What’s Wrong With This Guided Reading Lesson?

Over the past thirty years, guided reading has been considered one of the most important parts of balanced literacy instruction.  Guided reading allows a teacher to meet with small groups and “meet the varying instructional needs of all the students in the classroom, enabling them to greatly expand their reading powers (Ianquita, 2008, p. 414).  Teachers create dynamic, flexible groups and pick texts that help scaffold specific reading needs of the students.  The goal of guided reading is to help readers “develop a self extending system of reading” (Ianquita, 2008, p. 414) so that they can incorporate various strategies independently while they are reading.

The goal of guided reading is to help students build their reading power—to build a network of strategic actions for processing texts (Fountas and Pinnell, 2012, p. 272).

The teacher has a job of prompting and scaffolding the students so that they can eventually implement this self extending system.

After watching Courtney Morofuji Chan’s second grade guided reading lesson, I decided to focus on two key components of guided reading that I find particularly important to help analyze her lesson.  The first will come from Fountas and Pinnell’s Network of Processing Systems for Reading, where I will discuss thinking beyond the text and making connections (Fountas and Pinnell, 2012, p. 273).   I will also explore the teacher prompts that Chan uses in the video, and the importance of explicitly focusing on one teaching point during the guided reading lesson to make instruction more effective.

Chan has four students in her guided reading group.  She begins the lesson by showing the students the front cover of the story and telling them that they are going to read a chapter book called “Horrible Harry.”  At first, it seems as though she is going to discuss the text features of a chapter book, but she then begins to focus more on Harry as a character.  There is a blurb that pops up at this time during the video that says,

since everyone in the group is not familiar with the character (and this is a series book), I had to front load what was already described in the first books (Chan, 2016).

She describes how Harry is not very nice and does mean things to people.  If I were teaching this story and made my focus on the traits of characters in a story, I would use this opportunity to allow the students to make a personal connection.  Making personal connections is an extremely important part of literacy development for students.  As Fountas and Pinnell write:

Reading is a transaction between the text and the reader (Rosenblatt, 1994); that is, the reader constructs unique meanings through integrating background knowledge, emotions, attitudes, and expectations with the meaning the writer expresses (Fountas and Pinnell, 2012, p. 273).

The students could have used their own background knowledge and personal experiences to make meaningful connections with the characters in the story.  Research finds that good readers need to draw upon their own background knowledge because this can help them understand what they are reading (Draper, 2010, p.7).  Chan could have considered sharing her own personal experience about a time when another person was mean to her, using the metacognitive teacher prompt “I can relate to this because one time…” and then inviting the students to share their own experiences.  “Describe a time someone was mean to you.  How did it make you feel?”  The students could have done a “Think/Pair/Share” with each other before sharing with the group.  This would be considered a text-to-self connection (Draper, 2010, p. 6) and the students would have already constructed meaning and a personal connection to the story.

Chan then goes on to tell the students that it is very important that they know who is talking in the story.  She reads the first few sentences of the book, and tells the students that Doug is the narrator of the story.  Instead of simply telling the students that Doug is the narrator, she could have modeled a think aloud strategy for the students.  “Hmmmm, the narrator says that HARRY is his best friend, so I think that Doug must be the narrator because he is talking about Harry.”  At this point, it seems that Chan is still focusing on characters and their actions in the story.  After five minutes of the book introduction, the students have not been given the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion or make any sort of connection with the story.  It is also unclear what the focus is going to be while the students are reading the story, because she immediately jumps into text features (the table of contents) after introducing the story.

Chan shifts the focus from characters to telling the students that they need to write “something important” from the first chapter of the story, and can use a post it note to record this information.  She did not model at all how a student might do this and simply expected them to know what to do.  Summarizing is another important aspect of guided reading according to Fountas and Pinnells Network of Processing Systems for Reading, where students need to “remember content and carry it forward” (Fountas and Pinell, 2012, 273).  Summarizing information from a chapter would have been a great focus for this lesson, and Chan could have taken a familiar text that they have already read together, and shown how she wrote the key details from the chapter to help her remember and retain information while she continues to read the book.  Instead, she did this quickly with little guidance, and I am still unsure what the actually FOCUS of the lesson is.  Does she want to focus to be on characters or is she focusing on how to summarize information?  Chan is falling into the trap of trying to cram too much information in the book introduction without a concise focus.  As Rachel Clarke states in her article about guided reading, “Don’t overcomplicate it!  Guided reading is a mini lesson” (Clarke, 2013).  Keep the focus simple so the students know what the teacher is looking for, and this way the teacher can make more meaningful assessments.

As the students begin to read independently, Chan gets her assessment notebook ready and walks around to conference with the students briefly.  At this point, she seems to want the students to write down important information from the chapter after they are done reading.  She comes to the first little girl, and instead of asking her to tell her important information from the story, she asks her about the introduction of the characters.  She then goes in to an elaborate mini lesson with the girl, showing her how she can use post-it notes to label the different characters.  The little girl appears to be somewhat overwhelmed, because she was reading the story to summarize information at the end, and now she is being asked to label all of the characters in the story.  Chan says, “Do you know who this is?”  The girl answers uncertainly, “Harry?”  And she says, “Do you know who this is?”  The girl answers again uncertainly, “Doug?”  Chan did not ask her HOW she knew who the characters were (and it seems like she really wasn’t sure) and was just handed a post-it note and told to label the characters.  Chan is not sticking to one teaching point, and is confusing the child because she does not really know what her expectations are.  As teacher and blogger Genia Connell states,

By staying focused on one to two points, my student leave the table with a much better idea of what they should be focusing on while they read (Connell, 2015).

When Chan starts speaking with the next girl, she appears to have shifted her focus back to comprehension and summarizing what is happening so far in the story.  There is still a lot of teacher talk when she is questioning the little girl and is almost putting words into the girls mouth. “They must be confused, right?  They must feel this way, right?”  The girl did not have any real opportunity to use her own words about what was happening in the story.  Chan could have even asked her to make a personal connection, asking her if there was a time when she felt lost or confused.

Towards the end of the lesson, Chan asks all of the students to stop reading and she then begins to model how to use post-it note to label the important characters in the story.  This is a mini-lesson, and it should have occurred at the BEGINNING of the lesson.  Chan could have made the focus on identifying the characters in the story, thus keeping the lesson very simple.  It would have made her assessment a lot more meaningful too, because she would be able to quickly tell who was able to identify characters and who was not able to identify characters.  As Clarke states,

Stick to one focus. This way you prepare the children for their work with you and then you can assess their ability to apply what they’ve learned through their independent activities (Clarke, 2013).

The video ended abruptly, and I am not sure if Chan also went back to the original teaching point (I think) which was to summarize information in a chapter book.  There did not appear to be any follow up activity or discussion at the end of the lesson.

As a teacher, I know how difficult it can be to conduct a truly meaningful guided reading lesson.  We often get caught up in the trap of trying to do too much, and end up losing the focus and effectiveness of the lesson.  Chan obviously worked hard to prepare this lesson and had wonderful goals and expectations for the students, but she had too much teacher talk and did not give the students opportunities to make any sort of personal connections to the story.  There was a lack of metacognition and rehearsal prompts, and her expectations were not clear.  The focus of her lesson was constantly shifting, where she was talking about summarizing material one moment, and the next moment she was conducting a mini lesson (at the END) on a strategy to identify characters.  A guided reading lesson should have a clear and concise focus, and the mini lesson at the beginning should be quick and meaningful for the students.  The teacher talk should be minimal, and the students should have opportunities to apply the strategy that was taught during the mini lesson.


Chan, Courtney (2016).  Guided Reading Lesson 2nd Grade, retrieved from

Clarke, Rachel (2013). Guided reading.  Retrieved from


Connell, Genia (2015).  Making guided reading manageable. [Blog].  Retrieved from



Draper, D. (2010).  Comprehension strategies, making connections.  Retrieved from

Click to access Making_Connections_Strateg.pdf

Fountas, Irene and Pinnell, C.  (2012).  Guided reading: the romance and reality.  The 

          Reading Teacher, 66(4), 269-284.

Ianquita, A. (2006).  Guided reading: a research-based response to the challenges of

          early reading instruction.  Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(6), 413-419.

One thought on “What’s Wrong With This Guided Reading Lesson?

  1. Your comments truly reflect a highly reflective approach to best practice in guided reading. You clearly tracked the lesson’s intent from the beginning to the end.

    Your blog is beautiful. It looks so professional. Thank you for creating such a teacher (yet researcher) friendly blog.


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