Should Kindergarten Teachers Use Guided Reading?

This is cross posted on the #kinderchat blog.

This question I pose is genuine. It is not rhetorical or just an attempt at an effective lead to draw in readers. In the midst of the Common Core, raised expectations and standardized assessments for five year olds, it is something worth pondering.

Besides being an elementary principal, I am also a parent of a kindergarten student. With that, this topic should be looked at from multiple perspectives within a school. (This is not necessarily my thinking, just what could reasonably be each position’s point of view.)

As a principal…I see the whole picture. I know students come in with various language abilities. Guided reading is an effective instructional strategy to accommodate every student’s needs.

As a parent…I want what’s best for my child. Is he/she getting what is needed to stay challenged? What should I be doing at home to support my child in reading?

As a kindergarten teacher…Each of my student’s skills and ability levels are so unique. And their specific needs within reading vary as well, like concept of print and phonemic awareness. With this many students, how can I use guided reading while keeping the rest of my class engaged in effective reading activities?

As an instructional coach or interventionist…Now that we are midway through the school year, how do we take the next step and differentiate for our students through practices such as guided reading? We have to meet a certain benchmark by the end of the year. I am not sure if we are going to make it.

The purpose of this post is only to explore this issue, maybe even start a conversation on the topic. To start, I need to digress and explore what guided reading is and isn’t. (This is probably more for me than anyone.)

Guided Reading Is Not Necessarily…

Small Group Instruction

Three or four students congregated around a teacher, sitting behind a bean-shaped table does not mean guided reading is occurring. Upon closer examination, it might be round robin reading (kids taking turns reading aloud a page). Unfortunately, the teacher is controlling the learning instead of the student.


Small Groups Always Reading the Same Book

I used this practice too often as an elementary teacher. Students worked with me based on their reading level. This is ability grouping, a practice that shouldn’t be used exclusively because the focus (in students’ minds, anyway) only seems to be on decoding. Students grouped in this way might also view themselves as either poor readers, or better readers than peers. Both mindsets are not healthy when developing life long learners.

Shared Read Aloud, Interactive Read Alouds

It is not guided reading when a teacher reads aloud the same text that every student has access to. Yes, the teacher is scaffolding for students by doing the decoding for them. But how does a teacher balance the need for student choice and engagement with structure and support?

What Guided Reading Is

Prepared, Thoughtful Instruction

Guided reading is defined as “the place where every child, every day, has the opportunity to learn by reading a book that is just right” (Fountas and Pinnell, 1996). It does involve small group instruction, but based on students’ needs, personal goals and interests. Only using a prescribed set of readers from a basal or anthology series does not take into account these elements, although it might make planning easier for the teacher. More time should be spent preparing for where both the teacher and student want to go, and selecting a just right text that will help get them there.


My teachers regularly enter independent reading levels for all of their students on a spreadsheet. Looking at most classrooms, I notice students at a wide range of levels rather than three to five convenient groupings. I would say this is most evident in primary level classrooms. This can make it difficult to facilitate guided reading in kindergarten as it is strictly prescribed. A few students at this age level require one-on-one support, others need an adult to touch base with them from time to time, while the rest of the class is somewhere in between.

Shared Assessment

Students need to be able to assess themselves as readers. One job of the teacher is to facilitate this process. Teacher talk that is observational and questioning can help students reflect on their efforts. Questions that focus on strengths as well as areas for improvement also blurs the lines between teacher and learner, as described by Peter Johnston in Knowing Literacy. “Children develop the criteria for evaluating their reading out of the conversations in which they are immersed” (Johnston, 1998). Anecdotal records and student portfolios can also provide more concrete evidence to measure growth in this process.

So, should kindergarten teachers use guided reading? Maybe a better question to ask is how we as teachers fulfill our role as a guide, which Merriam Webster defines as “one that leads or direct another’s way”.

Consider the following:

  • Do I know my students as readers? That is, am I aware of their interests, reading habits, background knowledge and aspirations?
  • Can I explain to a parent or colleague each of my student’s strengths and areas for growth?
  • When a student struggles to find his or her next book, am I able to pique their interest with other titles I think they will enjoy?
  • Do I regularly confer with my readers and keep anecdotal notes to plan for future instruction?
  • Are my students reading and writing at least 50% of the school day (Allington, 2002)?
  • When my students are reading independently, are they allowed to choose what they want to read?
  • Are the texts my students are reading at their level (Allington and Gabriel, 2012)?
  • Am I extending my students with text at their instructional level and guided support?
  • If our efforts result in students who develop a love for reading while making strong growth, then our guidance has been effective.


    Allington, Richard E. (2002). “What I’ve Learned About Effective Reading Instruction From a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers.” Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10).

    Allington, R.E. & Gabriel, R.E. (2012). “Every Child, Every Day”. Educational Leadership, 69(6).

    Fountas, I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (1996). Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.

    Johnston, Peter H. (1997). Knowing Literacy: Constructive Literacy Assessment. Stenhouse: Portland, ME.

    Author: Matt Renwick

    Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District ( Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD ( and Lead Literacy (

12 thoughts on “Should Kindergarten Teachers Use Guided Reading?”

  1. Very good food for thought here. I teach a k/1 split. We have a school wide guided reading program for 1-6, a few k students get added in February but get sporadic lessons. I am beginning to wonder whether I should refer my k students for gr this year or keep them playing in the classroom and building a solid foundation for next year.


  2. Thank you for a rational questioning of guided reading in kindergarten. I,too, have asked this question but only seem to receive a “deer in the headlights” look and, “How can we get them to level C if we don’t?” We all come into Kindergarten at different developmental places. I am beginning to think GR for the whole group is unnecessary. Better to focus on developing foundational skills for those who need it most.


  3. Very interesting, thoughtful post. I do love that you started with what GR is and is not. The questions you pose at the end of the post are good questions to ask and answer at all grade levels. Thank you for this helpful post.


  4. Matt,
    Thanks for describing what guided reading is and is not because that helps set the context for your final questions.

    Other questions to consider are:

    What does reading instruction look like in kindergarten? How long? And what elements?
    What do students “do” when they have mastered the constrained skills?
    What data supports that current kindergarten reading instruction is or is not effective?
    What does writing look like in kindergarten (1-6 also)?


    1. Thanks for the comments Fran. I wasn’t sure if I was going off topic when I tried to define GR. Your feedback helps affirm my writing choice.

      I like the additional questions you pose. The one about data is important. Is there any one best practice in literacy? And how do we truly measure a 5/6 year old’s ability to read?


  5. Matt,
    Thanks for this post. I looked at my Google Reader this am and jumped right to your posting. I’m always interested in guided reading thinking in kindergarten. You have done a great job posting thinking to cause your reader’s to think and reflect. You really don’t answer the title’s question, interesting writing move.

    There is such a line to cross and balance with reading instruction with emerging readers. I just started guided reading and since break and I love working with small groups. My students already reading end of the year expections, more than half are going to work on discussing and talking about what they are reading-articulating comprehension is huge and hard when you are 5 and 6. I just had a DRA community meeting to show and explain to parents the assessment and let them know where their child was. It was well attended with great feedback. I wanted to also show them reading is so much more than decoding. I also have a little friend who did a great job with an emerging text this week and is really struggling with letter id. I was excited to see research in action. You don’t have to have a subset of skills under control to begin reading independently.

    Have you read More Than Guided Reading by Cathy Mere? A must read for this topic. Thank you for posting to guide my own reflection.


    1. I refrained from answering the question because I wanted to facilitate a conversation with others more knowledgable than myself. I see this has happened.

      I am impressed with how well you know your students and the way you communicate your understanding with them and their parents. There is so much data now available. Balancing it all with trying to encourage life long reading is a challenge. Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher.

      Thanks for the recommendation for Cathy Mere’s book. I have it on my to-read pile. I wonder what Cathy would say regarding this topic?


    2. More than Guided Reading transformed my 1st grade teaching. I got to know each child’s reading connections and interactions personally. Anyone could walk in the room and ask me about any kid and I could tell them exactly what he/she was reading, was motivated by, and loved. Before, it was like, “well she’s in the level 6 group and they are reading…” Not good enough. Know each reader or all kids won’t be reading and writing.


  6. I think guided reading is great at the kindergarten level – IF – it is done correctly. What I love to see happening – and what I model as a coach – is to start right in at the lowest level, showing both teachers and students , that even the lowest level stories HAVE a story and to talk about it and ask comprehension questions about it. Too often kindergarten teachers get so excited that the kids are reading (and justifiably so) that they forget that it still has to be about making meaning or we end up with word callers because they keep pushing them up the levels. Even the simplest books can and should make our kids think – if WE think about them first. For example, there is a level 2 book with black and white photographs that we have in our book room:
    Setting – outside – probably in the summer – a barbecue or picnic of some sort
    On each page a child is eating something
    The one line on each page goes something like this:
    Have a chip.
    Have a hamburger.
    Have a popsicle.
    Have a pickle.
    Have a drink.
    And the last page says . .
    Have a bath.
    I have seen this book done over and over and generally the teaching points are always either on the high frequency word “have” or “a” or voice/print match or beginning sounds – that’s it.
    But . . . how about questions like:
    Who do you think is saying “Have a ___________. to the child?
    I got blank stares the first time I asked that question! They had to really think about it for a minute! 🙂 Then the answers came and many decided, after a bit of thinking, that perhaps it wasn’t mom for some of the items because she wouldn’t let them have some of the food items – like the chips and the drink – (I think the drink was a soda!)
    Even better was the question at the end? Why did he need to have a bath?
    Every single food item that the child ate was messy! The chips were salty, the popsicle could drip, the pickle was being taken out of a big jar, etc. This was a great discussion question!! It also showed that there was a story to this book – it wasn’t just a bunch of sentences and pictures thrown together – it had a storyline . . .
    As with anything – it is how it is done – guided reading in kindergarten in no different.
    First and foremost – it has to be about making meaning.
    Just my two cents worth!
    Mary Lou in Maine! GO PATS!


    1. Couldn’t agree more, Mary Lou. Needs to be about meaning. Reading is thinking. I appreciate you sharing the process you use when modeling the guided reading process for your teachers.

      Have you read Knowing Literacy? Your comments remind me very much about what Peter Johnston promotes in this book regarding literacy and assessment.


      1. Yes, Peter Johnston is great. I totally agree. I think guided reading in Kindergarten should be about personalized book handling and reading independence. Children should be holding their books, pointing to words, scooping sentences, analyzing pictures, thinking about why things are happening in the story and making connections to self.


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