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Tips for Getting Your Guided Reading Groups Started Quickly

By Genia Connell on October 1, 2014
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

Guided reading groups are an integral part of reader’s workshop, but getting them up and running always seems like a monumental task for me at the beginning of the year. Each fall, we are required to assess every student using the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System. Any way you slice it, testing a whole class of students individually, and some kids more than once, is time consuming. There were years when I didn’t have everyone tested until the end of the first quarter so I didn’t start my guided reading groups until the beginning of November! I let my reading assessment get in the way of my reading instruction — a big mistake! This week, I’m happy to share with you a few tips for getting your students assessed and placed into groups within the first few weeks of school.

For all of my best tips, watch the video below.


Tips for Assessing Your Students

Decide Where to Begin

  • Use reading records from the end of the previous school year to decide where to start testing. Remember, summer slide tends to affect the students who did not read much over the summer.

  • If you have no records, consider using graded word lists to get your initial point.

Before you assess, determine your starting place for every student to help with organization and time management. You can use a notepad or an app like Sticky, shown below. 

sticky note app with guided reading groups

Next, Get Organized

  • Fill out all the student information on blank running records for each student, including name, grade level, and your name.

  • Place the running records inside each book that you will use for testing.

  • Gather all materials you will need such as pencils, calculator, iPad, etc.

Start Testing

  • Use your notes to test your students in order, from lowest to highest.

  • While students are reading independently or engaged in other quiet activities, assess your students — plan on approximately 10 minutes per child.

  • Use a signal, such as a small light or stop sign to let other students know you’re in a do not disturb zone.

  • Videotape students while they read, if possible. The recordings are great to inform instruction, and to use as artifacts for your end of the year evaluations when coupled with an “after” video.

  • Write detailed notes on your running records, they will help when making decisions about placement and what each student needs to focus on once reading instruction begins.

F & P testing


Examples of running records with detailed notes below. I photograph every running record and insert it into a digital file for each student, along with any additional notes on the student's reading behaviors. 

running recordrunning record sample


If you don't have a specific assessment system in place, you may like these free printables below from Scholastic Printables. Click the images below to download and print. 


Tips for Putting Your Groups Together

Once you have an instructional level for a student, place their name on an organizational grid like the guided reading placemat that came from the two amazing reading specialists in my building, Natalie Haezebrouck and Heidi Palaj.

Guided reading placemat free downloadgudied reading placemat

Click on the image on the left to download and print your own placemat.

Once I know what all of my groups look like, I create this visual organizer for myself. I affix the student names with Velcro inside a file folder. As the students progress, I move their names along the continuum, forming new groups. 

velcro guided reading group organizer

Start Your Groups

  • MOST IMPORTANT TIP! Do not wait to start your guided reading groups until everyone is tested.

  • When you have finished assessing the lowest 30 percent of your students, begin meeting with them in guided reading groups. Remember, your lowest students need you the most and they need you as early as possible.

  • Assess your remaining students over the next few weeks and start meeting with additional groups.

Guided reading group


More Ideas to Help You Get Off to a Quick Start

Below are a few other forms I use that you may be interested in using.

Click on any image to download a printable form you can use in your classroom. 

Oral reading record to track student assessments

Use the oral reading record organizer above to record your student's reading assessments throughout the year. As shown in the video, I color code my students based on their starting level.  

Guided reading group organizer

The organizer above is one I keep in my guided reading organizer to remind me what days I meet with each guided reading group. 


Guided Reading Universal Lesson Plan Template

guided reading lesson plan template

I make multiple copies of the template above to help me plan lessons for each group quickly.


Guided Reading Organizer

Guided Reading Organizer

Above is my guided reading organizer that helps me keep all of my materials at hand. Read more about it in my post from last year, "Guided Reading Organization Made Easy."


Whether you use Fountas & Pinnell or another assessment system, I hope you found something to help your reading assessments go smoothly while helping you get your guided reading groups up and running now. 


Professional Resources you may be interested in:

Comments (5)

This was so helpful! I'm so excited to get this done and started! Thank you for sharing everything, and to help make us all better at what we do.

Currently, we are using the basal for reading, and I'm looking at going more towards the guided reading approach within my 3rd grade classroom. What program do you use?

I am a second year 5th grade teacher. I have started to use guided reading groups in my class this year. I was wondering what centers your students access while you are meeting with a group. Do you use a station rotation model or do you have one-to-one devices where they can work at their own desk the entire time and "rotate" through their tasks one at a time? Also, how much time do you dedicate to each group M-Th?

Thank you for your help.

I was reviewing this article and tried using the Guided Reading Groups organizer. I noticed that you meet with each and every group on a Friday. How is this possible?

Hi Brian,

My students work in centers on Fridays, and I check in with each group for about 10 minutes to wrap up our week. Take care, Genia

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