The Importance of Guided Reading

The Significant Benefits of Guided Reading

& Specific Instructions on How to Use Guided Reading to Help Your Child or Student Advance Reading Skills


What is Guided Reading?


Guided reading is reading out loud to an adult, or other proficient reader, with feedback.  This is NOT independent silent reading. The key part to the effectiveness in developing skills is to provide ‘guidance’ to the student. Do not confuse this beneficial teaching tool of true guided reading with various independent reading programs some of which are labeled ‘guided reading’. The process of the student reading out loud with correction and instruction is the essential criteria of guided reading that actually help the student learn and improve skills.


In order to achieve significant beneficial impact on word recognition, fluency and comprehension:

#1 The student must read out loud to an adult (or other proficient reader) and

#2 The adult must provide correction, feedback and instruction on specific skill development.


Why is Guided Reading Important?


The validated research shows that guided out loud reading has significant beneficial impact on word recognition, fluency and comprehension across a range of grade levels.[1] 


Guided reading benefits both good and struggling readers. In contrast, silent independent reading may not actually improve reading skills for beginning readers. Numerous studies show the best readers read the most and poor readers read the least. However, these studies are all correlational in nature and correlation does not imply causation. It may just be the good readers just choose to spend more time reading. Although it sounds like a good idea to have children read more alone, there is no research evidence that shows independent silent reading actually improves reading skills. Think about it. If a poor reader is just sitting there flipping pages or struggling with the reading and making errors, their skills will not improve, no matter how much time they sit there. In contrast, guided oral reading instruction is proven to help students improve reading skills.  This is NOT saying students should not read on their own, or that there are no benefits for children sitting there looking at books, or that students do not need to read more. Rather, the research clearly demonstrates to improve skills, particularly in learning or remediation stages, the student needs to read out loud with feedback. At more advanced levels, silent reading does improve the higher skills of fluency, vocabulary acquisition and comprehension.


Guided reading has significant beneficial effects on helping student’s develop reading skills. It is one of the most effective tools not only to improve a student's fundamental reading skills but also to help the student develop higher level comprehension skills.  With guided reading you can directly help the student:

 PLUS guided reading is enjoyable! This is where you sit down with your student and read.  Guided reading offers a wonderful opportunity to share the joy of reading with your child or student.


How Do I Conduct Guided Reading? Instructions for Conducting Guided Reading to Improve Reading Skills:


·  Conduct guided reading with the student a minimum of 20 minutes/day (more is better!).


·  The student must read outloud to you. 


·  The parent/teacher/other proficient reader must be looking at the printed text and providing immediate feedback. This careful monitoring is particularly important in the learning and remedial stages. You MUST be looking at exactly what the student is reading so you can make immediate corrections. This careful monitoring of each and every word is necessary until the student has become skilled at accurate decoding. (The rule of thumb is when the student makes no more than 1 or 2 errors per page). Either sit directly next to the student where you can both see the print OR make a copy of the material so you can follow along. Having a separate copy is sometimes preferred if you are tutoring other students or if the student does not appreciate someone ‘reading over their shoulder’. 


·  Require the student to read carefully. Teach the student to look carefully at the words instead of rushing through with ‘fast & careless’ reading.  Stopping the student at every mistake is highly effective in slowing down the ‘fast & careless’ reading. Usually, the impatient students who like to ‘rush’ do not like to be stopped. Therefore, when you stop them at every mistake they begin to read more carefully. Like anything else, the careful reading is a habit. Help the student develop good habits.


·  Require complete accuracy in all reading. Stop the student all errors, no matter how ‘minor’ they may appear. This includes skipped words as well as any mistake on accurately reading a word.  Stopping the errors is critical for effective remediation as you must extinguish incorrect processing as well as develop proficient reader skills. With correction on errors, often all you need to do is tap the missed word with a pencil. This signals the student to ‘look again’.

o       If the student skips a word, tap the word they missed and have the student reread it.

o       If the student reads a word inaccurately (says wrong word or misses detail of word) have him reread the word correctly. Point to the specific sound/error if necessary.

o       Do not let any errors slip by, no matter how ‘small’. Make sure the student is paying close attention to all details. 

o       If the student uses the wrong choice/alternate sound, tell them something similar to “Good try, however this word uses the __ sound” ( For example if the word was ‘bestow’ and the student uses the /ow/ sound for ‘ow’ instead of the correct /oa/ sound). Have the student re-read the word applying the correct sound.


·  The student needs to correct their mistake. Frequently the student has the skill to accurately read the word but either they were not paying attention or slipped back into a previous incorrect strategy (such as word guessing or visual ‘whole word’ processing). Often by ‘looking again’ the student uses the correct process and is able to accurately read the word. 


·  If the student is lacking a skill then you need to teach them that skill so they are able to accurately read the word. Examples:

o       If the student does not know the correct sound (lacks knowledge of a sound within the word) tell them the sound and then have them read the word to you.  This is not ‘telling’ the student the entire word where all he needs to do is orally repeat the word. In contrast, this is only giving the student the knowledge he is missing and then requiring him to apply this to his reading.  This technique can also be used when student comes across code he has not yet learned For example reading ‘vacation’ before the student has learned ‘tion’=/shun/ you would tell them something similar to “the ‘tion’ partner letters have the  /shun/ sound..try sounding that out again”.  In addition, if the student misses a sound several times you know the student needs to practice that specific sound in isolation so it becomes automatic

o       Focus on building necessary skill. Help the student develop necessary skills. For example often students who have previously learned phonetically incorrect ‘consonant clusters’ will add sounds when they are not present. (strap as stramp, clap as clamp, sting as string, ) In this case you need to focus the student on looking carefully at the exact printed letters. You can say something similar to “look closely” and point at the specific sounds.


·  Help the student with multisyllable words when necessary. Use a pencil to make light slash marks at the syllable breaks. If certain words are difficult, you can write these down for later practice in isolation.


·  Help with proper pronunciation whenever necessary. New words, especially some of the multisyllable words with the ‘lazy’ schwa, pronunciation can be tricky. The decoding is correct but the word is mispronounced.  By all means help the student learn the correct pronunciation. Tell them how the word is pronounced. Say something similar to “Good try, that was close, we actually pronounce the word _______”.  Have them repeat the word and then reread it with correct pronunciation while looking at the letters.


·  Require physical tracking (with finger, pencil or other pointer) when reading UNTIL the student no longer makes tracking errors. If the student is making any tracking errors or whole word errors be sure they continue to physically track. Once again this kinetic motion helps direct correct processing of each letter/sound. The tracking also helps focus the student on the details of the word and improves attention to detail.


·  Develop vocabulary as the student reads. When appropriate, stop the student at new words. If they do not understand the word, explain what the word means. Then have the student re-read the sentence so they will understand it. See the article Expanding Vocabulary Knowledge for details on developing vocabulary. 


·  Work on developing specific comprehension skills. This often involves questions and discussing the material as they read along. The depth of comprehension skills increases as the student becomes older and their skills advance. Beginning comprehension is having the student simply pay attention to what they are reading. The higher level comprehension skills have the student thinking about deeper questions such as ‘why did this happen’, and inferring ‘what do I think this means’.  See the article Developing Reading Comprehension for more detailed instructions. 


·  Monitor the student’s progress and modify the instruction to what the student needs. When the students decoding skills improve/advance to the point where he makes very few errors/page, the careful attention to accurate decoding is no longer necessary and the guided reading can shift primarily to the higher level skills.  At this point, you no longer have to monitor each and every word. Instead you primarily focus on the vocabulary and reading comprehension skills. This level of guided reading where you shift from the ‘technical skills’ of decoding to the content of what you are reading is extremely enjoyable.  


Other tips and suggestions:


·  If the student is ‘skipping lines’ as they read or frequently losing their place, have the use a bookmark or index card to hold under the line. The student uses the index card to mark the line they are reading. This is especially helpful in books with small print where it is easier to accidentally miss lines.


·  If the student reads ‘run on’ sentences help them learn to make the appropriate pause at the end of sentences. Have the student take a breath at each period.  If necessary, place your pencil on or tap the  period to remind the student to pause. While this intentional ‘stop’ and conscious breath slightly exaggerates the needed pause it helps the student begin to notice and react properly to periods. Guided reading of text is where the student develops this necessary skill of appropriate pauses and inflection. 


·  Help the student practice proper inflection and expression as part of the guided reading. Fiction is often the easiest material to help the student practice and develop skills in appropriate expression. Demonstrating and encouraging expressive reading helps students develop these skills. If the student reads an passage in a flat monotone voice, simply ask him to reread it with expression.


·  Use high interest books for the guided reading.  Have the student pick out a book that interests him or her.  The high interest books help make the guided reading time something to look forward to. There is nothing like an engaging story or a fascinating subject to keep the student excited about the guided reading time.


·  Increase the enjoyment by reading the book together. Share the reading by alternating chapters or pages. Not only is this shared reading enjoyable, it is useful in both demonstrating and building enthusiasm for reading.


·  While you should definitely incorporate ‘fun’ ‘exciting’ reading of the students choice, some of the guided reading can and should be done with the students classroom reading material. This ability to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ of directly developing reading skills while studying for the next day’s science test is helpful on the busy nights. The use of classroom reading material is also particularly useful with students in a classroom pullout situation. The guided reading of classroom material, whether it be the history textbook or the science unit  not only directly develop reading skills but also helps the student gain knowledge in other subjects. From a time efficiency standpoint, many students prefer to do some guided reading with classroom material, especially if they have to read it anyways. It is also important to do some guided reading with textbooks so you can help the student develop comprehension skills with the textbook format.


Additional information, articles and resources on teaching children to read proficiently can be found on the Free Reading Information page of the Right Track Reading website.



This article was written by Miscese Gagen a mother with a passion for teaching children to read proficiently by using effective methods. She is also a successful reading tutor and author of the reading instructional programs Right Track Reading Lessons and Back on the Right Track Reading Lessons. The purpose of this article is to empower parents and teachers with information on teaching children how to read. We CAN improve reading proficiency, one student at a time!  More information is located at ~ Copyright 2007 Miscese R. Gagen

[1] National Reading Panel’s “Teaching Children to Read” Summary Report