How to Keep your Guided Reading Lessons Short

One question that comes up often about guided reading is. . .

How do I fit all my groups in?

The struggle is real!

It’s important to take the time you need with your students (part of teaching is loving on them!), but it’s also important to stay on track, so that you’re able to meet with your students as much as possible.

12 Tips to Keep Your Guided Reading Lessons on Track

Here are some ways to help you keep your guided reading lessons short and sweet, giving you a chance to meet with more groups every week!

  1. Skip the Schema. Hear me out on this one because I do believe schema is important. . . if I told you we are about to read a book about Paris, what do you think of? Did the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, or baguettes and croissants come to mind? I bet they did! It’s because it’s human nature to automatically start making associations. Most beginning books have topics that are familiar to children, so you don’t need a lengthy conversation about them. Sure, some kids need that thinking to be activated, so you can remind them, “While you’re reading, think of everything you know about xyz to help you understand. Use your schema (referring to a previous lesson on how to do this).” You could even tell them to close their eyes and think of what they know for 10 seconds (including words they may encounter). Done. Don’t waste a ton of time having kids share what they know with the entire group. *If working with students for whom English is not their first language, you’ll spend more time building vocabulary.
  2. Don’t listen to each student read the entire book. When I first started guided reading, I thought I had to hear every student read every single page! Oh my goodness, that will suck up your entire lesson time. Don’t do that. Instead, listen to each student read a page or two, jot down notes, give them a compliment and a suggestion, then move on to the next student.
  3. Keep supplies at your table. If students have to go get their own pencils, crayons, etc., that will take up a minute or two (more if their desk swallowed up their supplies, or they see someone has used their special twistable crayons). Keep a compartment bin with the following at your table and hand out as needed:
    • pencils
    • crayons
    • scissors
    • glue
    • dry-erase markers and erasers
  4. Assign partners and have them sit near each other. When students come to your table, if student A knows he needs to sit next to student B, they will sit quickly- no fighting over seats or proximity to friends, and students know who to turn to when you say “turn and talk.”
  5. Use the partners! Turn and talk to share. Kids love to talk! This is a great thing, but it can take forever for kids to share when making connections, predicting, etc. It’s important for them to hear others’ ideas so sharing to the group is great sometimes, but also have them share with their partners while you listen in. Then, YOU can quickly repeat something important that was shared (you will likely share it quicker and relate it to your teaching point more effectively).
  6. Think aloud. It’s great to ask questions and give students time to think and answer! It’s also great to ask and answer questions yourself to model a strategy! I used to do the former ALL THE TIME and not enough of the latter. Kids need to see how you problem-solve or use a strategy, so don’t be afraid to just tell them sometimes. A balance of both is ideal.
  7. Keep your focus in mind! It’s easy to get side-tracked, so keep your teaching point in mind and come back to it often. Using a visual aid will help you and your students keep the teaching point front and center. My teacher tent cards are perfect for this! They have a clear ‘I Can” statement for students, as well as an example, for each skill and strategy. Fold them and you have your student visual, plus a teacher suggested script on the other side. These are included in my Guided Reading Warm-ups bundle.
  8. Have materials ready to go. This is time-consuming, so I lay out all of my materials for each group in a basket, each book set getting its own baggie. Before you call your group, get the books out, and any tools you will use for that group ready to go. If kids come to you and you have to start looking for your materials, they will get antsy and you will lose them before you even start. Take a second between groups to get yourself organized. You can call the next group over while you do this and have them practice their sight word rings independently until you are ready to start (see number 9**).
  9. Set expectations. . . . and review them often as needed.**When students first get to my table, they immediately pick up the color-coded sight word ring they are working on and read through the sight words independently as a warm-up until I am organized with the group’s material and ready to start. No time is wasted waiting. I keep a few sight word rings of each group (color) at my table for this purpose. Expectations include what to do when they’re stuck, when they need to go to the bathroom. . . and expectations for students who are not with you (no interrupting, for example).
  10. Review skills/strategies: I found that often I would have to stop and remind kids of skills or strategies I previously taught them. I made Guided Reading Warm-ups to use as a quick reminder and practice of skills at their level. Before reading our book, we quickly go over a page together to “warm up” our brains. For each section, I verbalize the skill/strategy and remind them they can use it when they read their books. To read more about my Guided Reading Warm-Ups, click here: Warming up for Guided Reading.
  11. Keep your Book Intro short. 2 sentences, 3 tops. For example: “This book is about a boy who gets lost in the woods. He tries to find his way back, but keeps running into trouble. Let’s read to find out what happens.” If you’re going to do a picture walk, again, keep it short and sweet, quickly going over the parts you anticipate they’ll struggle with. The sooner they get started reading, the sooner you know what your teaching point will be.
  12. Read the “STOP” sign. Sometimes a group is just not going as planned. That’s ok! It happens. When kids get too antsy, unfocused, or not getting what you’re giving, just stop the lesson and try again another time! Quality over quantity- you get it.

Time is so valuable and it often seems like we have so little of it! I hope these tips were helpful and you can use some of them right away to help manage your groups more efficiently.

Let me know if you will try any of them, or share your own tips, down below!

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