Guided Reading was always a really challenging subject for me. I am not quite sure why, but I struggled to figure out what and how to teach in such small groups. However, once I figured out how to organize for guided reading, I was able to feel much more confident in actually pulling groups.
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As I do with most things, when I feel out of control or like I don’t know how to do something, I always come back to creating a plan. That is just my default mode. So when guided reading continued to be a challenge, I knew I needed to sit down and figure out how to organize for guided reading and get a system in place.
Once I did get a plan in place, I realized that guided reading could actually be a really vaulable time with my kids. It proved my theory that, for me, organization always comes before doing the work.
That’s why I am so passionate about helping teachers get and stay organized. When we have organized classrooms, spaces, and routines in place, then we can focus on what really matters- educating our students. Once I got my guided reading organization system in place, I didn’t spend time stressing over where to write my plans or how to choose books. I had the system in place (or, routine, would be a better word). Once a system and routine is in place for something, all you have to do is go through the steps.
How to Organize for Guided Reading
When it comes to getting organized for guided reading you need three key things. You need your guided reading planning materials, your materials or tools to use with your kids, and your structure.
Guided Reading Planning Materials
A guided reading binder is a great way to organize all of your planning materials. You know how I always talk about having a home for everything? Your guided reading binder is your home for all things guided reading. In the binder, you can keep all of your lesson plans (past and present), anecdotal notes, guided reading groups, and any other important documents you need for guided reading and RTI paperwork.
Inside my guided reading binder, I kept folders for guided reading groups. I got this idea from the guided reading guidelines in the book “Making the Most of Small Groups” by Debbie Diller.
On this guided reading guidelines paper, each reading level is broken down into the characteristics of that level. I cut them out, laminated them, and then attached a piece of velcro to the back. That way I could move them around and change them out when a group advances to a new level.
I also had sticky notes for each student with their DRA level listed on it. Then I placed the sticky note in the appropriate group. Then I was easily able to see who was where and what I needed to be working on with each group of students.
Guided Reading Lesson Plans
In addition to housing your groups, you will also need to house your actual guided reading plans. Pictured below is the template I used to write out my guided reading lesson plans.
On the paper, each group was listed along with who was in each group and what text level I was working with them on. Every group was listed on this page with just short notes to help guide my time with the students. Remember, guided reading is only supposed to be fifteen minutes or so per group, so don’t feel like you have to plan a ton.
One reminder for planning guided reading lessons. It’s always best to pick the objective for the group first, then pick a book. When I first started teaching, I always chose the book and then tried to find an objective to match it. That’s not the purpose of small group teaching. Guided reading is working with those students right where they are, which is why you should be taking notes in each group to help you know what you need to plan for the upcoming week.
Once an objective is picked, you can then choose your books from the literacy library or your leveled readers. Quickly skim the book to get the information needed to fill out the guided reading planning form (words to discuss, questions to ask, etc.).
Guided Reading Anecdotal Notes
You also need to have a space in your guided reading binder to house your anecdotal notes. This can be a simple column on your guided reading planning document, as pictured above. Or it can be a whole section of your binder where you have a space for each kid.
Find whatever works for you and be sure to set a structure for writing notes after each guided reading lesson. For example, you can ask students to switch stations. While they are picking up, moving to the next literacy station, and getting prepared, you can be jotting down whatever notes you need to for the group you just met with.
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Guided Reading Materials
I can’t even begin to tell you what kinds of guided reading materials you need for your students because it is going to be vastly different from many other teachers around the world. So instead, let’s focus on how to organize your guided reading materials.
As I say anytime we talk about organization…everything needs a home!
Some of the best homes I can recommend are baskets and bins as well as plastic drawers.
My favorite tools for organizing my guided reading materials are pictured below, along with the links to get them for yourself.
Some things you want to make sure you have at your small group teaching area are pens or pencils, crayons, glue and scissors. You never know when you might have a lesson that involves students using these tools. Because guided reading is so short, you don’t have time for them to go and get their own resources.
Guided Reading Structure
The last, and probably most important part, of how to organize for guided reading is your structure. We can break this structure up into three parts- structure for your planning, structure for your lessons with students, and structure for your students while you are meeting with small groups.
Classroom Management is key to this part of organizing for guided reading. If you don’t have a solid management plan in place, then just stop right where you are! You first need to get a classroom management plan in place so that you can trust your students to do what is expected of them while you are pulling kids.
Structure for Your Planning
First, you need to have a routine for when it comes to planning for your guided reading lessons. I’ve talked a lot about batching your days. You need to have a day planned each week to work on your lesson plans for whole group teaching, and small group teaching.
I generally liked to do this on Thursday, after my whole group plans were mapped out for the week. That way I could see where I was headed in the upcoming week and possibly tie in concepts from whole group teaching to our small group lessons.
I recommend having a checklist to go through when you plan for guided reading. Even if that checklist is the guided reading lesson plan template that walks you through all parts needed for a successful guided reading lesson.
Checklists help build routines. Routines help take the decision making struggle away. So all you have to do is focus on what to teach, instead of thinking through what part of the process you are in.
Structure for Your Time with Students
While you are meeting with your students, you need to have an organized plan for what that looks like. The guided reading lesson planning template I shared with you above not only creates the structure for how I will plan for each lesson (I just simply plan one box, then the next, till the whole paper is complete. Then my lesson is complete.) but it also creates the structure of what a guided reading lesson looks like.
All I have to do is state the objective, discuss the words they may not know, begin reading with the students, and then check in with the questions.
Whatever your guided reading process looks like, you need to make sure that you keep it very similar each week. This not only creates routine and expectation for you, but also for your students. We thrive best under routine and structure, so do your best to structure each lesson in the same general flow.
Structure for Your Students
Lastly, you need a plan for what your students will be doing. Ideally, they are doing some sort of literacy stations. You’ll also want to use a station board to help kids know what they are working on while you are meeting in small groups.
Like I mentioned above, you need control of your classroom to be able to do guided reading effectively. The first few weeks of school usually involve me introducing stations one by one and using the “guided reading time” to actually walk around and observe students in their groups.
Then, slowly I’ll start meeting with one or two groups for five to ten minutes at a time, gradually building up to letting my classroom work in literacy stations for thirty to forty minutes at a time.
Another bonus to having great stations and management in place is that when you have to suddenly be out for illness, a mental health day, or a last minute off campus training, you can leave stations for the substitute to do.
Everything in your classroom needs organization, structure, and routine. This not only helps keep things clutter-free and organized, but it also gives you the framework to spend less time trying to figure out how to do something and more time working with your kids.
If you want more steps on creating an organized and well managed classroom, then I invite you to join the Classrooms that Spark Joy Virtual training that will help you create those routines and systems you need.
Until next time,