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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles:
Teach Early Childhood Literacy
Managing Guided Reading Groups
Miriam Bissu

The key to a successful guided reading program is often how you manage the children working on their own. A good deal of thought and planning can go into providing for the others so you are free to concentrate on your work with your group. You want to establish a quiet atmosphere in which all of your students are working on reading and are accountable for their learning. Here are some management tips to help you get started. 

Set up an area in your room where you will meet with your groups for guided reading. I usually use a semi-circular reading table that allows me to have eye contact with all of my students. I sit opposite the students so that I can see what they are doing and help them where necessary. You can also have the children sit in a semi-circle in front of you, whether on chairs or on a rug. They should be facing you with their backs to the other children and other potential distractions. I set up an area nearby where I store all of the materials I will need for each group: 

  • chart paper
  • chart stand
  • dry erase board
  • markers and crayons
  • books for each group
  • paper
  • pencils 
  • student response logs
  • student folders
  • rotation chart

I include a written record of the members of each group and the name of the text they are currently reading. I also keep a bell handy that I use to get the children's attention for transitions. My goal in setting up this area is to be prepared with any and all materials I might need. The students bring all their materials so they are prepared to stay focused for at least 20 to 30 minutes of direct instruction in reading.

At the end of our morning meeting and shared reading time I show my students a rotation chart that I prepared in advance. I review which groups I will work with and in what order. The chart also informs students of the independent activities they are expected to perform during shared reading time. Over the course of time I develop these activities with the students and teach the children what I expect from them for each of the activities. They are designed to provide practice to the children without frustrating them for the amount of time they are expected to work independently (about 20 to 30 minutes). They also do not require a great deal of preparation by the teacher. At the end of the guided reading period I take five minutes to check that each student has used their independent time appropriately by looking at their work. 

Independent activities for early literacy can include the following:

  • Alphabet center: games and puzzles
  • Response logs: write an appropriate response and illustrate
  • Listening Center: listen to a story on tape and perhaps illustrate it.
  • Independent reading: choose from a selection of leveled books to read alone or with a friend.
  • Word Study: look through familiar text for word and spelling patterns being studied in class.
  • Re-read: choose from big books, poems, songs, or teacher made books and shared writing, or from books previously read.
  • Read the Room: Walk around the room with a partner and read the work on display, including the word wall and other spelling and word study charts on display.

Before I complete my work with my first group of the day, I tell them how they are to spend the remaining 20 to 25 minutes of the reading period. Then I ring the bell and call my next group to my reading area. At this time I check on the other students and have them rotate to different activities according to the rotation chart on display. I try to keep this transition time down to five minutes and make sure every-one has re-focused on the new activity before I begin to work with the next group.

I like to use words and illustrations for my rotation charts. I make simple drawings to represent the various activities and attach them to a small oak tag card with Velcro coins or dots. Then I just move the Velcro-backed cards to the appropriate activity. You can also make a rotation chart by using the small pockets that are used in libraries or plain envelopes. Then make up several Popsicle sticks labeled with each group's name. Just place the Popsicle sticks in the activity pockets to show each group where they belong and what they are to do.

When I plan for guided reading I aim to provide for a smooth flow with a minimum of disruption. Management strategies such as these can help you devote your attention to teaching reading while students are engaged in meaningful reading practice and related activities. I hope these ideas work for you and help remove some of the obstacles to grouping for guided reading.

I would encourage you to review the companion piece, Conducting Guided Reading Lessons. It should help you be more successful in your lesson planning.


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