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Guided Reading

The 'simple view of reading', in the Independent review of the teaching of early reading (the Rose Report), identifies two dimensions to reading: word recognition and language comprehension. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading but this goal cannot be achieved unless children can recognise the words on the page.

There are a range of language skills and cognitive resources that play a part in developing reading comprehension, including the important roles of inference and deduction (reasoning), imagining and predicting. The explicit teaching of certain strategies such as summarising and recognising degrees of importance can support the reader's comprehension.

Reading comprehension is a highly interactive process that takes place between a reader and a text. Individual readers will bring variable levels of skills and experiences to these interactions. These include language skills, cognitive resources and world knowledge. Any act of reading occurs within a particular sociocultural and emotional context. This consists of elements such as the child's home culture, their previous experiences of reading and being read to, their expectations that reading should carry meaning, their motivation, their view of themselves as a reader, the purpose for reading the text, the cultural value placed on reading and the reading environments the reader experiences. While the purpose of this document is to concentrate on looking closely at the development of comprehension skills, this broader context and its influences should be borne in mind.

(From DCSF, 2006, Primary National Strategy)

When do we teach reading comprehension?

We want to encourage children to become enthusiastic, autonomous and thoughtful readers who not only decode the text but understand and engage with what they are reading. Teaching is central to this. Literacy lessons provide the context for direct teaching and application of reading comprehension strategies across the primary age range. The strategies can be applied to picture books as well as more complex texts. The wider reading environment in the classroom and school provides further opportunities for extensive reading.

Shared reading

Demonstrate how to use a range of comprehension strategies:

  • model active engagement with the text, for example rehearsing prior knowledge, generating mental images,
  • making connections with other texts;
  • plan opportunities for children to interact and collaborate, for example ask ‘why’ questions, make comparisons between texts;
  • demonstrate how fluent readers monitor and clarify their understanding, for example encourage reciprocal teaching;
  • plan opportunities to interpret and respond to the text, for example teach strategies for using inference and deduction.

Plan direct instruction so that children can:

  • develop a wider vocabulary;
  • understand why words are spelt in a particular way;
  • learn to read and spell an increasing number of words by sight.

Guided Reading

Support children as they:

  • apply word level learning to decode words;
  • actively engage with the text;
  • monitor their own understanding and prompt them to utilise different strategies when solving reading problems.

Scaffold opportunities for children to use different reading comprehension strategies, for example using the strategy modelled in the shared reading session and applying it to a new text. Encourage children to explain how they solved a word problem. Encourage personal response and reflection.

Independent Reading

Expect children to:

  • use word level learning independently;
  • monitor their own understanding and choose an appropriate strategy when necessary;
  • engage with and respond to texts, for example in a reading journal.

The Wider Reading Environment

Encourage extensive reading:

  • ensure regular opportunities for independent, extended reading;
  • provide access to a wide range of quality reading materials;
  • provide opportunities and resources to read for a range of purposes across the curriculum;
  • plan a read aloud programme for all ages;
  • provide story props, puppets and artefacts for retelling stories;
  • plan opportunities for children to use the class collections and the school library;
  • promote reading at home;
  • organise a regular author focus in each class;
  • organise special events, for example book weeks, author visits, storytellers, book sales, book awards, etc.
  • celebrate personal reading achievements, e.g. book awards, reading heroes and advocates, displays, etc.

(From DfES, 2005, Understanding Reading Comprehension 1)

Children are grouped on the basis of their reading ability. Each child has their own copy of the text, chosen to match the group’s reading level. The teacher selects a text which is at ‘instructional level’ 90–94% accuracy). This means that the children should have difficulty with no more than one word in ten, so that comprehension is maintained and reading does not become a struggle. The reading level appropriate for the group and the movement of children between groups will be decided by the teacher, based on continual assessment.

The teacher identifies specific reading strategies on which to focus, determined by the needs of the children and evidence from previous sessions. The adult leads the session, preparing the children for reading, reinforcing reading strategies, giving focused attention to individuals as they read independently and guiding response to the text. The aim of every Guided Reading session is to encourage and extend independent reading skills.

Teaching Sequence for Guided Reading

Research suggests that reading comprehension development can be improved through regular use of specific strategies. These strategies are designed to actively involve the child with the text to create meaning. Below is a list of strategies to support readers in understanding, responding to and reflecting on texts. Some will be more appropriate as pre-reading strategies, others used during guided reading sessions and some may be used as post-reading activities.

Activating prior knowledge

There are many ways of encouraging children to bring to the forefront of their minds knowledge that relates to the text they are about to read or are reading:

  • gathering ideas around the title, chapter heading, picture on the front cover (these can be written, oral or drawn)
  • word association chain around key word in title or an image in the text;
  • asking for memories around key word in a title or an artefact (This reminds me of……it makes me think of….);
  • filling in a mind-mapping, concept mapping or other grids/pro forma (e.g. the first column of a KWL grid
  • what do you already know, what do you want to find out, what have you learnt?)

Prediction/Group Prediction

  • involves discussing a text with a teacher or a reading partner, to encourage reasoning whilst reading and to test predictions;
  • the children read the text a section at a time and as they do so the teacher encourages them to explain what
  • is happening, predict what will happen next, predict how it will end, revise their earlier predictions in the light of new evidence found in the text. The children should offer evidence for their hypothesis. This can be oral, or the children could make written predictions/revisions in a reading journal;
  • prediction is one of a group of strategies, including cloze procedure, summarising, sequencing, comparing texts and alternative representations. These are known collectively as Directed Activities Related to Text (DARTS), which were developed by Lunzer and Gardner in the 1980s.

Constructing Images (visualising, drawing, drama)

Creating visual images is claimed to improve comprehension by linking prior experiences to the new idea thus building richer schemas;

  • the teacher models the process by reading aloud and talking about any associations that come to mind and asking the children to picture it. Children are the encouraged to do the same for other passages and verbalise this process to a partner. Can be used with both fiction and non-fiction texts;
  • during and after reading children can sketch what they see, undertake freeze frames of key moments in a story and make models based on the text.


  • Effective summarising involves children evaluating a text and deciding which elements of it are most significant;
  • model skim reading a text. Then encourage skim reading or re-reading and ask for oral summaries;
    go through a text paragraph by paragraph highlighting the key sentence/sentences in each;
  • children can be asked to write brief summaries at the end of each chapter outlining key events and further insights into character and plot;
  • summarise by restructuring key information contained in a text into a non-prose form. It may involve children drawing a matrix, a tree diagram, a semantic map/word web, a labelled picture or a retrieval chart.


  • Discussion - class or group focused discussion with the aim of clarifying understanding. Such discussion goes beyond simple recall questions into inference and deduction.
  • Talk to the Author - a text is provided (with wide margins). Questions to the author are written in the margin, for example “Who was this?” Why did this happen?” The teacher models the process initially and then the children try. It is claimed that it encourages children to engage with the text and helps them to differentiate between fact and opinion, as well as helping them search for bias.

Story Grammar/Text Structure Analysis

As we listen to and read stories so, our knowledge about stories grows and we can draw on this to help us predict and understand what is happening, and is likely to happen in new stories. This accumulating knowledge of story texts develops in us a set of expectations for the structure of a story, helps us facilitate our understanding of stories and improves our memory/recall of a story. This gave rise to several classroom strategies, such as story mapping and story structure charts.


  • Story maps/story shapes/story charts – Children draw a “map” of the events in a story. This helps them to recall and retell the story. The particular structure of a story, such as circular or an “A to B” journey can also be made explicit via story mapping.


  • Structural organisers - Recognising the structure of non-fiction texts and then mapping the content onto various organiser grids e.g. point/evidence grid, argument/ counterargument list, cause/effect grid.

Interpretive strategies

These encourage the reader to relate to, identify with or respond to a text.

Character Development

Imagining how a character might feel and identifying with them. There are many strategies that require children to make explicit their response to and knowledge of a character. These include;

  • feeling graphs or map showing how emotions develop throughout the story;
  • hot seating;
  • TV interviews. Compile a list of questions to ask if you were to interview the character. This can be combined with hot seating and the interview conducted with the “character”;
  • drawing character and surrounding the drawing with phrases from the text;
  • writing bubbles for characters at key moments in the text when they don’t actually speak;
  • relationship maps between different characters with evidence from text;
  • relationship grid with each character listed along the top and down the side. Each cell represents a
  • relationship to be explored;
  • speculating on actions and motives e.g. asking why did … what if…?;
  • character emotions register. This involves creating a 5-point emotions scale with pupils for the possible range of reactions at certain specific points in the story (for example from “mildly irritated” to“ incandescent with rage”). Pupils then rate characters on the scale.

Identifying themes/information

  • the author’s chair: child takes on the role of the author, answering questions about the book and justifying what “they” have written;
  • draw a diagram, grid, flow chart etc. to show information;
  • draw a cartoon/story board identifying 4/5 main points from story or information;
  • highlight words, phrases which link together to build a picture of character or mood or setting etc.;
  • write a blurb for the book;
  • identify facts and opinion and consider how they are woven together;
  • make a ‘what is important’ grid.

Reading for Multiple Meanings

  • justify the actions of a villain;
  • retell a scene from the point of view of a minor character within it;
  • rank characters according to criteria e.g. most powerful to least powerful, kindest to meanest. Do different criteria give different insights?
  • problem solving. Stop at the point where a character faces a problem or dilemma. List alternative suggestions from the group. Consider the consequences of each suggestion. Arrive at a group decision.
  • identify and discuss any differences or additional information to be found between the text and illustrations;
  • give the text only or pictures from a multi-layered picture book and ask the children to tell the story/read the
  • prose story before reading the complete book. Discuss any changes in their perceptions and responses.

Looking for/challenging a consistent point of view

  • genre exchange – ask children to transpose something from one written form they have just read to another;
  • criteria rating certain scenes at a crucial point – most likely to happen/least likely to happen, most likely to be true/least likely to be true;
  • story comparison charts. Several versions of a story are read (e.g. Cinderella tales) and a comparative chart is completed.

Relating Texts To Personal Experience

  • say what they would have done at certain points in the story;
  • choose the funniest, scariest, most interesting moment from the story or information book. Justify their choice;
  • response journals (ongoing throughout the reading of long books);
  • relate to other books by the same author or on same topic, read by the group or individual. Discuss similarities or differences.

Semantic strategies

  • Exploring the relationship between words and their meanings:
  • previewing vocabulary – teacher provides a list of words
  • related to the book or topic and meanings discussed before reading;
  • building banks of new words – as children read they mark or note on post-its or in vocabulary journals any new words they are unsure of. After reading, the group discusses ways of working out the meaning (e.g. root, morphology etc.). Once a word is understood children note its meaning. They could add a visual cue to remind them;
  • word tracker/oral thesaurus – children track particular groups of words/phrases (e.g. appearance words). They list these and suggest alternatives;
  • making dictionaries and glossaries – children can track words whose meanings are unclear (e.g., technical words, dialect words, slang etc.). They then investigate the meanings and create text specific dictionaries or glossaries.

The Early Reading Experience

Alongside the effective teaching of phonics there are many other elements in learning to read that are essential in supporting children in their journey to becoming competent readers. Such as;

  • High quality book corners that are accessible, owned and loved by children
  • Using core books to plan for children’s interests and class topics
  • Valuing non-fiction books
  • Having enthusiastic staff who share their excitement of books with children
  • Having books available in all areas of the classroom
  • Having opportunities for independent writing in all areas of the classroom
  • Having well planned guided reading and writing sessions on a regular basis which aim to teach the important elements of reading and writing
  • Using story props, sacks and boxes to enhance core books
  • Having well planned shared reading sessions that all practitioners are confident to take part in
  • Opportunities for children to learn ‘reading behaviours’, for example, the recognition that print conveys meaning, the left to right directionality of English text, the purpose of punctuation
  • Involving parents in understanding the importance of early literacy though parents workshops, newsletters etc.
  • Opportunities for high quality adult- child interactions and sustained shared thinking to give children the extended vocabulary with which to write creatively
  • Encouraging children to become aware of authors by visiting their local libraries and having visiting authors coming in to the classroom.
  • Listening to a variety of genres, for example, non-fiction, poems, taped stories, rhymes etc.
  • Opportunities to retell and to act out stories using props and story maps.
  • Activities to help develop a sense of rhythm.

Children need a range of opportunities to develop as fluent, enthusiastic and critical readers. A balanced reading experience should include a range of the following throughout the day/week:

Hearing Books Read Aloud

Reading aloud to children for their pleasure and interest should build enthusiasm and enjoyment. Children should experience a range of different genres throughout the week including stories, rhymes, poems and non-fiction. It serves as an important step towards independent reading and introduces children to different styles of writing, to new vocabulary and tunes them in to book language.

Shared Reading

This provides opportunities for the practitioner to model fluent, expressive text reading to the whole class and to demonstrate book behaviours, for example directionality of print, the function of punctuation, reinforcing phonemes, CVC words and high frequency words which have been previously taught in the discrete phonics session. Shared reading sessions also provide an opportunity to explain and explore new vocabulary, which in turn helps to develop comprehension. These sessions are crucial for children learning English as an additional language, who are often able to decode new words but may not understand their meaning.

Guided Reading

‘This extends the opportunities provided by shared reading with a sharp focus on the targeted needs of a particular group with similar reading abilities and needs, including vocabulary development.’ (Early Reading CPD resource- The National Strategies). At the earliest stages of guided reading it is important to carry on with teaching ‘book behaviours’. As the child begins to apply phonic knowledge, texts should be selected with some words that can be decoded using existing knowledge (90%) and some that provide a degree of challenge (10%). Careful assessment of children during the discrete phonics session and through observations of children engaged in all areas of CLLD will help the practitioner plan for guided reading. A guided reading session which focuses on word recognition could be centred around reading a sentence or caption from a familiar story, or from a simple recipe written out for a cooking activity. Alternatively a session which focuses on comprehension may use real objects or story props to stimulate conversation and the teaching of new vocabulary.

Speaking and Listening Sessions

It is important for practitioners to support children’s development in communication, speaking and listening, as good speaking and listening skills give children confidence in reading and writing. If children become familiar with a range of core texts and are able to retell them confidently, they will be able to apply these skills to reading unfamiliar texts. Knowledge of book language and the way that stories are sequenced also helps children with their creative writing skills.

Phonological Awareness

Developing children’s ability to tune into sounds is a crucial element of reading. If children are able to distinguish between sounds in words and are aware of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration, this will help with reading skills. It is important that children are familiar with a wide range of rhymes and rhyming books. Instrument sessions will also support children to develop phonological awareness by helping them to develop a sense of rhythm through clapping along to a nursery rhyme or clapping beats in a name. This will help children when they need to break down long words into units or syllables.

Encouraging the Development of Reading throughout the Learning Environment

In a high quality EYFS learning environment there should a wide range of opportunities to apply reading skills, for example: alphabet mats, alphabet charts, name cards placed in the writing corner or in the ICT area, print in the environment, food packaging, clearly labelled resources and questions on displays and in the learning environment. This should continue in the outdoor environment with signs for role play areas, road signs, a book area or a reading tent.

Home Reading

It is important to have well-resourced home reading books. This will encourage parents to read with their children at home, to reinforce the development of their reading skills. Parents can be informed about early reading and writing through parents workshops and by having a shared dialogue through reading diaries. A range of books can be sent home, including core books, library books and guided reading/scheme books. Many EYFS classrooms encourage parents to come and read with their children at the beginning or end of the day or invite parents in to carry out story sessions in their home language.

(From The Early Reading Experience in the Early Years Foundation Stage, 2011)

EYFS Profile Exemplification

Document outlining the level of learning and development expected by the end of the EYFS in reading. Examples of reading are provided along with observations and commentaries.

Below shows the overarching statements defining the Assessment Focuses and what they mean in practical term in the classroom. The statements are generic so the level-specific indicators need to be accessed on the APP guideline sheets.

AF1 Use a range of strategies including accurate decoding of text, to read for meaning

  • Most prominence in describing the early stages of reading.
  • Evidence comes from listening to pupils read aloud and observing how they decode words to make meaning from texts.
  • Reading aloud with fluency, understanding and expression also involves taking note of punctuation and other written language conventions.

AF2 Understand, describe, select or retrieve information, events or ideas from texts and use quotation and reference to text

  • Applies to all levels of reading and all kinds of texts.
  • Pupils’ skills in retrieving information from texts are shown in different ways, from comments to paraphrase or retellings to summary and synthesis.
  • At the highest levels, work in AF2 demonstrates critical insights based on close reading, merging with AF3.

AF3 Deduce, infer or interpret information, events or ideas from texts

  • Vital to making progress in reading and underpins attainment across all the AFs.
  • Opportunities to develop inferential skills come from engagement with whole texts that challenge thinking and encourage different interpretations.
  • Classroom discussions about books and open-ended questions from pupils as well as teachers provide effective evidence for this assessment focus.

AF4 Identify and comment on the structure and organisation of texts, including grammatical and presentational features at text level

  • Makes most sense in relation to whole texts so that pupils can explain what is significant about the overall shape and structure of what they are reading.
  • Work on the grammar of texts encourages pupils to explore how different elements hang together and contribute to their distinctiveness.
  • This reading assessment focus is the counterpart of AFs 3 and 4 in writing.

AF5 Explain and comment on writers’ uses of language, including grammatical and literary features at word and sentence level

  • Applies to information as well as fiction texts: deliberately crafted language can be found in many different forms of writing.
  • Pupils may learn to spot specific features in texts but attainment in this AF depends on being able to explain why particular usages are effective and what they mean.
  • Evidence for this assessment focus sometimes comes from comparative work on a range of texts or different treatments of the same topic.

AF6 Identify and comment on writers’ purposes and viewpoints and the overall effect of the text on the reader

  • Two strands: understanding that all texts have a point of view, and that this can impact on readers’ responses.
  • At the most basic level, pupils detect overt purposes and express personal likes and dislikes.
  • Progression in AF6 is about developing evaluative skills supported by an analytic vocabulary.

AF7 Relate texts to their social, cultural and historical contexts and literary traditions

  • Demands engagement with a wide repertoire of reading.
  • Even young readers can talk about some of the ways that texts are the same or different from one another.
  • Working with texts from different cultures is one way of exploring the significance of context on what is written; another is comparing books from different times, in different genres or media.