Independent Groups in GR

So what do all the other children in your class do whilst you work with your guided reading group? Well, the traditional model suggests that the children work independently in their reading ability groups in a purposeful reading task which the groups carousel through the week (if you have five groups like many classes / schools do). I think this is where GR becomes a real challenge, not just in the management of all the independent groups but also the planning and assessment. Firstly, a lot of children are not able to work independently yet (especially if you’re in Year One) and finding reading tasks that meet the needs of the variety of learners and reading levels within your class can feel nigh impossible – for a start its hours of planning, and then you have to give time to explaining each differing activity for whichever group is doing it each day eating in to your already tight 20/30min session. Another issue is the children are often far less engaged and produce less or much poorer quality work because it never really gets followed up.

After teaching and trialling various approaches in a few different year groups over the years these are some of the things I have found most helpful with the independent groups:

  • Training time: dedicate a few days /a week depending on your class to being very explicit at the beginning of the year with your ground rules for your independent groups. Make clear to them that they should not interrupt you and your group unless absolutely necessary ( you can then be guaranteed  a highly entertaining conversation with your children  about what constitutes ‘ absolutely necessary’ – my year one’s always came up with some wacky ideas about why they might HAVE to come and interrupt me) and reinforce the noise level you expect. It is definitely worth not having a GR group with you whilst you do this training bit. It also gives you a chance to see if there are any particular problems with the groups /the kinds of tasks you are allocating to them and adjust accordingly.
  • Get a system: Have a plan displayed on the IWB or wall that shows each task the groups are doing for that day. Allocate extra time on a Monday to explaining each independent task for the week. Older children can read for themselves from the plan what task they will be doing on a given day. Create an efficient system for yourself and your class for speedy giving out of the resources needed for each activity, baskets or files to store them in, monitors to give out and tidy up etc, whatever works so this takes as little time as possible out of the GR session and doesn’t mean you spending ages doing it before school either.
  • Respond to the tasks that they do: If you want them to bother with the task then make sure you mark or respond to it, and if you’re in Reception or KS1 this kind of only works if you do it there and then with them. We don’t mark fully ( as in 2 stars and a wish, ‘closing the gap’ style) for independent groups at my school but the work is marked with a brief comment if appropriate. It is also worth modelling an ‘exemplar’ task that somebody has completed to set the standard for other children when they come to do that task on their day. Having a GR book for any written tasks also seems to help with encouraging better quality work rather than sheets of paper and can act as a reading journal also. In order to do this quick check around your groups you will need to leave your GR group with a short independent task based on your focus for their reading that day or a particular common issue that cropped up during the reading, something simple so that they can be independent briefly whilst you check in and respond to your other groups.
  • Use all the adults you can: If you have willing parent helpers or additional classroom support in any form GR is a great time to make use of them! You could ask a parent to support a particular reading ability group through the week or perhaps stay with a more challenging activity and work with the different groups as they are allocated to that task.

Lastly, what sorts of things might be appropriate independent activities?

Anything that involves reading or responding to reading is a good bet – avoid handwriting or practising spellings or writing journals which are ‘holding activities’ rather than purposeful reading tasks. An easy and popular choice is time to share books in the book corner or free read right through to year 6 and this reading time with friends is still so important, particularly with the continued ‘reading for pleasure’ agenda. Open ended tasks that your differing ability levels can access also work well in terms of reducing your planning and resource making time.

Some general ideas are listed below:

phonic /word games

magnetic letter work or whiteboard work with a particular phonics focus

story retelling with puppets or sequence cards / story sacks

reading on in the story or a similar book

role play in character

writing activities related to reading – e.g writing a letter to a story character / designing an alternative front cover / story mapping / character profiles / simple book reviews.

There are tons more ideas and resources online, including on my pinterest page! have a look at – hannon0614.

Will be back next week thinking about alternatives to GR.

Independent Groups in GR

A love hate relationship with Guided Reading

Does anyone else feel like this?! Guided reading can feel so hard to get right at times. Mainly because of the 24 children supposedly working independently at reading tasks but more often that not doing anything other than that. And even if they are engaging with the independent activity, the quality of work they produce is often nowhere near as good as normal as the children are often aware that they might just be doing a ‘holding activity’ rather than something more substantial. Plus, its a real challenge to plan for the differing ability levels who will be doing the independent carousel of activities meaning open ended tasks are usually the best / only option.

So, with these difficulties in mind, I am going to be blogging on guided reading over the next few weeks thinking about what a good GR session should actually look like as well as some possible alternatives to the traditional GR model.

To begin with – a run down on the guided group itself:

This is a group of approx 6 children of similar reading ability working with the teacher reading a text that is at instructional level – ie 90-95% difficulty (in simple terms this means for every 10 words or so they read only 1 incorrectly – you can be more precise by taking a running record – maybe that’s for another post entirely! )This is all based around Vygotsky and his ‘zone of proximal development’ which basically means a teacher is able to successfully move a child into a slightly more challenging zone of learning by working alongside them and coaching/ scaffolding to allow this to happen. Therefore the text is just a bit harder than what they might read independently. Marie Clay puts this a slightly different way as strengthening  ‘the nearly known’.

The three part approach to the guided reading session:

1. Starting off with the book introduction, strategy recap and general ‘debugging’ by the teacher in order to allow for a successful first reading attempt of the text. At the early stages this will include the adult reading the title but also ‘walking through’ the text with the group preparing them for any challenging sounds or sight words, highlighting some characters or story plot as appropriate etc. The strategy recap will involve revising what different strategies the children could use when they encounter a difficult word and how they might know if that strategy has worked or may be about modelling expression or fluency. The teacher will also introduce the focus for that session (e.g decoding / inference) in child friendly terms.

2.The children all read  their copy of the text at the same time in a quiet reading voice! The teacher has to move around the group listening in to the individual reading rather than the children taking it in turns to read out loud. That way everyone gets maximum reading time and can read at their own pace.

3.The teacher then gathers everyone’s attention  as a group together again to pick up on any elements of the reading that might be worth modelling or going over again as a group and to work on the focus area of reading. If this is at the decoding level its often useful to have some magnetic letters ready for children to practise quickly building some words containing the digraph or whatever it is  they have encountered in the text and are looking at. Sound boxes can also work well. This third bit of the reading time can finish with a little round up / plenary of what you have been focusing on in your reading time and some things to remember from that or look out for the next time they read.


  • It’s very difficult to do this well if you haven’t been able to plan this in advance and look at the text beforehand!
  • Pick your text for the group carefully. Don’t plan to focus on inference and then inadvertently choose a text that doesn’t actually provide much for the children to infer!
  • Your reading ability groups need to be fluid, it is highly likely as children progress in their reading at different rates that your groups will change during the course of the year more than once.
  • Work out a time efficient method for your ongoing informal record keeping from the GR sessions. Ideally some quick notes with dates for each child related to the AF’s or whatever reading assessment approach your school uses is the best. Ticks against descriptors don’t really give enough information but as always the big challenge is time. Running records and other reading assessments or tracking of progress through book bands can also be kept together with these notes in a reading file for your class.
A love hate relationship with Guided Reading

That back to school feeling

So two weeks ago I went back to school after a fairly hefty break from teaching due to my son’s health. It was really strange to stand in front of a class again after a two year break, even more so when it was a group of year 6 children – (I have always pretty much been in FS or KS1 ever since my NQT year), but it turns out its kind of like riding a bicycle – after the first day or so, it feels like you’ve been doing it forever.

Obviously in true teacher style I bought some new stationery ready for the new term (and may or may not have purchased some new shoes for work also) and the back to school feeling continues this week for me as I start the second and final year of my MA in Literacy learning at UCL. So, this post is all about reminding myself of what I learnt from my MA last year, and a few teaching tips/ reminders as I settle back into the classroom again. Here goes…

  • Education and Research – Basically just because we are told by the government to teach a certain something or teach in a certain way or we do it because that’s how it has always been done, doesn’t mean there is a solid and robust research basis to prove that that particular approach is any better than all the rest! There is no perfect piece of educational research but as an educator, engaging in research and understanding how to view research papers and findings with a critical eye gives you a whole new perspective on what you are doing in teaching. I would highly recommend engaging with research – twitter can be good for this, and doing a small scale action research project is also a good starting point.
  • Reading wars – There is a staggering amount of research out there about how children learn to read and write with huge debate on many elements of this, particularly the whole synthetic phonics thing which is such a controversial issue. In essence, english is not an easy language to learn to read (it has a dense or complex orthography is the posh way of saying that – ie. the rules of how something sounds and how it spells do not stay the same and are not obvious) and some people are all for phonics being the main route for learning to read. Synthetic phonics is just the particular approach to teaching letter sound correspondences so it means blending from left to right across the whole word – e.g c-a-t or f-l-a-g rather than an onset and rime approach for example which teaches c-at , b-at or h-en , t-en. On the other side of the argument is the ‘real book’ approach which argues that the best way of teaching reading is to immerse children in high quality texts with a decent range and breadth that will motivate children rather than dry phonic readers which don’t actually make any sense half the time. The jury is still out (and probably will be for some time). Maybe, as is often the case, you need a balance of each.

As for classroom teaching these are some of the things I’m currently thinking about:

  • Great literacy starts with great literature! It’s really hard to teach writing or reading skills/ AF’s if you’re trying to use a text just because it fits with the current topic – but isn’t necessarily that good. If you’re stuck for ideas for books, the CLPE do a core book list which is really useful, now online, and free!  –
  • Vocabulary needs to be taught explicitly as well as ensuring your children are reading widely and frequently in order to get that really high quality writing. In my top year 6 set, I am noticing that many children attempt ambitious vocabulary but just aren’t using it in quite the right way as they are not totally confident of definitions. I am aiming to do some work on word clines in the coming weeks and building vocab checks in to each Literacy session.
That back to school feeling