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What is Guided Reading? (Part 2: Selecting a book)

   The six steps of a guided reading lesson:

   1. Assess each student’s reading level

   2. Select a book for the group

   3. Provide students with an overview or a book introduction

   4. Have all students read the book (with help from the teacher)   

   5. Discuss the story

   6. Do one or two follow-up teaching points

Michele Dufresne

In my previous post, I talked about assessing students to help you make decisions about creating leveled groups for guided reading. Here I will discuss the next step – selecting a book for the group.

You will need multiple copies of the same book. If you are lucky, you work in a school with a book closet where teachers share resources and have a wide array of books to pick from. It is important to use books from a variety of publishers and genres. Students love to read stories about familiar characters, so I recommend finding and using books where the characters show up in more than one book. For example the series of stories about Oliver the Cat by Will Renton, Sugar and Nutmeg (two adorable pug dogs) by Susie Piper, or Little Knight, written by me, would work well. Use folk tales, fantasy, and realistic fiction and don’t forget to use lots of nonfiction. 

If you do not have access to a book closet or multiple copies of books, see if you can share singles copies of books with other teachers in your building. I am willing to bet there are lots of books in teachers' classrooms gathering dust. Ask your principal about starting a literacy closet where teachers can pool books in one place and share them.  

In the past, I have taken old basal readers and cut out good stories and made covers when I did not have enough books to use. You can find books online that can be downloaded, or make books by using BookBuilder software. However, children do need real books.

Here are some things to consider when selecting a book to use:

1. Look for a book that will appeal to the students. The story should have a plot and not be boring. Even a simple level A book can be fun and engaging.

2. If the students in your group are novice readers, consider a book's text features carefully. Is the font large and clear? I prefer font that is clean and crisp with no fancy swirls or typeset letters. Check the spacing between the words. It is very difficult for beginners to read books with small print that is close together.


3. Look at the pictures. Are the illustrations or the photos high quality? Do the pictures support the meaning of the story or will they lead to confusion?

4. Consider the vocabulary in the book. It is unhelpful to have too many new words in each new book. There should be only a few challenges.

5. Look at the language structure. Is there two much repetition? Very repetitious text can be helpful at a level A or B, but will cause children not to look at the print if it continues up the text levels. (I have had children say, “Look I can read this with my eyes closed!” This is not a good message to send to children. Reading requires looking at the print!)

6. Good books for guided reading are NOT phonics controlled. There is nothing ickier (in my opinion) than a story that has been created around a short vowel sound, for example. These kinds of books do not help students build a strong processing system.

7. Consider the concepts in the book. Will they be familiar or can they be made familiar through an introduction? That doesn’t mean you must stay away from things the students do not know. Just have a plan for how to address new concepts.

8. Don’t assume the level the publisher gave the books is correct. Look at the book carefully and think about how it compares to other books the group has been reading successfully.

More guided reading resources

The video below, produced by the Reading Recovery Council of North America, does a terrific job of explaining the process teachers should use for selecting a book for guided reading. This video also discusses planning the book introduction to the story, which I will go into more detail in my next post. 

If you need help leveling books, there are many resources on the web. You can type in most trade book names and the search term "guided reading level" into Google and the guided reading level will often pop up in the search. Most publishers list the levels of their books on their websites. (The Pioneer Valley Books Level List is sortable by level title, code, or word count.)

Fountas and Pinnell have published a book called Matching Books to Readers. They also have a fee-based Leveled List Database.

The BEST resource for leveling books at Levels A-K (Levels 1-20) comes from RRCNA. It is free if you are a member (and worth the membership just for this resource). The books are leveled with Reading Recovery levels but this is very easy to translate into guided reading levels.

Pioneer Valley Books has a chart that will help your translate Reading Recovery levels to Guided Reading levels.

So now that you have just the right book it is time to start the lesson. In my next post, I will discuss planning and doing a book introduction before the students read the book.

Michèle Dufresne is author of many Pioneer Valley Books  early readers (including the Bella and Rosie series), Word Solvers (Heinemann), and an early literacy and literacy intervention consultant.

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