Guided Reading Content Domains [FREE RESOURCES]

Reading has been high on the list of priorities for many schools since the new National Curriculum 2014; if reading wasn't on your school’s radar in 2014 with the increased curriculum standards, it certainly was after the KS2 SATs reading paper in 2016.

By Jo Gray on 02 Jun 2017

Reading has been high on the list of priorities for many schools since the new National Curriculum 2014; if reading wasn't on your school’s radar in 2014 with the increased curriculum standards, it certainly was after the KS2 SATs reading paper in 2016.

The national average was much lower than it had been in previous years, with only 66% of children receiving the expected standard in reading. This has led to many schools focusing on improving inferencing skills this year, while others have used it as an opportunity to change their whole school approach to reading – embedding a love of books along with improving reading skills. For all children to achieve their full potential, we need to think carefully about the whole school reading curriculum; does it help teach the skills needed to decode, understand, and enjoy books?

Despite knowing how important the teaching of reading is, it can feel difficult to do; it can feel like a burden to fit into an already overloaded curriculum; and it can seem hard to develop a systematic approach across the school. However, if a love of reading is to be embedded then a consistent, whole school approach is vital. One approach to this is to use an adaptable process to teaching reading which, due to the focus being on the skills and the enjoyment of reading, can suit either a carousel Guided Reading structure or a whole class reading lesson.


Something which has managed to sneak under the radar for many schools are the content domains, which the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) introduced in 2014. Although these are not a replacement for the assessment focuses, and should not replace the content from the National Curriculum, these are used for writing and marking the end of KS1 and KS2 SATs.

Using the content domains as an underlying approach, whilst having a teaching process that focuses on the skills of understanding what is being read and creating a love of books, ensures that children have skills that last beyond school. It also promotes a passion for reading, a thirst for knowledge and a love for learning which lasts a lifetime.

Content domains for KS1 and KS2

Our analysis of the KS2 reading paper explores the way in which the types of questions relate to each content domain within the test. However, the approach to the teaching of reading should be more than just the skills required to get children through the test. These skills are fundamental to understanding what is being read, and will always be beneficial to children regardless of curriculum changes. Despite any future rewording of the ‘Content Domains’ the fundamental skills will remain.


Simply, the content domains are statements that break down the approach to reading into aspects in which children should become skilled. Regardless of what they are called, any similar structure that explores background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, literacy knowledge, and word recognition, will help to ensure that our children develop a clear understanding of the different aspects of reading.

This diagram of the ‘Reading Ropes’ explains it clearly:

The image to the side clearly explains the reasons why reading cannot only focus on one specific aspect. The approach that One Education Literacy have developed ensures that all aspects of the content domains are referred to in a child-friendly way. Each Content Domain has an image and a colour associated with it so that children can make those links and, as they become confident in understanding each domain, they can identify which skills to use.


In addition to the content domains, there is also the word recognition element of reading. This should run parallel to the areas discussed above, especially within KS1, yet this is dependent on the child and should be in line with the way you teach daily, systematic phonics. We will explore this topic in greater detail in a future blog.


To help with the process of answering questions based upon what is being read, we developed Content Domain ladders for each Content Domain and for both KS1 and KS2. The ladders help children to identify the steps in questions relating to each type of Content Domain and provide them with a process to follow. Most of us do this automatically when reading, and we don't necessarily explicitly think about the differences in processes for each type of question. The example below relates to the Content Domain 2c), ‘summarise main ideas from more than one paragraph’ and has been written with the help of year six children who tested the process to ensure that it worked for them.

Next, we looked at the type of questions that children may come across and produced question stems, a pro forma and question mats to assist teachers with their planning.

We also developed a clear structure that can be used either for carousel lessons or whole class guided reading. (For whole class you would take the suggested timetable for group one and use this structure as a whole class). Personally, I prefer carousel as I can ensure the questions are specifically tailored to the level for the children I am working with and the text can be simplified for children with additional needs. It also gives me time to really understand where children are and to work with them in a small group to discuss books and develop that passion for reading.

I would, however, not advocate using five different texts and planning five different sessions (if only for your own sanity!) Using our resources, I have seen both, whole class and carousel, work well in a range of schools. The decision is ultimately yours and, most importantly, your cohort (it might change year on year depending on the children in your class).

Each session is explained in further detail below and all resources can be downloaded free of charge at the end of this blog (as can the reasons for each image choice associated with the content domains!)


The pre-read is essential to both guided reading and whole class reading as it ensures the following day, which focuses on understanding, isn't spent reading the text and sticking a couple of questions onto the end of the session to cover comprehension – that approach will not make great readers. Instead, using the pre-read to introduce the text, to explore key vocabulary, and to discuss anything that is not understood, will mean that children will have a good foundation to explore the book further within the next session. The pre-read can be done independently (once modelled) or with a teaching assistant. The main focus of the session would be prediction (1e/2e) and understanding word meaning (1a/2a). You might start by asking:

  1. From the front cover, what do you think the book will be about? (1e/2e)

As an open ended response question, this allows children to give their own opinion and try to link it to something that they already know and understand. In order to be able to infer well, we need background knowledge to form some understanding of the topic we are reading about. The pre-read gives children the opportunity to explore this.

  1. Have you read any books that you think are similar? (2h)

A short response question will draw the children into making links with what they have already read and give children the opportunity to draw upon information that they know whilst reading to make connections.

  1. Vocabulary check (1a/2a)

Rather than asking children to find words that they don't understand, for the pre-read it is best to identify the words which children may struggle with before the session and then discuss these words with the children. It is a good opportunity to check that children know what specific words mean, as well as to introduce new vocabulary. For younger children, this is also the opportunity to rehearse strategies for reading words that they are not familiar with. There is a purpose in trying to encourage children to work out what specific words mean without your input, but, if children are to increase their understanding accurately (and from the end of key stage tests we know they need to) then they need to be taught what the words means. If children are working independently then a matching activity may help here, answers can be discussed in the session the following day. Understanding word meaning (1a/2a) should be explored each week as it is vital that children increase their repertoire of vocabulary to become more confident readers.

  1. Read the text (extract, book, poem, leaflet, menu, song lyrics etc.)

As with the traditional approach to guided reading, allow children to read at their own pace and, if an adult is with the group, they should hear each child read part of the text. Whilst children are reading they should write down any questions that they may have about the book. This helps children to become aware of the questions they pose to themselves when reading for meaning – something which competent readers do automatically.


The Guided Reading session should be led by a teacher. Each session should start with a short recap of the pre-read session to reactivate prior learning and make links. You might start by asking the children to:

Explore the vocabulary identified in the pre-read:

  1. Help children to understand the words that they were unsure of by using various techniques such as reading within context, discussion, dictionaries, etc. This links to vocabulary and the understanding of word meaning.
  2. Discuss with children any words that they identified to be key/central to the text and why.

Discuss the questions that the children have created:

  1. Have any questions been asked more than once by different children? If so, would it help the children’s understanding if it is discussed straight away, or will the answer become clear as the children read more? (This is where your knowledge of the cohort and of the text is vital).
  2. Can we answer any of the questions that have been asked? This is to give ownership to the children’s learning and to ensure that children put value on the day before.
  3. Can the children identify what type of questions are being asked? How can we identify them and how can we answer them? (Use of Content Domain ladders where needed).

The majority of the Guided Reading session should focus on one specific Content Domain. Inferencing (1d/2d) is especially important and should be the focus at least every third week. The other domains should be weighted equally and rotated across the sessions. The sessions should ensure that there is time for children to discuss questions thoroughly and to enjoy the book talk. A tracking sheet should be used to record children’s responses and inform the ongoing formative assessment. This assessment should be relevant to you, as the class teacher, and recorded in a way that helps to inform your judgements.

For more information on the assessment of reading and resources to help, the One Education Reading Award can provide you with formative assessment sheets along with many more useful reading resources.

Within the guided reading session, there should also be the opportunity for the teacher to model how to write an answer to the question being asked. This may also include modelling the use of the Content Domain ladders. The need for questions to be modelled allows children to discuss the questions without worrying about recording their answers, whilst having exposure to high quality modelling of comprehension at least once a week for their whole primary school education.

The types of questions need to be mixed, regardless of the focus Content Domain, with weighting spread to expose children to a mixture of different types of questions all the way through their primary school education (and not just in test type situations). Types of questions from end of KS2 tests, and how often they occur are represented below, and are also on the planning pro forma which is free to download at the end of this blog.

Examples of a variety of question types, all focusing on the inferencing content domain (1d/2d) can be seen below. These are based on Esio Trot By Roald Dahl for a year three class. The same questions were used for middle and higher attaining children, however, the lesson would have been adapted for lower attaining children. Some questions have been specifically indicated as being intended for higher attaining children. This is to ensure that teachers do not feel that they have to plan for five separate texts within one week. That amount of workload is unmanageable, and, unless you have an extremely vast range of abilities within one cohort, there is no need to produce five separate lesson plans for Guided Reading, as your knowledge of your children will ensure that you can address this as you work with them.

  1. What is Mr. Hoppy’s second love? How do you know?
  2. Why do you think Mr. Hoppy kept it to himself?
  3. Explain why you think the distance to Mrs. Silver’s balcony felt ‘like a million miles.’
  4. Find and copy the phrase that means Mr. Hoppy was scared to invite Mrs. Silver for a cup of tea.
  5. Are these statements true or false? (More Able – How do you know)
Mr. Hoppy was confident to talk to Mrs. Silver True / False How do you know? More Able
Mrs. Silver is an old lady True / False How do you know? More Able
The balcony of Mrs. Silver is close to Mr. Hoppy's balcony True / False How do you know? More Able


What is a Reading Gem?

The next day, children independently answer questions on the same Content Domain that was modelled the day before. Although the same text should be used, the questions should be different to those asked the previous day. Ideally, these can be presented to children as a single Reading Gem.

If you are lucky enough to have a third adult in the room then verbal feedback is extremely important. Alternatively, a five minute session at the end of the week to review the mat is extremely beneficial as the feedback will help children to understand how well they are doing and what they can do to improve further. This approach can also be taken in a whole class Guided Reading session.


Following on from this, children can then be given the opportunity to answer questions independently on all of the Content Domains, so that children are continuously exposed to the full range. Again, the same text should be used and these should be presented to children as a Reading Chest.


Reading for pleasure should underpin all of the teaching and learning within every session; books should be chosen based upon the interests and passion of the cohort, children should have a say about the books that they read and the ‘Rights of the Reader’ should be adhered to (Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac). The teaching of reading does not have to be based on a whole book, however, it is vital that the teacher has had the time to read and understand whatever text is used beforehand. There is no shortcut to this part of teaching reading; to teach it well, the text must be read in advance.

Examples of text could include:

  • An extract from the whole class reading material
  • An extract of a novel based on a current topic or interest (though please don’t choose a book purely because it matches your science topic etc)
  • A different extract from the same text for a number of weeks
  • A poem
  • A leaflet
  • A newspaper article
  • Song lyrics
  • Magazines
  • Comics
  • An advert


There is no need for schools to be using book banded books for Guided Reading; there are so many fantastic books out there. A few ideas of how to keep up to date with children’s literature are outlined below:

Book reviews- We have an ever growing collection of book reviews here)

Twitter (@Mat_at_brookes, @smithsmm and @MrJClements are all recommended and will all be talking passionately about books at #Litconf17). Take a look at the Literacy Conference 2019 and book your early bird tickets now!

Book shops Peters are a fantastic book shop; their librarians read every single book that goes onto their shop floor and they will help you source books to meet your needs.

Ask the childrencan they recommend any great books?

Book clubs for children’s literature - There will be several free book clubs running throughout the next academic year in association with Open University and UKLA. Please email Jo Gray if you are interested in joining one of these groups as places are limited.

It is also essential that children get the opportunity to read a text of their own choice, therefore the final session within the weekly reading timetable is just for this – reading. Giving children the opportunity to read a book within the classroom may be the tiny spark that ignites a passion, inspiring a child to go home and finish that book, to find another book and to continue to read. The most recent survey from the NLT indicated that only 44.8% of children read outside of class (NLT Manchester 2016) so we need to give children as many opportunities as we can to change this.

Teaching a child to understand what is being read is much easier if children have a passion for reading; many schools have focused upon this and their love of reading is evident as soon as you step into their school – these are often the schools who allow reading for pleasure as a Guided Reading activity because they understand the value it brings. These are the schools where children engage with reading for pleasure sessions because they are excited to read, and these are the schools where children vividly talk about books and eagerly recommend them to their peers. It isn’t forced, it isn’t fake, it is a natural response to the environment that has been created by passionate teachers who understand the importance of having a love for books.

In conclusion:

The teaching of reading is essential. It is more than just the end of key stage tests. It is a way of helping children to spark a passion for books, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to become a life-long learner. The curriculum content that teachers are required to cover is vast, but if a consistent, thorough approach to reading is embedded across the school, it can have a profound impact on the entire curriculum.

To download all of the resources mentioned in this blog, simply input your name and email address in the form below. Many of the resources can be edited so that the approach works for you and your school. If you would like advice on how to adapt an approach like this for your school, please contact Jo Gray.

These resources are part of a much larger selection available within One Education’s Reading Award.

Download all the free resources in this blog


Jo Gray is a primary school literacy specialist who has experience of working in schools across Greater Manchester and the North West, including schools in Trafford, Warrington, Manchester City Centre, Oldham and Bradford.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.

Go back

Other news & Blogs

Share post

Want to know more?

Contact Us

Find us:
Universal Square,
Devonshire St N,
M12 6JH
Main Contact:
0161 276 0160
One Education Music:
0844 967 1116
One Education ICT:
0844 967 1113