6 Key Steps to Preparing The BEST Guided Reading Lessons!

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Teaching small reading groups doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, when guided reading is planned out properly, it can be an absolute joy to teach! You can make that dream of joyful teaching into reality when you take these 6 crucial steps to prepare your guided reading lessons!

So where do we start to get this joy?

Assess All the Students

Yep. The first step when preparing guided reading lessons is to assess everyone. That doesn’t sound joyful, I know. The joy comes later…I promise!

Guided reading lessons need to be targeted for the student’s skill levels in each group. Because,

It’s a lot, they all have different needs, but it has to be done. The hardest part is at the beginning of the year when you don’t know your students’ skill levels.

In first grade, I suggest assessing (other grade levels may require different testing):

  1. First Sound Fluency (beginning of the year and thereafter if needed)
  2. Nonsense Word Fluency (all year until reading fluency is 50 wpm or higher)
  3. Sight Word Fluency (all year until district grade level goal is met)
  4. Reading Fluency (start with established readers beginning of year and then all by 2nd quarter)

Other tests when needed:

  1. Phonemic Awareness Assessment (for struggling readers)
  2. Phonics Assessment (for students who struggle on assessments 1 and 2 above)

This may take a while at the beginning of the year. Gather the needed materials and get help if you can. If it’s just you, work out a system. Batch your testing and start with testing everyone on sight words for example. Just test the first 25 words to start if you are short on time (click on computer and try it out on youtube). It will give you an idea of where your students’ skills are with sight words. Here’s a FREE set of Fry Sight Word Testing Sheets!

Check out our Fry Sight Word Test and Digital Center where students click on words and read them as you check them off on the (free) testing sheets mentioned above.

Our Targeted Guided Reading Plan and Resources K-2 has most of the testing materials you will need too plus so much more!

Group All the Students

Once you have your testing data, you are ready to organize students by similar needs and skill levels. Record your data on a spreadsheet, grade book page, or use the included spreadsheets in Targeted Guided Reading. This step in preparing your guided reading lessons is very important because,

Get 4 different colored highlighters and start highlighting scores in like groups of 4. Then start looking for patterns and similarities. You can’t feasibly have a group of 10 students, so you may have to get creative.

These are flexible groups.

Gone are the days when students stayed in the same groups all year long. You will be testing regularly, and students’ needs and their progress will change over the year. Your guided reading groups should change accordingly.

One year, I had a student who started the year off very delayed in reading. It wasn’t long before the intervention groups, the extra attention I gave her, the extra reading she received from parent volunteers, and countless other targeted strategies paid off. She started moving into new groups. By the end of the school year, this student was at the top of our class in reading. She beamed with confidence, and her confidence transferred to all subjects.

Once you have your groups, the Guided Reading Fillable Labels and Forms will help you organize and record data for each group. Just type in the names of students once and they auto-fill onto forms and labels like the ones below!

Tip: Use one of the labels created with the Guided Reading Group Labels and Forms Product and slap a magnet on the back of each one. Keep them on the board.

Below are more examples from our Guided Reading Group Labels Product where you simply type students’ names and they automatically fill onto colorful group labels.

We have 4 different themes:

Click on the picture to see that product!

Tip: Use the labels with individual names (down below) for partner reading. Pair students within the same groups or outside of their groups easily by just placing partner names next to each other on the board. Change partners weekly or whenever needed. You can easily see who is in what reading group by the colors or the shapes. Even if you move the colors around for reading with partners outside their group, you can still identify who is in what group.

Plan All the Lessons

Now is the fun part of preparing your lessons. Yes, I know. That may sound a little weird, but teachers are problem solvers, right?

So, problem-solve using your data. Identify one or 2 problems (skill areas) that need to be the focus for a 2-week period.

  • One group might need to focus on sight words and sound by sound blending.
  • Another group might need to work on phonemic awareness and first sound fluency.
  • Your top group may not need any of that. They may be ready for more fluency practice and retell.

Use this template from Targeted Guided Reading and fill in the targets and student names.

There is also a place for plans to reach the target (what activities will you do to teach and practice those skills?). If you don’t have resources to help you find guided reading activities that target the skills in your plan, I’ve included a flipbook resource for you (also included a full-page resource like the image below) that names the skills to target and activities that target that skill under each flap.

There is a flipbook for kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades in the Targeted Guided Reading Plan and Resources K-2. There are also plans for 3rd through 5th grades in the Targeted Guided Reading Plan and Resources 3-5. Get kindergarten-5th grade with the bundle: Targeted Guided Reading Plan and Resources BUNDLE K-5.

Once you’ve selected the activities, make a note of how long you plan to spend on each activity (2 minutes, for example, is all it takes to quickly practice a phonemic awareness activity.)

Not sure where to start? Read more about Targeted Guided Reading HERE!

Organize All the Things!

This step in preparing your guided reading lessons means you’re SO close to the end! Now that you have your activities planned to target your instruction, you can start to gather your materials. And I mean ALL your materials need to be in one place.

If your materials are all in one place, ready to go, you can just grab and teach.

Put your plan, books for the week, whiteboards, markers, and anything else that your plans call for in a tub, bin, or whatever container works best for you. Have your charts and magnetic letters nearby. You get the idea.

I once had a group of teachers observe me as I taught guided reading and they were amazed at how much instruction I was able to squeeze into 12 minutes! Here are some great tips to read more about using every minute during guided reading time!


Instruct like a SUPERSTAR

Finally, you’ve done the hard parts! You’ve tested, you’ve grouped, you’ve planned your targeted instruction, you’ve organized, and now you just need to add students and instruct!

Put on your biggest smile and call those students to the table!

Keep things smooth by keeping a routine that students come to expect and keep the teacher voice off as much as possible, using short prompts like:

  • “sound” when a student needs to sound out a word
  • “sight word” when a student is trying to sound out a sight word
  • “try that again” when a mistake is made
  • or just point to words when a student has lost their place or needs to try again
  • etc.

Keep it moving with little talk or unnecessary directions. When you keep it moving, there is little downtime for your students to lose focus or to get off task. Praise them as much as possible.

Tip: Make sure your students know their goals. If they are working on reading fluency, they should be able to say, “My goal is to improve my reading fluency because…” Or if their goal is to improve sight word fluency, they should be able to say, “My goal is to know the first 25 sight words by…” When students know their goal(s), they are much more likely to meet their goals!

Looking for more ways to keep your instruction moving smoothly with engaged students? Check out these 2 blog posts:

Assess Again

Just like the first step to preparing your guided reading lessons, you must assess again. Your plans are for 2 weeks of instruction. Toward the end of your 2 weeks, you need to assess again, but not everything!

Test them on their goals. Did they meet their goals? Test them on the next target. If they are working on blending, test them on nonsense words again, and set a new goal. Test to see if their reading fluency has improved. If they are still struggling, test them on their phonemic awareness skills. There may be something missing there. But not everyone needs the same testing.

I found that in first grade,

  • Most students needed nonsense word testing for most of the first semester and some needed it the whole year.
  • All students needed reading fluency and retell/comprehension testing all year.
  • And sight word testing usually continues quarterly until all district words are mastered.

I hope these 6 steps help you prepare the most effective guided reading lessons this year and if you have any questions please comment below!

Happy Guided Reading and thanks for stopping by!

Need more in-depth information? I’ve broken down the guided reading process for you into 3 detailed blog posts here:


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