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Strategy Guide

Using Guided Reading to Develop Student Reading Independence

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Using Guided Reading to Develop Student Reading Independence

Grades K – 12

International Literacy Association

Strategy Guide Series Teaching Literacy Across the Gradual Release of Responsibility

See All Strategy Guides in this series 


Research Basis

Strategy in Practice

Related Resources

Guided reading gives teachers the opportunity to observe students as they read from texts at their instructional reading levels. This strategy guide describes ideas that support guided reading, including practical suggestions for implementing it in the classroom; introduces guided reading; and includes a reading list for further investigation.

Research Basis


Guided reading is subject to many interpretations, but Burkins & Croft (2010) identify these common elements:

  • Working with small groups
  • Matching student reading ability to text levels
  • Giving everyone in the group the same text
  • Introducing the text
  • Listening to individuals read
  • Prompting students to integrate their reading processes
  • Engaging students in conversations about the text

The goal is to help students develop strategies to apply independently. Work focuses on processes integral to reading proficiently, such as cross-checking print and meaning information, rather than on learning a particular book’s word meanings. (For example, a student might see an illustration and say “dog” when the text says puppy, but after noticing the beginning /p/ in puppy, correct the mistake.) During guided reading, teachers monitor student reading processes and check that texts are within students’ grasps, allowing students to assemble their newly acquired skills into a smooth, integrated reading system (Clay, p.17)


Burkins, J.M., & Croft, M.M. (2010). Preventing misguided reading: New strategies for guided reading teachers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.


Clay, M. (1994). Reading Recovery: A guidebook for teachers in training. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Strategy in Practice

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Preparation for Instruction

Here is a general task list to consider before initiating guided reading instruction.

  1. Assess students to determine instructional reading levels (IRLs). At IRL, students should sound like good readers and comprehend well.
  2. Look for trends across classroom data. Cluster students into groups based on their IRLs, their skills, and how they solve problems when reading. Make groups flexible, based on student growth and change over time. If you must compromise reading level to assemble a group, always put students into an easier text rather than a more difficult one.
  3. Select a text that gives students the opportunity to engage in a balanced reading process. If a student looks at words but doesn’t think about the meaning or consider the pictures, find an IRL where the student uses all of the information the text offers. If there are more than a few problems for students to solve during reading, the text is too difficult.
  4. Plan a schedule for working with small groups, and organize materials for groups working independently. Independent work should be as closely connected to authentic reading and writing as possible; try things like rereading familiar texts or manipulating magnetic letters to explore word families.

The Guided Reading Session

Individual lessons vary based on student needs and particular texts, but try this general structure.

  1. Familiar rereading—Observe and make notes while students read books from earlier guided reading lessons.
  2. Introduction—Ask students to examine the book to see what they notice. Support students guiding themselves through a preview of the book and thinking about the text. Students may notice the book’s format or a particular element of the print.
  3. Reading practice—Rotate from student to student while they read quietly or silently. Listen closely and make anecdotal notes. Intervene and prompt rarely, with broad questions like “What will you do next?”
  4. Discussion—Let students talk about what they noticed while reading. Support their efforts to think deeply and connect across the whole book. For example, a student may notice that an illustration opening the text shows ingredients in a pantry, and at the end, they are all over the kitchen.
  5. Teaching point—Offer a couple of instructions based on observations made during reading. Teaching points are most valuable when pointing to new things that students are demonstrating or ask for reflection on how they solved problems.

For Further Reading

Burkins, J.M., & Croft, M.M. (2010). Preventing misguided reading: New strategies for guided reading teachers. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Ford, M.P., & Opitz, M.F. (2008). Guided reading: Then and now. In M.J. Fresch (Ed.), An essential history of current reading practices (pp. 66-81). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

McLaughlin, M., & Allen, M.B. (2009). Guided comprehension in grades 3-8
(Combined 2nd Ed.). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Related Resources

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Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading

Students learn about the process of questioning and using webs to organize information during reading and then practice writing factual and inferential questions.


Grades   1 – 3  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Guided Reading Strategies with Henry and Mudge

In this lesson, students read Henry and Mudge and the Starry Night as a whole group as the teacher models a questioning strategy. In subsequent sessions, students practice the questioning strategy and reread for fluency.