you gather and needs of the groups you create, NOW you can start planning guided reading lessons. HOORAY — you made it! I start by selecting a strategy focus the group needs. Bonus points if you link this to what you taught in your small-group mini lesson!

Below is the planning page from my GR binder that we’ll reference to discuss all of the key things to plan for ahead of time. Even after years of planning the same type of lessons, I still use this every time. I use the same book for at least two lessons and then determine based on my notes and observations whether we need a third meeting with the same book or are ready to move to something new.

Planning The Lesson

With the strategy focus in mind, select a book that meets your needs. Teachers MUST read guided reading books before offering them to students during a lesson. If we don’t, we can’t know what vocabulary to pull out for instruction or if it fits with the strategy we want to highlight.

Once you’ve got a book, decide on key vocabulary needs. I generally choose 2-3 words max and introduce students to the new words BEFORE we read the book. I also take a look at sight words in the book, making sure we’re reviewing key sight words or cementing any sight words the group has yet to master.

Keep your introduction short.  Allow your students to do the “heavy lifting” of the reading. If we front load too much as teachers, we rob our students of the opportunity to push themselves.

My tried and true, quick and tidy intro:

  • Read the title
  • Read the author’s and illustrator’s names
  • Give a ONE SENTENCE overview of the book.  I write this one sentence down on my planning page.

Prepare comprehension questions. Make sure there’s an opportunity for each student to answer at least one question. And lastly, link your comprehension questions to your guided writing sentence for day two. Write this down so it’s ready to go!

Day One

The first day of the lesson I listen in to all readers and provide teaching points as needed. I make notes on the observation page as they read to help inform future instruction.

For my AA to C instructional readers I will often engage in a picture walk to ensure they have identified what is in each picture. I do this before we read the text and it’s really helpful when they go back to read.

After we read the book together (you can have each student read a page, paragraph, sentence, or word — depending on what level they’re at), I have students read independently for the last portion of the lesson. Occasionally I have students read together as a chorus because there’s definitely benefits to this academically, but typically I like them to read without relying on someone else in the group if they get stumped. To do this, I have students begin reading when I tap the table in front of them so they all begin the story at different times.

We wrap up day one with a few comprehension questions that I’ve prepared and have ready to go in my handy dandy planner.

Day Two

On the second day of the lesson we review and see what we’ve retained.

First, we review key vocabulary. Sometimes, I ask students to do a quick drawing on their white boards of each word to help them remember it’s meaning.

Then, I review our strategy focus and model it.

On day two, I skip the introduction because they’ve already read the book. Occasionally I’ll ask if anyone wants to remind the group what the book was about, giving the students a chance to introduce the text.

On the second day with the text I will take an informal running record of one student to give me insight on how he/she is doing with the instruction provided. I use my simple running record form to keep track as he/she reads and I alternate which student I am taking a running record for every time I take one so that I have timely data for each child.

Then, students answer a few quick comprehension questions. These may be the same as day one or different. I like to mix it up. But I make sure the questions are linked to guided writing which comes next!

Quick Guide to Guided Writing

  1. Dictate a sentence that pertains to the book — maybe the main idea, summary etc. Something students discussed in the comprehension questions.
  2. Students repeat the sentence orally.
  3. Students count the number of words.
  4. Have students draw a line for each word. This helps them not to miss a word when writing the sentence.
  5. Write away! It is super helpful to have the alphabet printed at the top of the page to help with proper letter formation.
  6. Teacher check for capital letters and ending punctuation.

If any sight words are misspelled I ask students to correct them, but all other words can be spelled phonetically. I make sure to jot down any notes to help plan future guided reading/writing lessons.

After that I kick up my heels and celebrate another guided reading lesson well done!

If you’d like a FREE copy of the Guided Writing template I use you can grab it right here on my blog! All you have to do is sign up for my newsletter here and then use the password in the welcome email to grab your free template on my Freebies page.

If you’re wondering how to make sure the rest of your classroom doesn’t descend into chaos while you spend this magical small group time with your students then wonder no more — our next post will give you lots of strategies to keep other students engaged and your classroom running smoothly during guided reading.

Guided reading planning does not have to be so overwhelming! While we want the best for our students during this critical literacy instructional time, it can quickly become daunting to plan small group lessons. On this blog post I share quick tips for getting the most out of this time while shortening your prep time! Plus, grab a FREE guided writing template!


  1. This post has been such a welcomed find as try to navigate my way through guided reading with my Grade 2 students. Thank you and I look forward to receiving other such posts.

  2. I was wondering if you can give some insight into what the guided writing portion of the lesson would look like in a third grade classroom?

    1. Hi Liz!

      Great question, and I’m happy to share some insight! With higher grade level students the shift in this guided writing time becomes more about responding to what you’ve read and focusing on specific strategies for writing. Since these students will likely be writing more and you’ll be bringing in writing strategies this would likely become a day 3 lesson. Here’s how you could break it down:
      1. Discussion in relation to the text you’ve read – you could choose to focus on comparing/contrasting, sharing and justifying an opinion, main idea and supporting details, etc.
      2. Model 1 or 2 writing strategies that would support a written response that ties to the discussion you had – introduction style, sentence structure, etc.
      3. Have students write to share their response to the discussion/writing prompt while using the writing strategies you taught. This will give you the opportunity to observe and intervene as necessary while students write.

      I hope this helps!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *