Early Years Guided Reading


By Jo Gray
on 22 September, 2017

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Guided Reading in the Early Years

Our last blog on Guided Reading explored the importance of teaching reading and the significance in developing a systematic approach across the school. The blog explored how to implement Guided Reading within key stage one and two and included loads of free resources. (We recommend that you read this one first!)

Following on from the previous blog, we will explore how this approach can work in the early years and the beginning of key stage one to ensure that there is a whole school approach that works on the early building blocks of reading, secures understanding, and ultimately develops a love of reading that will last a lifetime.

The importance of a child’s early education

A talk-rich, book-based environment is crucial to a child’s development. It supports the ability to understand words, to use imagination and to develop speech. The more that children experience the language-rich environment of quality books and stories, the more they will gain an interest and passion for them. Hearing stories offers so much more than just a quiet time at the end of the school day - it helps to develop spelling, listening, writing, literacy and social skills, and helps in creating a child who is ready and excited to learn.

We know that the classroom reading environment and the importance of decoding are essential within the early years, the need to teach children how to read print is crucial, but what about reading for understanding? How do we ensure that children develop the skills to infer, comprehend, predict and summarise whilst still learning how to identify what each little squiggle on the page means?

Guided Reading in early years and the start of KS1

In nursery, reading should be mainly about being fully immersed in stories; through role play and small world play, children can bring story books to life. There should be a focus on shared reading: where children join in with reading part of the book (such as a repeated phrase). Children can be taught to anticipate key events; talk about word meanings and related words; repetition and rhyme; how stories are structured; and learn how to handle books. Cohort dependent, there may be, at times, a few children who could begin a very short, informal Guided Reading session in the summer term however this is absolutely not something that has to happen.

In reception, there should be more of the same (and this should continue throughout primary school) but small group Guided Reading sessions can be introduced incrementally. When setting up Guided Reading it must start off slowly. Not all children have to start Guided Reading at the very start of reception, and not all children will be ready to start guided reading at the same time. I would consider grouping children by their readiness for small group Guided Reading sessions rather than purely on reading ability. There is no rush to have a full Guided Reading session from the onset as the need to promote a love of reading is still fundamental. You do not want to turn children off reading at the very start of their journey, so my suggestions are:

  • Have a maximum of four to five children in a group (you may want to start off with fewer)
  • Run Guided Reading sessions for only five minutes at a time
  • Slowly increase the length of time of the sessions – but only when the children are ready
  • To start with, children should not all be doing Guided Reading at the same time. Small groups with a teacher or teaching assistant, whilst the other children access continuous provision, would be most beneficial.

By the summer term, the vast majority of children should be completing a staff-led Guided Reading session (of around 10-15 minutes) once a week, some children may be able to cope with two sessions. (More on the structure of these lessons further on in this blog).

As the summer term starts, you may want other groups to complete reading-based activities with other staff/independently at the same time. Alternatively, you may have some reading skill activities in continuous provision. However, this is entirely cohort dependent and for the majority of schools it would continue into the autumn term of year one at least.

The content and structure of Guided Reading in reception

Guided Reading should not be an extension of the phonics lesson and, whilst phonically decodable books should be readily available to the children, there should be a mixture of ‘real’ books and other text types too. The sessions should:

  • Familiarise children with books, including modelling handling. Children will need to be taught about layout, structure, reading from left to right and using pictures
  • Although phonics sounds will be referenced in Guided Reading sessions, the focus of the sessions should mainly be on understanding
  • If, in phonics sessions, children are not heard reading, it would be useful to hear children read one-to-one throughout the week to allow children the opportunity to practise reading for decoding
  • Sessions should have a learning objective that provides focus for learning. If you are using One Education’s Reading Gems (see other blog) then we suggest that Guided Reading in the early years should also use appropriate Reading Gems, which we will explore in more detail further on
  • Depending on the book (or other text-type used) reading the whole book may take more than one session.

A basic structure for one session a week would be:

  1. Introduce the book and key vocabulary – This could consist of looking at the front cover, reading the title together and discussing what the book is about. Make links to children’s own experiences. Talk about the some of the vocabulary children will come across during the book – make sure to support children to use vocabulary in different ways, such as within sentences, so that they have clarity on meaning. The text chosen for guided reading doesn’t have to be a book (see our list of text types in our previous blog on guided reading).
  2. Book walk – The idea of a book walk helps the children feel comfortable with the book (or other text). It could be used to talk through the illustrations together without reading the text or to look at tricky words. If a particular letter sound matches a phonics focus, look at these words together. What might the text be about? This should be a language-rich experience that helps the children feel confident in their reading journey.
  3. Children read independently (text-type dependent) – This is a good opportunity for the teacher to listen to children individually, offering prompts if needed. This may not be in every session – there will be a focus on decoding texts within phonic lessons and hearing children to read, therefore the focus may not be on the decoding but on the understanding of a text.
  4. Responding to the text as a group – Discuss what the text is about and the children’s opinions. You should also ask focused questions about what children have read. These sessions should link to a specific reading skill. We have adapted the KS1 and KS2 content domain resources to suit Guided Reading in the early years, and therefore the skills that are focused on should cover:
  • Vocabulary (talk about the meanings of words)
  • Retrieval (find simple information)
  • Summarise (talk about the order of a text)
  • Infer (make simple inferences)
  • Predict (make simple predictions about a book).

When the children are ready for two sessions a week:

Session one:

Pre Read

The pre-read is essential to both guided reading and whole-class reading as it ensures the following day can focus on understanding. The pre-read is essential in introducing the text, exploring key vocabulary, and giving children the time to read the book or text type (where appropriate).

Session two:

Guided Read

The majority of the Guided Reading session should focus on one specific Reading Gem:

  • Vocabulary (talk about the meanings of words)
  • Retrieval (find simple information)
  • Summarise (talk about the order of a text)
  • Infer (make simple inferences)
  • Predict (make simple predictions about a book)

The reason for focusing on one specific skill is so that children will understand each skill and what it entails much more thoroughly. In the early years, the questions and discussions around the book should be verbal for most, or all, of the time. The sessions should ensure that there is time for children to discuss questions thoroughly and to enjoy book talk. The evidence collected can be used to help inform teachers to make judgements against the Early Learning Goals, or National Curriculum.

We would expect that by October half term in year one, all children would be accessing two Guided Reading sessions a week and that by the end of spring, children in year one would have moved onto the five-part structure explored in our previous blog on Guided Reading.

Using the Reading Gems to support challenging questioning in EYFS

Starting with the Reading Gem resources, we have developed early years-specific Reading Gems. This is a simplified version of the KS1 content domains, and, as with the resources for KS1 and KS2, there are examples of questions for each skill – some of these are more challenging than others. These can be adapted to suit the individual needs of the cohort.

There are also examples of planning for a Guided Reading session in early years

In conclusion

The importance of helping children to understand what they are reading is more than just about getting them ready for their journey at school. It is about helping them to fall in love with books, with stories and instilling a desire of wanting to read and wanting to learn. Guided Reading should not be seen as something that has to be done but something that is fun, that is enjoyable and that creates a passion for books, a thirst for knowledge and a desire to become a life-long learner.

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 the approach for your school, please contact Jo Gray.

These resources are part of a much larger selection available within One Education’s Reading AwardFor more information on guided reading and for more ideas on encouraging reading in school, One Education are holding an event on Creating a Reading Culture in School on 30 January, at The Holiday Inn.

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