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Intensifying Instructional Delivery During Guided Reading

Authors Mary Murray Stowe, M.Ed., and Jan Rozzelle, Ed.D.
Elementary and middle schools across the Commonwealth are selecting guided reading as a means to address students’ comprehension issues.  Why are more and more schools adopting this practice? Guided reading may support struggling readers because it:
  • offers a safe environment in the context of small-group instruction;
  • supports development of student confidence;
  • provides teacher modeling of strategies;
  • enhances student success and motivation with judicious, appropriate texts selected at an appropriate level of readability and challenge;
  • promotes an inclusive approach;
  • uses formative assessment to move students into more complex text;
  • provides opportunities for focused instruction; and
  • allows for flexibility in its approach.

Adapted from Learning Media (2000)

What Are the Goals of Guided Reading?

Guided reading is a small-group instructional approach designed to help individual readers build an effective system for processing a variety of increasingly challenging texts over time (Fountas & Pinnell, 2011; Scholastic, 2014). One goal is to help students develop and apply strategies independently, thus becoming more independent readers (Burkins & Croft, 2010).  Through guided reading, students develop skills to read a variety of texts with ease and deep understanding (Scholastic, 2014) and develop complex, high-level reading comprehension (Fountas & Pinnell, 2011).

What Are Common Components Across All Guided Reading Lessons?

Guided reading session formats consist of activities that occur before reading, processes to engage students during reading, and follow-up or reflection tasks after reading the text.  Other commonalities include small-group work, matching text to student through a leveling system, teachers listening to students read individually while other students underline text as it is being read, students being prompted through questioning, and students engaging in targeted conversation (Burkins & Croft, 2010).  Some of the sessions include word study, word solving, or decoding practices at varying levels of intensity.  Finally, varying levels of structure exist among the guided reading session plans.

Examples of Guided Reading Formats

Is Direct Instruction Possible During, or as Follow-Up to, the Guided Reading Session? 

According to Burkins and Croft (2010), guided reading lends itself to elements of direct instruction based on challenges faced during the guided reading session.  Student reading ability improves when these challenges are noted through running records or teacher observation and then addressed through a lesson carried out using the direct instruction model.  Direct instruction includes setting learning intentions, engaging the learner, modeling, directed practice, guided practice, and independent practice (Hattie, 2009; Silver, Strong, & Perini, 2009).

Philosophies vary on the relationship between direct instruction and guided reading.  While some guiding reading formats include elements of direct instruction, others consider this process as one that takes place outside of the guided reading session.

How Might a Teacher Intensify Instructional Delivery for Struggling Readers During the Guided Reading Session?

The methodologies listed in Table 1 are noted within a practice guide prepared for the Center on Instruction, entitled Intensive Interventions for Students Struggling in Reading and Mathematics: A Practice Guide (Vaughn, Wanzek, Murray, & Robert, 2012). This guide provides research-based guidance for intensifying instruction in both reading and math.  The guide discusses four considerations – integrating strategies that support the cognitive process with academic instruction, differentiating instructional delivery by making it more explicit and systematic, increasing instructional time (e.g. additional guided reading groups per day), and reducing group size.  In this article, the methodologies are described in relation to intensifying guided reading, but they may be used with any content to intensify instructional delivery.

Table 1
Intensifying Guided Reading Instruction

Method of Intensifying Instructional Delivery Example Within the Guided Reading Session
More modeling with clearer and more detailed explanations
  • Description: Demonstrating a skill that the teacher wishes the student to imitate and use.
  • Examples:
  1. When students are asked to summarize in writing a paragraph with main idea and supporting details after reading the passage, the teacher models by reading the passage, stopping to note aloud information related to the assignment, speaking aloud thoughts regarding the task, and talking through the writing of the summary.
  2. The teacher completes a written example of the expected product to show students a sample of what they are being asked to do.
More concrete learning opportunities with the use of pictures, graphics, manipulatives, or think-alouds
  • Description: Using visuals, hands-on materials, or speaking aloud thoughts as instruction is being provided.
  • Examples:
  1. When reading a passage or story about farm life (that does not explicitly describe farm life), some students in the class have never experienced or gained knowledge of rural living. The teacher uses an exemplar farm picture with a short explanation or a short video to develop background knowledge that will support student comprehension of the passage.
  2. The teacher uses a graphic organizer such as a mind map, frame, or concept map to support students in organizing information.
Tasks broken down into smaller steps
  • Description: Scaffolding skill and strategy instruction by organizing tasks into component parts, sequenced steps, or articulated prerequisite skills.
  • Examples:
  1. The teacher asks students to collect information during reading to summarize after reading. Using the Virginia English Standards of Learning or the Virginia English Progression Chart for Reading to determine the foundational skills to summarizing, the teacher provides instruction following the step-by-step (grade-by-grade) progression of skills.
  2. When noticing that unfamiliar vocabulary affects student comprehension of text during reading, the teacher provides several steps and multiple exposures to help students understand difficult or technical vocabulary.
  3. When researching an unfamiliar word is not sufficient for student comprehension, the teacher provides steps for determining a word through context. These steps may include the integration of phonics instruction within the process for decoding unfamiliar words. (Click on “steps” to view a description of this process.)
Instruction broken down into simpler segments
  • Description: Breaking instruction into simpler parts or sections.
  • Examples:
  1. The teacher chunks a required passage of two pages into segments of two paragraphs each and asks students to complete the assigned strategy at the conclusion of each segment rather than at the end of the two-page passage.
  2. When three strategies (e.g., problem solving new words on the first read, making predictions at preselected intervals on the second read, and summarizing on the third read) are required for a reading passage, the teacher asks students to apply one strategy at a time to the passage.
Step-by-step strategies
  • Description: Providing a structured, explicit, systematic program or strategy to address a specific need.
  • Examples:
  1. When students still have difficulties summarizing and require more intense intervention than breaking the task into smaller steps, the teacher employs a structured learning strategy (e.g., SIM™ Fundamentals of Paraphrasing and Summarizing) to address this need, then uses the strategy cues within context.
  2. When students need to monitor their learning during a session, the teacher provides instruction on a self-regulation strategy (e.g., goal setting strategies, self-monitoring strategies, or academic skill strategies that provide cues) and then cues students to use it during guided reading.
Temporary support gradually reduced over time
  • Description: Using the framework of I do, We do, and You do to gradually shift responsibility from teacher to student.
  • Example:  When teaching a new strategy such as reading text to locate information to answer questions, the teacher incorporates practice within the guided reading session. The teacher scaffolds that practice by modeling (I do), followed by joint teacher and student practice with feedback (We do), then independent student practice (You do). A step might be added between We do and You do, referred to as Y’all do, where peer partners practice prior to independent work.
More opportunities for response, practice, and feedback
  • Description: Offering additional opportunities for students to actively respond and practice with feedback in a systematic, structured manner.
  • Example:  The teacher provides additional practice on target skills with feedback that refers to specific task elements, goals, subgoals, and directions (Hattie & Yates, 2014). This procedure promotes a “growth mindset” toward successful completion of tasks (Dweck, 2007).


Additional resources for intensifying instruction may be found at National Center on Intensive Intervention, a practice guide – Designing and Delivering Intensive Interventions:  A Teachers’ Toolkit, an online course from the Center on Instruction, or an online Teachers’ Toolkit.


Struggling readers need support throughout instruction to become literate individuals and independent readers. Guided reading in small groups can provide effective support that emphasizes direct instruction and modeling comprehension strategies in appropriately leveled texts. Intensifying instructional delivery during guided reading sessions is possible and necessary to help many struggling become competent readers.

As Burkins and Croft (2010) noted:

Rethinking our guided reading structures within the general release of responsibility [to students] can give us more flexibility, more success and less frustration.  Certainly we can offer students different routes as they journey toward becoming literate. (p. 28)


Burkins, J. M., & Croft, M. M. (2010). Preventing misguided reading: New strategies for guided reading teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin.

Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset, the new psychology of success: How we can learn to fulfill our potential. New York:  Ballantine Books.

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2001). Guiding readers and writers, grades 3-6, Teaching comprehension, genre, and content literacy. Canada:  Pearson Education.

Fountas, I. C., & Pinnell, G. S. (2011).  The continuum of literacy learning, grades preK-8.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Hattie, J. A. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement.  Gloucestershire, UK: Routledge.

Hattie, J.A.C., & Yates, G.C.R. (2014). Using feedback to promote learning. In V. A. Benassi, C. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.), Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum (pp. 45-58). Washington, DC: Division 2, American Psychological Association.

Learning Media. (2000). Steps to guided reading: A professional development course for grades 3 and beyond.  Wellington, New Zealand:  Author.

Richardson, J. (2013). Next step guided reading in action. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Scholastic (2014). What is guided reading?

Silver, H. F., Strong, R. W., & Perini, M. J. (2009). The strategic teacher: Selecting the right research-based strategy for every lesson.  Alexandria, VA:  Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Murray, C. S., & Roberts, G. (2012). Intensive interventions for students struggling in reading and mathematics: A practice guide. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.


Jan Richardson Resources (Supporting Guided Reading Materials and Lesson Plans)

Reading Resource.Net