Guided reading – How to pick a text and bring it alive

This article covers how to choose a great book for guided reading and then basic pointers for conducting a successful guided reading session.


Lunchtime will shortly be ending and you are running around setting up for the afternoon’s teaching session. It is guided reading and you are taking one of the middle groups. You grab a book from the right box with the correct reading level and put it on the table ready for the afternoon. You add the objectives for that group and that is it- you are sorted!  The only problem is you have never actually read this book and you will have to read just ahead of the children in order to teach the guided group…


We’ve all been there, that last minute dash because you have just run out of time due to the immense pressure to do so much in such a short space of time. Most teachers say workload is their greatest issue and getting time to read is a luxury rather than a necessity. The problem is the missed opportunities from lack of knowledge about the book and the mismatch between the learning objectives and the text.

The good news is, that even a picture book can be used for several guided sessions and a chunkier book can last for half a term, so it is not too much to ask to read one book for each group in that time; a task that surely should be a pleasure not a chore.


How do you pick a book? Often it is based on the resources available in school, which can sometimes really limit your choices. I have been known to trawl the local libraries to find enough copies of a particular book and if you are a school that is using the local Schools Library Service, they are also able to help you obtain multiple copies. Choice of book is so important and for many objectives a book from a reading scheme is simply not sufficient. I once observed a lesson where the objectives were all about the plot and character and the reading scheme book being used was so lacking in proper plot or characters it did not work at all. (The teacher involved laughed about it afterwards because she realised, as she was teaching and being observed, that the book did not meet her needs!) Equally, you do not want to be teaching phonics skills using a book that contains very little in the way of the graphemes you want to focus on.

You have to start with the objectives and find a book to suit, rather than the other way around. This relies on extensive teacher knowledge of the books suitable for the class; this is obviously easier with picture books for younger children. For example, for the Year 1 objective ‘recognising and joining in with predictable phrases’ you can use books by Eric Carle, particularly The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or for ‘learning to appreciate rhymes and poems, and to recite some by heart’ Julia Donaldson writes very memorable text. Most three year olds can recite bits of books like The Gruffalo, and whilst The Highway Rat is a harder read, it contains many easily learnable phrases.



Choosing a longer novel for KS2 is clearly going to present a bit more challenge; unless you know the book you cannot tell if it will be suitable. This is where your local library can come in very handy. The librarians are very knowledgeable about the books and have read many themselves so can point you in the right direction or to a particular author. They will also know which books are popular and likely to be well received by the pupils.  Picking well known authors is usually a safe bet and many write for several age groups and abilities. Michael Morpurgo, for example has written some books with very ‘heavy’ themes, like The Holocaust, war and child abuse. He has also written on much easier topics to handle such as saving whales and animal themes.  Philip Pullman is also a writer with books at several levels; the His Dark Materials trilogy is really only suitable for able Year 6 children, using the objective ‘discuss and evaluate how authors use language, including figurative language, considering the impact on the reader.’ Yet The Firework Maker’s Daughter is great for Year 3 objectives ‘drawing inferences such as inferring characters’ feelings, thoughts and motives from their actions, and justifying inferences with evidence’.

So the book is read and enjoyed by the teacher (the latter being the most important bit – if you do not enjoy it you can hardly expect your pupils to have enthusiasm for the text) Now, you need to teach it.

You do not always have to ask children to look at the blurb and the title and make predictions; particularly if that is not your objective for the session. You can just give your own introduction to the text before going onto the main objectives for the lesson. If the children are still learning phonics then they need to be reminded that they should use their phonics as the first way of working out words and it is always helpful to tell children any names that occur in a story, as names are often not phonically decodable.


Then you need to set the objective for the reading; for example at the end of the reading they are going to need to discuss their favourite words and phrases. A book like Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and the Really Big Adventure by Kristina Stephenson would be great for this Year 2 objective.  The author is never afraid of using complex vocabulary and the words are illustrated in such a way as to make them clearly comprehensible. So the dragon belches out smoke and the witch is wily and the language is rhythmic and entertaining.  The children would need to read the book, not as a round robin but to themselves, may be jotting down the phrases or words they particularly like to discuss at the end.  Then they will all come together and share their reading and their opinions, which may be many and varied!

All of the books mentioned here have so much in them, they could easily last for several sessions, drawing out different objectives or consolidating previous ones.

It might sound daunting at first but it is so enjoyable to bring books alive for children and guided reading should be the central part of the reading for pleasure agenda.



For further inspiration please look at our open courses:

The Essential Guide to Phonics and Literacy For Primary LSAs and TAs

Outstanding Learning in the Primary English Curriculum

Or why not get your department together for one of our tailored in-house courses:

Getting Boys into Reading

Promoting Reading and the School Library

Supporting Literacy Skills: a Course for Teaching Assistants



Jacqueline Harris

Passionate advocate of high quality teaching and learning for all children, raising standards in reading and writing in schools involved in the Communication, Language and Literacy Development Programme (CLLD). Specialising in phonics and the use of high quality children’s books, and improving leadership and teaching in schools. Expertise in delivering high quality training to a wide range of audiences. Comprehensive knowledge of teaching and developing literacy skills in all pupils from preschool to Year 8 and an ability to use data to target areas needed for raised performance. Subject leader for Maths, History, Geography, Modern Languages, Gifted and Talented and RE at various points in her career. Extensive experience as a Deputy and Local Authority Consultant and Initial Teacher Trainer. Author Write Your Own Book (DK Sept 2015) and Spell Check (DK 2016) Also consultant for Storytime Magazine, The School Run and DK Books.