Planning the Small Group Reading Lesson: Teach and Guide

Planning the Small Group Reading Lesson: Teach and Guide

Planning the Small Group Reading Lesson: Teach and Guide

Small Group Instruction

I just completed a review of 147 reading texts used in our colleges of education to teach teachers how to teach reading (National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ). One troubling observation I made is the lack of guidance to help teachers and soon-to-be teachers understand how to structure small group reading instruction. To be clear, guided reading, a popular small group practice, is a prevalent feature throughout these texts, and it is perplexing that this universal custom lacks consistency. Authors of these texts present guided reading in ways that reflect their personal views of how reading should be taught, and unfortunately many of these views are not reflective of what we have learned about best practices in reading instruction, especially for our very young and struggling readers.

A New “Guided Reading”

Guided reading was originally designed to provide a comprehension focus. However, now, guided reading has become a small group catch-all wherein any reading skill, including ‘word work’ or decoding lessons are also taught.

Since the term guided reading is so universal in our schools, I propose that we redefine this small reading group practice to empower teachers to TEACH first then GUIDE our students to become proficient readers. The structures I propose incorporate the most effective overall teaching practices and those specific to reading instruction. Please download these two informative syntheses of the research on overall effective teaching practices and follow along with me on this journey as we design a small group structure that is easy to use and adapt to our students’ needs. Principles of Effective Instruction and Seven Strategies  

The Small Group Structure

We will create a framework, which may be new to many of you, or remind you of lesson structures you have used in the past. A framework helps us be more efficient in our planning – we all need that! If you use a reading program, it probably provides a lesson framework for you, steps that you follow. If you do not have a program, this framework will be especially helpful for you. Either way, having a structure into which you plug your lessons parts will ensure that you teach systematically and explicitly. As you read through this framework, know that it is just that. It will be up to you to insert the content that is responsive to your students’ needs and plan your instruction for each part of the lesson in the framework.

The Small Group Lesson Framework

Our teacher lives are complex and demanding enough. Having a consistent framework helps simplify our planning, and meets a requirement of systematic instruction – a routine that fills teacher and student need for consistency.

With a program, this framework will work. Insert the elements from your program, add additional practice activities.

Without a program – It will take a little extra work on your part, but you can do it! You need a skills sequence, and words and reading materials that are matched to the target decoding elements listed in the skills sequence. You will also need practice activities.

The STEPS Framework – Teach then Guide

Adapted from Next STEPS in Literacy Instruction, Smartt and Glaser. Paul Brookes Publishing.

The framework works well for decoding lessons, but is adaptable to teaching other reading components as well.

S – Set up for Learning (The Warm-Up) 3-5 min

Begin your lesson with a review of a skill students have learned. This serves to prime the pump for learning something new. This step wakes up the brain for learning, motivating students through active involvement at a high rate of success.

Choose the skill you want to review and plan an active way to review it.

Warm-Up Ideas: (Remember – use words and material students have learned in earlier lessons)

  • Phoneme segmentation with head-waist-toes,
  • Encoding from teacher dictation with moveable letters,
  • Quick flash & say grapheme sounds, read, spell, or use vocabulary terms
  • Student picks a word from pile, reads it and turn to partner, uses it in a sentence. Alternate turns.
  • Reread story or sentences from a previous lesson.

T – Teach (I Do – Teacher Voice is Dominant) 3-5 min

In this step the teacher explicitly teaches the new skill through explanation, modeling, showing and telling. Students will hear you say, “Today we will learn…” “Watch me. Listen.” “My turn.”


  • Use a white board to model decoding the new grapheme,
  • Point to and teach word parts,
  • Demonstrate decoding of words
  • Present and teach the orthography and meanings of vocabulary words
  • Demonstrate a comprehension process

E – Engage (We Do – Teacher and Student voices together) 3-5 min

With your support, students engage with, and briefly practice the skill just taught to them. This gives the teacher an indication of whether the students need more instruction before the next lesson step.


  • Students practice decoding words as the teacher points to words on a white board, a pocket chart, or with moveable letters as teacher creates them.
  • Make sure students HEAR, SEE, SAY and WRITE the words.
  • The teacher provides corrective feedback and scaffolds the process, stepping back to allow students to work independently, or stepping in to reteach, as needed.

P – Practice (You Do & We Do – Student voice with Teacher voice when needed for correction, praise, reteaching) 15-20 min

In this step, students practice the new concept multiple times. Teacher guides students to apply what they have learned, providing more instruction, corrective feedback, and specific praise.

Ideas: Students practice their skill with –

  • Sound spelling boxes, (here is a video of a 2nd grade teacher using this practice process)
  • Moveable letters to encode, (teacher dictates words and students tap phonemes and spell the words)
  • Games to practice reading words automatically, (only games that ensure students are reading words MULTIPLE times) Here is a resource for these activities.
  • Read decodable or other controlled text to practice the words just learned.

S – Show you Know (Assess learning) Quick 3-5 min

During this closing step, students are asked to demonstrate their learning. Teachers want to know, “Did the students master this skill?” Teachers keep data on student performance to help them plan future lessons.


  • Students may read a list of the words just learned,
  • Spell dictated words or sentences,
  • Produce word meanings,
  • Complete a timed progress monitoring measure.

Tips to make your small group instruction powerful!

  • Reading and spelling – decode and encode – in the same lesson
  • Engage students – we want multiple student responses.
  • Include isolated word reading and sentence, story, reading.

Taught and guided… your small group lessons will become easier to plan and teach when you use a framework in which you TEACH and students PRACTICE (a lot!) the skills you teach.