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Guided Reading Nuts and Bolts

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

There are many ways to teach English, but one teaching strategy called 'guided reading' stands out. Many schools already have schemes in place to carry it out but if your school hasn't, then here's a quick overview of its nuts and bolts, namely its theories and strategies:

Guided reading takes place in

“…a small group instructional context in which a teacher supports each reader's development of systems of strategic actions for processing new texts at increasingly challenging levels of difficulty”

(Fountas and Pinnell, 2017)

Guided reading involves children working in groups of similar ability using levelled books. The books are levelled according to Clay’s internationally renowned Reading Recovery levels (Clay, 1993) and the premise of guided reading is Pearson and Gallagher’s Gradual Release of Responsibility model as seen below (Pearson and Gallagher, 1983).

Gradual Release of Responsibility Model adapted from Pearson and Gallagher (1983) (Source: Mcvee et al. 2015).

When the students are not reading in their ability groups with teachers, they must undertake self-directed learning as the teachers cannot attend to all the students concurrently. The role of whatever self-directed activity students do must serve to complement what they have been learning. It must allow them to work independently and therefore activities needs to be motivating, resonating with and reinforcing their learning acquisition (Rashid and Asghar, 2016). I'll be delving into independent activities in another separate blog post.

Small guided reading groups can be created where teachers work closely with students to monitor responses to carefully-selected texts. Flood et al (1992) emphasise the importance of this ongoing analysis of students’ strengths and needs, which informs future lesson planning and development.

Students can make meaningful connections and build their schematic knowledge (Piaget, 1959) in a social constructivist setting. Small group teaching fosters learning as a social occurrence through scaffolding where learners enter a ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD) (Vygotsky, 1978), progressing from their current level of capability and knowledge to another level achieved with assistance from ‘knowledgeable others’ (McLeod, 2018). Consequently, as Biddulph (2002) states, literacy develops best through social interaction and discussion with others.

Zone of Proximal Development (from MacLeod, 2018)

During guided reading, teachers sensitively scaffold and support students’ learning with appropriate responses and ongoing guidance (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996) assisting readers through their ZPDs (see left). Teachers should be aware of students’ existing knowledge, backgrounds and anticipate varying responses. Therefore, a conversational approach in a small group can cultivate more genuine responses rather than direct interrogative-style questioning (Wiencek and O’Flahavan, 1994).

Ensuring that guided reading sessions are fun-filled activities can also promote a good learning atmosphere. Hillocks (1999) asserts the best learning is through fun and engaging activities within a supportive and purposeful teaching and learning environment.

Guided reading also enables students’ literacy development to be monitored authentically on an ongoing basis.

Clay (2015) also advocates keeping a systemic ‘Record of Oral Language’. Teachers can view students’ development over time and become aware of subtle nuances and changes within their learning (Tierney, 1998). A guided reading approach operates as an integrated process, encompassing varied decoding and reading strategies.

Look out for another blog post about how we set up and delivered a guided reading scheme in our school. .


  • Biddulph, J. (2002), Theory and Research: The Guided Reading Approach

  • Clay, M. M. (1993). Reading Recovery. Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann.

  • Clay, M. (2015) Record of Oral Language New Edition Update: New Edition. Global Education Systems

  • Flood, J., D. Lapp, S. Flood, and G. Nagel. (1992) Am I Allowed To Group? Using Flexible Patterns for Effective Instruction. The Reading Teacher, vol. 45, no. 8: pp. 608–616. In:

  • Fountas, I.C. and Pinnell. G.S. (1996) Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann

  • Fountas, I.C. and Pinnell, G.S. (2017) Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades. Portsmouth: Heinemann

  • Mcvee, M., Shanahan, L., Pearson, P and Rinker, T. (2015). Using the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model to Support Video Reflection with Preservice and Inservice Teachers. 10.1108/S2048-045820150000005010.

  • Piaget, J. (1959). The language and thought of the child (Vol. 5). Psychology Press. IN: McLeod, S. A. (2018, Aug 05).

  • Rashid, T. and Asghar, H. M. (2016), Technology use, self-directed learning, student engagement and academic performance: Examining the interrelations Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 63, pp. 604-612, 2016/10/01/ 2016.

  • Tierney, R.J. (1998) Literacy Assessment Reform: Shifting Beliefs, Principled Possibilities, and Emerging Practices. The Reading Teacher, vol. 11, no. 5: pp. 374–390.

  • Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press In:

  • Wiencek, J. and O‘Flahavan J. (1994). From Teacher–led to Peer Discussions about Literature: Suggestions for Making the Shift Language Arts, vol. 71: pp. 488–498. In:

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