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Improve Your Guided Reading Groups in 5 Easy Steps



Guided Reading

As a kindergarten teacher, guided reading is the most critical part of our day. In these small groups, I am able to specifically target each student and build readers. That being said, it is important to me that I find ways to engage my students and have them value guided reading the same way I do. Keep reading to see my 5 tips for easily improving guided reading groups!


  1. Carefully Name Your Guided Reading Groups

I have cringed hearing some of the names given to guided reading groups. These group names are not for you! They are not to easily distinguish between your high and low readers. Stop and read that again! Do not name your groups things like red, yellow, and green. No matter how young, kids can figure out very quickly that “red” is not the group you want to be in. The same goes for animal names like “the snails” verse “the jaguars.” C’mon people!!! You can go the animal route if you use let’s say all animals known for being fast or all animals known for being strong. Don’t let the kids find a reason to feel embarrassed by their group before they even start reading.

A fun activity is having children name their own groups. They may come up with “Peanut Butter Jelly Sprinkled Cupcakes” but hey, who cares, right?



2. Making Guided Reading Conferences Meaningful

During your one-on-one guided reading conferences, make it a point to connect with your students. This is really important. If you use conferences as a chance to talk to your students, complement their efforts, and support their struggles, they will more than likely not resist these meetings. On the flip side, if you are using these conferences to only take anecdotal notes, think about how self-conscious they can begin to feel. They know that you are sitting there taking notes about every little thing they do. 

Here are some suggestions for ways to make your guided reading conferences meaningful.

  • Before you start, engage with your student. Genuinely ask them how they are doing. Talk to them about something that they may have done recently that you are proud of.
  • Remind them of the reading strategies they can use when they get to a tricky word
  • Let them know you’ll be writing down all of the wonderful things they are doing while reading

Just these simple steps can make the world of difference for a child. You may even see improvement in their reading because there is an improvement in their comfort level.


3. Set Realistic Reading Goals with your Students

Carve out time at the end of each conference to set a goal with the child. I like to call these “guided reading next steps.” As the educator, choose what you want them to focus on for the week. Pick a guided reading strategy that they are close to mastering. Rather than telling the student what the goal is and how they can accomplish it, ask them to participate in this discussion. Have them decide best practices for the upcoming day/week. This helps to put ownership on the child. It also provides reason and clear instruction for any independent reading that will occur before you conference with them again.



4. Use Props to Guide Their Reading

Your guided reading table should feel like Mary Poppins purse. An arsenal of tools is absolutely necessary! Reading is hard stuff! Not all children will find this fun or motivating. In fact, most children will struggle at first. It is our job to help ease their frustrations while also helping them master this difficult skill. There are a few different props that I always refer to during guided reading groups.

    • Witch Fingers: If your children are struggling with one-to-one correspondence grab some witch fingers and watch the magic happen. We call them our “magic fingers” and we use them to point to each word as we say it. Eventually, you can eliminate this prop, but it is a great tool for beginning readers.

  • Highlight Strips: Support students who are struggling with tracking or get easily distracted.

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  • Reading Buddies: I saved the best for last guys! Have you tried using Beanie Babies to teach your kids how to read? By connecting key guided reading strategies to specific Beanie Babies, we can help students remember and apply these skills. For example, the eagle Beanie Baby is “Eagle Eye.” Eagle Eye represents using picture clues to figure out tricky words. Children are engaged when you use these as a tool, they are excited, and they remember the specific strategies. I have an entire blog post dedicated to this if you want to see more. You can check it out here: How Beanie Babies Taught My Students to Read.

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Little tools like this will make a huge difference with your guided reading groups. Have a space near your guided reading table to store everything so you can just pull out the props as you need them!


5. Compliment Your Struggling Readers

I’ve said it multiple times in this post…reading is hard! This is hard work that requires a lot of brainpower, lots of practice, and patience. It’s easy to compliment the students that are reading fluently, applying reading strategies correctly, and improving their reading levels. But do not ever forget about the other children. Just because they aren’t doing those things, doesn’t mean they aren’t working just as hard. Make sure to compliment their efforts. Notice the things they are trying, even if they can’t successfully apply them. Say “I love the way you knew to look at the picture when you got stuck on that word.” Or, ” I love how you tried to stretch out those sounds.” We want to acknowledge everything!


Overall, just remember that reading is a marathon, not a sprint.

So you can come back and revisit this post at any time!



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Hi, I’m Michelle! I’m a teacher, mommy, and curriculum designer from Long Island, NY. I’ve taught both general and special education, with a focus on grades pre-k through first. My passion is hands-on learning, and finding ways to make all things engaging and fun!

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