If you work with kindergarten, first grade, or second grade children, you may be familiar with or just discovering "guided reading" as a strategy to help your students become good readers. Guided reading is one component of a four-block reading program, developed by Pat Cunningham and Dottie Hall, which consists of self-selected reading, shared reading, writing, and working with words.

Guided reading is one component of the shared reading block during which the teacher provides support for small, flexible groups of beginning readers. The teacher helps students learn to use reading strategies, such as context clues, letter and sound knowledge, and syntax or word structure, as they read a text or book that is unfamiliar to them. The goal of guided reading is for students to use these strategies independently on their way to becoming fluent, skilled readers.

The steps for a guided reading lesson are:

Before reading: Set the purpose for reading, introduce vocabulary, make predictions, talk about the strategies good readers use.

During reading: Guide students as they read, provide wait time, give prompts or clues as needed by individual students, such as "Try that again. Does that make sense? Look at how the word begins."

After reading: Strengthen comprehension skills and provide praise for strategies used by students during the reading.

The steps of a guided reading lesson will vary according to the needs of the students in the flexible group. As teachers become more comfortable planning and leading guided reading lessons, they will also become more skilled in structuring the lesson to best meet those students' needs.

Flexible groupings are based on student abilities and needs. There are various ways to determine a child's ability level, such as running records, print tests, and teacher observations. Since students progress at different levels, the teacher will need to have a plan for ongoing observation and assessment to track student growth, select appropriate texts, and to regroup students as their needs change. Again, teacher observations and running records can provide valuable information.

A wide variety of books at different ability levels, sometimes called "leveled texts," are necessary so that the teacher can fit the book to the group. Teachers should choose books that are easy enough for independent reading, meet the instructional goals for the group, and are interesting and motivating to students. As students become more skilled at using a range of reading strategies, the ability level of the texts used in guided reading lessons can be increased. Previously read texts should always be available so that students can reread them independently, with a partner, or at home as they become fluent, confident, and self-motivated readers.