After many years of teaching in the primary grades, I’ve come to the conclusion that guided reading can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make it. In my quest to take back my free time I have turned a critical eye towards my own guided reading practices. What guided reading materials do I really need to hold effective guided reading groups?
I truly believe that setting up and starting your guided reading groups does not require hours and hours of prep or lots of purchased or created activities. Whether you are a first year teacher or a veteran teacher changing to a new grade level, I hope I can save you some time (and money) with these ideas. Don't forget to download the printable list of items mentioned in this post for easy shopping.
First and foremost, you should have leveled books. No ifs, ands, or buts – get out there and find some leveled books. Your district will most likely drive the type of leveled books you need for your own classroom. If you are super, duper lucky then your school has an amazing resource room that you can check books out from as needed. If you are not so lucky, you can find relatively inexpensive leveled books through Scholastic. My favorites can be found here. https://shop.scholastic.com/shop/en/teacherstore/product/First-Little-Readers-Guided-Reading-Level-A You could also maybe find another teacher in your grade level that you can swap books with to double your guided reading library.
For myself, I am using the Reading A-Z system since my district provides us with a yearly membership. I also use the Reading A-Z benchmark books for my running records. There are hundreds of books right at your fingertips, er, mouse…for you to automatically download and print. I like that it’s super easy to search by level and subject so I can tailor the books to my students’ tastes and what subjects we are learning. You can also get a free 14-day trial here https://www.readinga-z.com/. This is a NOT an affiliate link by the way.
I teach second grade English Language Learners who are significantly below reading level. Most of my students are pre-emergent readers. If possible speak with the teacher in the grade level below you to see an average of where the students are at for reading levels. Ask for the highest and the lowest levels and the level for the majority of the students (you will need the most titles in a level for this group). This will help guide how many books for each level you will need to start.
Number of Leveled Books Needed
Remember this is just to get you started and is based on where your students are at and what they need. I’m showing you my class which might also work for a predominately ELL first grade class or kindergarten. Plan to have no more than 7 copies of each guided reading book. Most teaching books will recommend no more than 6 students in your groups which I also follow but I like to have an extra book for myself to use as a model.
AA Level – 8 Titles
A Level – 8 Titles
B Level – 6 Titles
C Level – 3 Titles
D Level – 3 Titles
E Level – 3 Titles
If I am meeting with my lowest group daily than 8 titles for the AA readers should last me about a month or longer depending on if I am rereading the same book each week. The other levels I am meeting with only once or twice a week. This year I only had up to 2 students for levels C and above so 3 titles can last me 3 weeks.
Storing Leveled Books
As you might have guessed the storage of my leveled books is pretty minimalistic. At the moment they are all fitting into one small basket which I have labeled with bookmarks so I can quickly pull the levels I need when planning. I have not seen the need (yet) to have individual baskets for each level. I have a pretty small classroom so I need to be mindful of where I would place an extra 6 baskets when just 1 will do the trick.
If my students dictate I need to have more leveled books and my basket gets full, then I will add one more basket. But remember your groups are fluid and students in the primary grades tend to move through the levels fairly quick so they will not be seeing the same books over and over all year which allows you to have less titles of each level than you may think you need.
Attached to every single student is a great invention for tracking one-to-one print. You guessed it – it’s their finger. All joking aside, you don’t really need a ton of bells and whistles for tracking print except for this genius tool. Save yourself some money and storage space and forget the blinking finger lights, the witch fingers, and the mini wands. If you really want to use something than I suggest these pointers I have used for several years.
They are just the large Popsicle sticks with hot-glued wiggly eyes. A cute reminder of keeping their eyes on the words if you want to do something a bit cutesy. Plus they are very affordable to make a class set and don’t take a lot of time. A win-win in my book! I also use them during whole-group reading time then just collect them and use for guided reading groups as well. Or save a step and make an extra 6 to keep with your guided reading stuff and then you don’t have to go and always collect them.
Running Record Binder
Since your guided reading groups should be formed by your reading levels, it makes sense to have a running record binder as part of your guided reading materials. Making a binder doesn’t have to be too complicated either. I just run off a class set of the running record sheets from Reading A-Z and 1 copy of the matching benchmark book. I slide both the blank running records and the book into a single plastic sleeve and repeat for the other reading levels. Currently my binder only goes from AA-F but feel free to add or subtract as needed for your own class.
Alphabet charts are a necessity in any lower primary classroom and I especially like using them in guided reading to double as a word work mat. For your pre-emergent students you can use them for a quick alphabet review and for all your students you can teach them to use the mat to quickly get their alphabet letters ready for word work. Just have them lay their magnetic letters (or whatever letters you prefer to use) on top of the chart. The chart I use can be found here in my TpT store.
Letters for Word Work
Each student in the group will need a set of alphabet letters for word work. I prefer to use plastic magnetic letters over paper letter tiles. I feel they are easier for little hands to grasp and manipulate. You won’t be spending precious group minutes waiting on a student to pick up the letter to build words.
Keep in mind though that you may need extra sets on hand for double vowels or consonants. I buy mine at the local dollar store so it's not too expensive for a class set or two. Plus, they will last for years so you won't have to purchase them again the following year.
Small Whiteboards and Markers
I like to have a small whiteboard for each student. Of course you could also have them write directly on the table too and forgo the boards but I like to stick with the whiteboard surface. Since you are using whiteboards and markers have some small erasers available. Mine are simply inexpensive felt pieces cut into small rectangles. Several pieces of felt are more than enough for an entire class and some extra.
I like to use these transparent colored chips (or bingo chips) to highlight sight words on a page and stretch and count sounds in words. You could also use Elkonin boxes or have students draw the boxes on their whiteboards but I don’t find this necessary. But do what works for you, not what works for me.
I like to store each person’s chips in a small bag I found at the dollar store in the party section. This makes it super easy to pass out and each student has exactly what they need ready to go.
The above list is what I would consider my necessary items. There are always other things you will want or need depending on your lesson objectives for each small group. Some of these things might be sentence strips for dictation (although regular paper works too), vocabulary words or index cards to write them, and reading strategy charts. I also like to have reading colored overlays (see the picture below) and I just picked up a set of reading bookmarks from the Dollar Tree that have the highlighting strip in the middle. These bookmarks will be perfect for those kiddos who are ready to start reading by sweeping words but aren't quite ready to stop pointing altogether.
Planning Your Guided Reading Materials
To really decide which materials are necessary for your classroom, you should first plan out your guided reading group times. How much time you have and how often you meet with each group will guide how many materials (or sets) you need to teach those skills. I will have some posts to help you figure this out soon!
Tell me in the comments below what your absolute must-haves are for guided reading materials. I would love to hear if I am leaving anything out. Also, how are you planning on saving time when it comes to organizing your guided reading groups?