teacher led reading groupIt’s unfortunate, but we’ve seen struggling readers who have flown under the radar for years. But for students who try to avoid being noticed, sitting silently in the back becomes less possible when we design specific reading strategies that encourage them not only to make mistakes, but also reimagine the way they view them.

Most of us have used reading groups in our own classes—or at least experienced them as students: The class was divided into groups of four or five students (most often based on reading ability) and the teacher would make his or her rounds, working with each group on specific reading strategies custom-tailored to fit that group’s needs.

In our experience, strategic reading groups are effective, but can be exhausting for the teacher who not only has to plan specific reading strategies for each group, but has to simultaneously keep the rest of the class on task. That’s why we’d like to help you simplify the whole affair with a few of these simple group reading strategies for struggling readers:

4 Reading Strategies for Struggling Readers

1. Capitalize on students’ comfort with routine
Students benefit from having a set routine, particularly when they are engaging in challenging practices. If you are going to work with several groups during a class period, you want to spend your time reading—not on explaining the activity. Make sure that each student understands his or her role before the activity begins. In addition to this:

  • Remind students of the purpose of the activity and explain that they should expect the text to be challenging, so there’s no need to be discouraged when they “mess up”
  • Before you call each group, refresh the entire class on the reading strategies that might apply to this specific text
  • Once you call your group of 5 students, circulate between each student. Listen to each read until he or she miscues; then coach the student through the appropriate reading strategy
  • Make sure that you are only spending two minutes working with each student
  • Once the ten minutes are up, have your students close their books; then briefly reinforce the reading strategy with your students for five minutes
  • Call together the next group and repeat

2. Student error (not laborious planning) should determine what will be taught
Although you can probably foreshadow some of the missteps your students will make during each activity, you never really know…so be prepared to deviate from the script you’ve written in your head and roll with the punches. Being able to improvise is going to save you a lot of time and energy.

3. Texts should be difficult—but not impenetrable
Most of us are familiar with independent, instructional and frustration-level texts. Remember, you are trying to create recurring “teachable moments,” so choosing a text that is either too simple (independent) or one that is well beyond their reading level (frustration-level) won’t work. Instead, choose an instructional text, one that requires frequent teacher intervention, but is not so difficult that it is impenetrable.

To keep students from feeling self-conscious or getting frustrated, you should remind them that that the purpose of this strategic reading group is for them to make mistakes. If you notice that a student is not struggling, it might be time for him or her to move to a different group.

4. It’s OK if the text lacks an overt connection to other texts
It might run counter to your instinct, but there’s really no need to spend your evenings or weekends searching for the perfect instructional text, one that connects to the rest of your reading curriculum. Most of the time, content is important, but in this case, “teachability” takes precedent over “entertainability.”

Console yourself with the fact that there are plenty of times where you can offer the entire class books, magazine articles, or comic-based resources which are slightly below their average reading level, but “easy” texts have a time and place—this doesn’t happen to be one of them.

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Thank you for posting this article/forum. It really helped shed light on how I should be teaching groups. I recently moved from teaching Kindergarten to teaching third grade. This is my 2nd year teaching third grade and I finally feel comfortable enough to start integrating reading groups. We also have a new reading curriculum this year which I am trying to learn and use successfully. Harcourt Journeys offers many suggestions on how to teach small reading groups. Almost too much information is given and it has been overwhelming. This article really made it clear cut as to how to help struggling readers. I always followed the Journey's recommendations but I really want to put the steps listed above in practice. I have been doing most of the steps listed like set a routine, and choose "just right" books. I actually just taught the students a few weeks ago how to choose a "just right" book. I'll use the journey's leveled books for my groups. The one thing I need to add to the structure of my reading groups is having the students read the books out loud for 2 minutes. This makes so much sense because if I don't hear them read how will I help them become better readers when they struggle independently? I also like that student errors should be what I teach them not "laborious" planning. That is a sign of relief also because reading groups can be overwhelming.

Hi, Colleen:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment on the post. I'm so pleased that you found this helpful. I'm not familiar with Harcourt Journeys, but I'm always looking for new ideas and inspiration.

Best of luck with your teaching.

I really enjoyed reading your forum post.  I teach third grade and reading group/center rotations are always so difficult to plan.  It has gotten even more challenging now because we are expected to differentiate our center activities so that students are getting what they need.  I love the idea of how you let the students know that it's important for them to make mistakes.  It is too often that students expect themselves to be perfect.  I also like your quick assessment of each student.  How often do you do this with students?  I would love to do this on Fridays and then my reading groups wouldn't be as long that day.

For my reading groups I use something called "Book Room" Books.  They are leveled by Lexile level and come from Benchmark Universe.  They are an excellent resource because it focuses on the reading strategies we are working on in class.  They are primarily nonfiction books so I do not use them every week but I find them very helpful.  Our reading program also comes with leveled readers, but I do not find them as useful.  

Thank you again for your great ideas.  I can't wait to incorporate the quick 2 minute check.

Hi, Nicole:
Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the post. I love when other teachers share their resources and book ideas with me: I'll definitely look into "Book Room Books."

Have a nice afternoon.

Hi, Jillian:

Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. I'd love to hear some updates on your reading groups. Definitely keep me posted!

I found this forum to be helpful.  I have struggled with setting up reading groups for the past several years.  I could never get them how I wanted them.  Last year I found a system that worked for me.  However, I am always looking for ways to make it even better.  I agree with making the directions and expectations clear so the teacher can spend time with her own group.  I have three groups going at one time.  Once the timer starts if someone comes to me from another group I just keep going.  Eventually they go back to their own group and figure it out.  This makes them more responsible.  I like that you said that it is over to pick texts that don't connect.  I would spend hours trying to find the perfect text, but sometimes it was impossible.  The routine factor is also important like you mentioned.  Students like routine.  I think it makes them feel comfortable because they know what to expect.  One thing you mentioned that I need to work on is listening to each student in my group read daily and stop then and address any problems.  One thing my school has purchased that has been beneficial is the Dibels program.  It allows me to assess students on a short reading passage and see where any problem areas are.  I would recommend this program because it allows teachers to get a quick assessment of their students.

Hi, Cam:

Thanks so much for responding to the blog. I'm not familiar with the Dibels program, but I'm looking into it as we speak!



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