Guided Reading for ALL students

Reposted with permission from

Guided Reading is the process by which we can help students to be strategic in their reading – and improve their skills at getting information from books. It is a crucial part of balanced literacy instruction and is part of the Early Years classrooms in Australia, the National Literacy Strategy in England and Wales and is a key component of many different literacy approaches used in classrooms throughout the United States, including the Four Blocks approach.

During Guided Reading students actively participate in the group reading process – by listening and making their own conclusions about the text. Guided Reading is never about passively listening as a book is read – it is about each and every student actively listening to the book and participating in the discussion after it has been read.

Guided Reading in a classroom at Willans Hill School
Guided Reading in a classroom at Willans Hill School

An important part of Guided Reading is repeated reading of a text – every day for a week – and setting a different purpose each time the book is read. The purposes need to be broad and encourage the students to listen to the whole book. If the book being read is “Where is the Green Sheep?” by Mem Fox, broad purposes would be: “Read the book to tell me your favourite colour sheep” or “Read the book to discuss the funniest thing a sheep does”. We need to avoid narrow purposes, such as “tell me two colours of sheep” as many students would only listen for the first two colours and then their focus would move to remembering “the answer” rather than listening to the whole text. Narrow purposes also tend to be more obvious – so they don’t encourage a student to process a whole text and problem solve.

As teachers, we need to establish the purpose before reading the book each time. We tell the group the purpose – and then read the book so the students can gather the needed information. After the book has been read the group discusses the purpose. The range of purposes shows students the different sorts of information that we can get from each text. It also enables us to provide “repetition with variety” (as Linda Burkhart frequently talks about in her presentations). We get to read the book repeatedly but add variety by reading it for a different purpose each time.

When starting Guided Reading with students with complex communication needs, there are two comments that I often hear. One of the most common is that people feel the students can’t participate in Guided Reading because they don’t understand what is expected of them. My usual response is that until we expect them to understand, and give them the opportunity to participate, then they won’t be able to do it. We need to see the students we work with as readers and writers – we need to have an expectation that they CAN succeed. If we read regularly to students and have an expectation that they will listen and participate then it will happen, even if it takes time and practice. I have seen this process happen so many times – and I know it can work for readers at all stages.

The second comment is around “how” the student with complex communication needs will participate. If the student has a comprehensive Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) system then they can use that to participate in the discussions.

If they don’t have a comprehensive communication system then we need to provide supports to enable them to participate in this process. To demonstrate how this can be done I’ve added some Guided Reading Packs to my website.

These Guided Reading packs are specifically designed for early readers and writers. Each pack contains a plan with 5 guided reading purposes and some supports for these purposes to enable students with complex communication needs to participate in these sessions. The supports are made in Boardmaker but have been saved as a PDF so Boardmaker isn’t required to open them.

They also list some suggestions of writing activities and contain a link to a bookshelf of books you can suggest for Self-Selected Reading from TarHeel Reader.

Overall, it is preferable that a student with complex communication needs (CCN) has a comprehensive communication system and doesn’t need to have supports like this constructed for different sessions throughout the day. If they don’t have a comprehensive communication system, then you can use these supports as a way for them to participate while you work towards a more comprehensive communication system.

Currently, I have uploaded some Guided Reading Packs to my website to get people started. These are available for download from my Guided Reading Resources page. Current books are:

Cock-a-Moo-Moo. Illustrated by Alison Bartlett, written by Julie Dallas-Conte.

Whose Nose

Mr Potato Heads Big Adventure by Hguinta from Tar Heel Reader

Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett

Blue Hat Green Hat

And check back regularly to see as I upload more Guided Reading packs at

PS And a big thank-you to Karen Erickson from the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies for her early feedback and suggestions around these guided reading packs.

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About Jane Farrall

Jane has been working in the disability and assistive technology field for over 20 years. She has extensive practical experience in both Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and in teaching children and adults with disabilities to acquire literacy.

Jane has worked as a school and adult service based therapist and literacy teacher. She has also worked as an assistive technology specialist at both ComTEC and at Spectronics and is currently working as an independent consultant in literacy, AAC and Assistive Technology.

She has completed a Masters in Special Education focusing on literacy acquisition in children and adults without speech. Jane is a former Chairperson of AGOSCI (Australian Group on Severe Communication Impairment) and is the founder and organiser of the Big Mouth Camp, a camp for school aged students using speech generating devices and their families. You can get more information about Jane at her website

2 Responses to Guided Reading for ALL students

  1. Jodie Lee says:

    Hi Jane
    I am running guided reading lessons next year our special school has an all boy’s senior class ranging from 15 to 19 yrs. I am struggling with idea s for this class.

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