What to Do When Guided Reading Isn’t Working

Guided reading is widespread as a small group reading instructional approach. However, there are some cases where the original intent of guided reading has been lost. And what is the intention of guided reading?

The purpose of guided reading is to be a teaching method for encouraging readers’ independent strategic thinking. It builds effective reading behaviors, which can yield fluent reading and independent comprehension of texts.

But what do you do when guided reading isn’t working?

Here’s a snippet taken from a research article that might relate to:

“Jose has been stuck in the same text level for weeks now,” Janet laments as she picks at her salad in the staff lunchroom. “I really don’t know what else to try – he’s in guided reading every day with the other three who’ve also plateaued, but we’re running out of books at that level and they still don’t seem to apply any strategies on their own. That low group is just so quiet –I feel like I’m dragging them through the books sentence by sentence. I’m just so frustrated!” – Heather Wall (Full Article Link Below)

Too often guided reading fails to be effective. Mostly because guided reading is supposed to be focused on effective reading behaviors.

However, this focus can be easily obscured by the list of phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension standards that teachers are asked to focus on. Yes, those standards actually get in the way!

In Heather Wall’s recent research article, she highlights a few keys:

  1. Guided reading needs to focus on building effective reading behaviors.
  2. Guided reading needs to focus less on creating mastery of specific skills.
  3. Subtle changes we use with students can have a profound impact on their success in guided reading groups.

Wait, many teachers ask a question at this point:

What do you mean by effective reading behaviors?

It’s a fair question.

The simple answer is these are the behaviors (and thinking habits) that good readers do naturally. They are the 9 reading comprehension strategies that all students need, and that we must teach.

Effectively Prompting Students During Guided Reading

Over at TeamTom Education, a full list of 32 open-ended questions for reading comprehension can help you provide support during guided reading. Heather Wall also provides examples of the prompts that she found to be most successful in guided reading.

Some of her prompts include:

  • Look at the picture, did that make sense?
  • What can you try?
  • Does that sound right?
  • Do you see a chunk in that word?

It’s great to build a “toolkit” or list (like the 32 above) of questions that you can apply in different scenarios. It’s important to remember one thing:

It can feel uncomfortable to say nothing at all, to wait for a student to choose a strategy, and to only give vague prompts.

After all, we are teachers. And doing nothing feels like we’re not teaching!

But that’s often what students need as we help them take ownership of the reading process.

Just remember, teaching reading is about teaching students to think. There are many micro-skills involved. Guided reading is an instructional method that allows students to apply those skills and use strategies to build reading independence.


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