What is Guided Reading?

Sharing books together

Our Guided Reading sessions are the best part of my day. What I understand by it is that the class is divided into ability groups of about 5 or 6 children and they sit together and read. My teaching assistant and I rotate each day, so that each group gets to read with an adult at least twice a week. We read a variety of different things: texts that are relevant to our history, science or geography topics; texts that relate to the type of writing we might be doing in English; a variety of text types – adverts, leaflets, explanatory texts, poetry, diaries, letters and so on; and – and this is the best part – whole books.

I have been to conferences recently at which a notable literacy advisor has referred to this as the Carousel of Doom and a voice laden with the knowledge that none of his listeners has any right of reply. He prefers the much more trendy approach of reading the same text as a whole class. In a spirit of open-mindedness I am trying that approach at the moment, but I still don’t see anything wrong with the carousel method. Its advantage lies in its differentiation: the children in each group are reading texts that match their ability to decode. It can be very painful for an able reader to sit and listen to someone struggling to decode a text: they lose interest quickly and we all lose the thread of what we are reading.

The disadvantage of the carousel method is its differentiation! The less-able decoders are never exposed to more complex texts that they might enjoy and understand if only they would hear them read aloud.

But in our small groups we have enjoyed together a number of great books, and everyone gets a chance to read aloud a text that they can manage. The children often become very fond of the books they’ve read in the group, perhaps because it’s been a shared experience, and maybe because they’ve had the benefit of working with an adult who can explain the difficult bits and point out the devices that the writer is using.

A group I worked with last term, consisting of more able Year 5s and less-able 6s read Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl and now claim that it is the best book they’ve ever read! On one occasion a Year 6 girl surprised me by saying that the book we’d just finished was the first one she’d ever got to the end of. All of these things would apply to reading the book as a whole class, of course, but I prefer the intimacy of the small group. Also, in a small school like ours we can spread out our limited budget on a wider range of texts rather than blowing it all on 14 copies of the same book.