Guided Reading Lesson Plans Made Simple - Guided Readers

Guided Reading Lesson Plans Made Simple

What words come to mind when you think about doing Guided Reading lesson plans? Stress? Frustration? A late-night race against the clock? Planning lessons for your Guided Reading level groups takes some work. I’ve been there, and I feel your pain!

Lesson planning is a huge part of our job as educators, and to be successful we need to come to grips with it and learn to tame the beast. Join the club if you’re thinking, “Easier said than done!”  

“Lesson planning? Easy peasy!

–Said. Nobody. Ever.

The struggle is real. But here’s the thing: Preparing lessons for your Guided Reading groups can be accomplished without the stress, frustration or low-grade panic! Although a good lesson plan involves work, It can actually be—dare I say it? Fun!

We all know planning can be fun—it just depends on what it is we’re preparing for! Most of us have experienced that feeling of being “in the zone” when planning an event. Maybe it was a birthday party that totally rocked and made you the “Cool Mom” for a year, or a fun baby shower that went off without a hitch. Or maybe you saved up, researched and planned your family’s dream vacation, earning you the “Mom of the Year” award to display next to your “Cool Mom” plaque.

How do these fun events relate to Guided Reading lesson planning? Preparation is the one element that all of  these scenarios have in common. None of the events or experiences took place without an investment of thought, time, effort and organization— in other words: planning!

“Preparation is the key to a successful Guided Reading lesson.”

–Captain Obvious 😉

We all know preparation heads up the list of important things that go into preparing Guided Reading lesson plans. It also takes thought, time, effort and organization. However; to take it a step further, I’ll add one additional but oh-so-essential word: Consistency – with a capital “C!”

Preparation + Consistency = Successful Guided Reading Lesson Plans

Consistency is your best friend when teaching Guided Reading. Since Guided Reading lesson plans follow a structured format, planning is easier. In addition, behavior management is easier, as long as you’re intentional about routines and establish clear expectations from the beginning.

If you stay consistent, your kiddos will know what to expect when they come to reading groups, and you can make the most of the time allotted. When you teach Guided Reading with urgency, rigor and consistency, you’ll see your students learn, grow and begin to thrive! Now, that’s fun!

Want to have a little fun looking at Guided Reading lesson plans? OK, it’s not a baby shower or dream vacation, but just stick with me and I think you’ll enjoy this broad overview.

Guided Reading Lesson Plan, Day 1:

Sight Word Review & Instruction – Early & Emergent Readers

Use Mondays for word work, focusing on spelling skills for the week. For your Early and Emergent Readers, do a quick review of the sight words they learned in the previous lesson.

During Sight Word Instruction, introduce 1, 2 or 3 words, depending upon your group. Observe students, to see how well they are decoding. Use the word in a sentence to provide help to students who may struggle with it. Remember: Sight word instruction involves quick repetition and practice, so keep things moving!

Do a quick and simple activity such as “Write It/Say It.” Distribute whiteboards and dry-erase markers and have students say and write each word. (Activities such as “Write It/Say It” are quick and involve little to no prep time, yet they keep kids engaged and actively involved in learning learning sight words.) You may also use other instructional techniques to promote engagement such as magnetic letters, dry erase tape, pocket charts, etc..

Keep in mind that Guided Reading lessons are designed to meet the learning needs of various levels of your small groups.
Your Early and Emergent level groups are still conquering sight words; accordingly, you’ll focus much more heavily on sight word review and instruction with them.

Since your Transitional and Fluent readers should already possess a good inventory of sight words, you’ll focus more on vocabulary development and higher-level comprehension with them.

Book Introduction (Emergent, Early, Transitional and Fluent)

Leveled books are central to your Guided Reading block. To begin your lesson, give students a quick overview of the text, including the title, author and a brief introduction to the story. Although this is a necessary element to begin your Guided Reading lesson, be sure to keep it short!

Preview & Predict (Emergent, Early, Transitional and Fluent)

Take a brief picture walk through the book, modeling the “Preview & Predict” strategy. Encourage students to make predictions about the story using clues they gleaned from the illustrations. (But be sure to not let fluent readers look at the last pages—you don’t want to give the ending away!)

Vocabulary Intro (Emergent, Early, Transitional and Fluent)

Introduce new vocabulary words so your students will be familiar with them when they encounter these new words in the text. Use a whiteboard or word cards to display words. Write the word, teach the pronunciation, and discuss the definition.

Show your students how to break the word into chunks. Teach applicable phonics and decoding skills, short and long vowel sounds, vowel teams, suffixes, or digraphs & blends.

Vocabulary Intro for Fluent Readers…

For your Fluent readers, pick 2-3 difficult words from the text to focus on. As you write each word on the whiteboard, discuss the word and its definition. Use the word in a sentence, and see if students can determine the meaning from the context of the sentence.

You’ll also do direct vocabulary instruction with Fluent readers. Ask them to find a specific word in the story, and then teach and model a specific vocabulary strategy to help them solve the word’s definition (picture clues, context clues, looking for known word parts, etc.).

Comprehension Strategies (Fluent Readers)

Advanced or Fluent readers are ready to learn higher-level comprehension skills. Provide explicit teaching and share the specific comprehension strategy you want them to focus on as they read; then model the strategy. (Choose one of the 14 basic comprehension strategies from the list below, such as key details, main idea, character traits, inferring, summarizing, author’s purpose, etc.)  Finally, allow the students the opportunity to practice using the strategy as they read.

Reading Comprehension Skills:

  • Self-monitoring for Comprehension
  • Retelling
  • Vocabulary Development
  • Key Details
  • Main Idea/Central Message
  • Character Traits
  • Inference/Drawing Conclusions
  • Summarizing  Main Points
  • Evaluating Author’s Purpose, Theme & POV
  • Compare & Contrast
  • Cause & Effect
  • Non-fiction Text Features
  • Text Structure
  • Fact vs. Opinion

Read & Prompt (Emergent, Early and Transitional

This is the part of the Guided Reading lesson plan where your students are independently reading the leveled text at their own pace. As students quietly whisper-read, move through the group and lean-in to listen. Remind Emergent readers of a specific decoding strategy to focus on as they read, and try to listen to each student read the text twice.

Prompt readers as needed for decoding strategies, fluency, vocabulary, etc. Confirm that they are  practicing and applying the reading and decoding strategies they’ve learned.

Remember: This is where you’ll take the opportunity to provide differentiated instruction based on student needs. You’ll also use this time to make brief anecdotal notes and do a quick running record on one or two students. (Day 1 of a new and unfamiliar book is a prime opportunity to do a running record, since you evaluate a “cold read.”) Use the info from anecdotal notes to inform your strategy instruction for the rest of the lesson. Check out this post for more on how to use running records to inform your Guided Reading instruction.

Read & Respond (Fluent Readers)

Have students open their book and start whisper-reading. To optimize your time, be sure to do a quick running record, since Day 1 features a cold read. Set a specific purpose for their reading and instruct them to do a Stop & Jot to answer specific questions. Prompt students as needed, and make notes on whether they are reading too quickly, monitoring for meaning, and making use of cueing systems. Note what cueing systems they are using when they come to an unknown word. Focus on students’ word attack skills, and note their handling of multisyllabic words.

Discussion Prompts (Emergent, Early, Transitional and Fluent)

Use open-ended questions as discussion prompts to help students develop and build comprehension strategies as they review the text. For Emergent, Early and Transitional groups, focus on one or two comprehension strategies, such as setting, inferencing, and sequencing. problem/solution, character traits, making predictions, cause & effect, summarizing, main idea, or self-monitoring for comprehension. Have students do a retelling, or instruct students to do a turn & talk with a partner.

For Transitional Readers:

Follow the Discussion Prompt segment with a Shared Retelling; then provide strategic teaching on issues you noted in anecdotal notes.

For Fluent Readers:

Focus on higher-level comprehension strategies, such as making connections, making predictions based on character’s traits, or author’s purpose. Since fluent readers are usually good writers also, you may want to have them write their answer to a discussion prompt.

Strategy Instruction (Emergent/Early Readers)

Using the observations you made while taking anecdotal notes, choose 1 or 2 decoding or fluency strategies to teach and practice. Teach and Model the strategy; then allow students to practice the skill.

Sight Word Instruction (Emergent Readers)

Begin by Introducing 1 to 2 new sight words, depending on the group. Teach the word; then have students practice it by doing a quick “making words” activity to reinforce learning.

Use Magnetic letters, dry-erase tape, or do a Write It/Say It activity using whiteboards. You may also reinforce teaching by doing a “missing letter” activity: Have students write the word one or two times; then remove a letter and ask students what letter is missing. Finally, display the words in a pocket chart at the end of your instruction.

Word Work Instruction (Emergent and Early Readers)

For Emergent readers, use sound boxes to teach letters, sounds, and concepts of print. Focus on three C/V/C words, teaching letter and sound identification. If appropriate for the group, have students practice writing the words. Choose one or two activities for students to complete, focusing on a specific phonics skill such as digraphs, short vowels or phoneme segmentation.

Are we having fun yet? We are if our students are learning to read and loving it—that’s the purpose of the plan!

Now, let’s move on to our Day 2 Guided Reading lesson plan…

Guided Reading Lesson Plan, DAY 2

Sight Word Review (Emergent & Early Readers)

First, review the two sight words learned in the previous lesson. Then do a “Missing Letter” activity or other sight word exercise using whiteboards or magnetic letters. If needed, focus on a specific sight word that students are having difficulty with.

Read & Prompt (Emergent & Early Readers)

On day 2, give engagement tools to readers, asking them to point to each word as they whisper-read. Listen-in as they read, taking anecdotal notes and prompting them with strategies and specific skills as needed. Use this opportunity to differentiate your instruction based on the needs you identify. In response, provide quick, targeted instruction or coaching on decoding, fluency, comprehension and/or vocabulary.

Strategy Instruction (Emergent & Early Readers)

Choose one specific reading strategy and provide explicit teaching; next, model the skill and then lead students in practice. Refer to your anecdotal notes from the re-read & prompt to determine which strategy to cover.

Re-Read & Prompt (Transitional & Fluent Readers)

Because there is flexibility built into a Guided Reading framework, you can modify elements of your lesson plan as needed. Use anecdotal notes from the previous day to make an informed decision on whether  the students need a re-read of the text. If it’s not needed, make use of this time in another area of instruction.

Discussion Prompts  (Emergent, Early, Transitional & Fluent Readers)

Guide your students in a discussion of the story. Ask questions to guide them in using comprehension strategies such as how to make connections or inferences or how to  analyze and synthesize text.

For Emergent Readers:

First, discuss the story as a group. Then have students do a brief turn and talk, or instruct the students to write their answer to a question. Use this time to help students improve their skills in communication, listening, following directions and text comprehension. Focus on one or two new comprehension skills during each lesson by teaching and modeling; then give students the opportunity to practice the skill(s).

For Fluent Readers:

Discuss the story using open-ended questions, focusing on a specific higher-level comprehension strategy, such as inferring, character traits, or analyzing figurative language. Teach a mini-lesson on a new comprehension strategy. Depending on the group, do direct teaching or review a particular strategy as needed. Then move into Word Work instruction.

Guided Writing (Emergent Readers)

As you teach Guided Writing to your Emergent readers, focus on the story they just read, emphasizing writing of sight words and understanding concepts of print. Using sight words from the book, work on comprehension as you discuss the text. Take anecdotal notes to record students’ skills in capitalization, punctuation, and sight word recognition. Note their word attack skills and use of decoding strategies.

Note: Day 2 Guided Writing is optional. If sufficient time is not available to teach Guided Writing to Emergent or Early readers on day 2, move it to day 3. Also note that Transitional and Fluent Readers will receive Guided Writing instruction during their Day 3  lesson.

Sentence Dictation (Early Readers)

As you do sentence dictation with your Early readers, use it as an opportunity for a Guided Writing mini-lesson.

Focus on words from the text, emphasizing sight words, and decoding strategies. As students write, observe if they begin the sentence with a capital letter, use correct spacing, and understand basic concepts of print. Focus on a difficult word together, paying close attention to their word attack skills, such as sounding out and blending words. Do some specific teaching as students are writing.

Word Work Instruction (Transitional Readers)

For transitional readers, do an activity such as “Match-Its,” using analogy charts to work on phonics skills. Or do a “Make-it and Break-It” activity, focusing on breaking up and decoding  multisyllabic words. Choose four-to-six multisyllabic words from the text and do explicit teaching on syllables, prefixes or suffixes, vowel teams and consonant blends.

Word Study Instruction (Fluent Readers)

With Fluent readers, your focus should be on much higher-level phonics and vocabulary instruction during this portion of the lesson. Use this time to help students build their vocabulary and comprehension skills and learn to deal with multisyllabic, complex words. Engage in direct teaching of specific new vocabulary words, helping students learn each word and its definition. Do various forms of word study, based on the vocabulary of the book they are reading. Use analogy charts and activities such as “Make-it and Break-it” to teach and reinforce the strategies and word attack skills they need to decode unknown words.  However; be sure to use the bulk of this instructional time to deal with multi-syllabic, higher level, Tier-3 words, since Fluent readers are ready to tackle more complex, higher-end vocabulary.

Strategy Instruction

Demonstrate and model a strategy you want your  students to use. Scaffold from easier strategies to more difficult strategies. Depending upon the group, teach and model strategies such as word attack skills, phonics, monitoring for meaning, syntax and visual cues. Focus on a particular vowel or vowel team where reinforcement is needed. To determine the focus of your strategy instruction time, review your observations and anecdotal notes to form your teaching points.

Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? Day 2 is finally complete, and we are havin’ fun now!

A Note About Guided Writing…

Before we move on, just a note that for Day 3, Guided writing is optional for your Early and Emergent reading groups. You may opt to do writing instruction on Day 3; or, if needed, review and reinforce some specific skills your students struggled with on day 1 or 2. If your students performed well on Days 1 and 2, you may choose to move on to a new book on Day 3. However you choose to structure Day 3’s lesson, allow your anecdotal notes and observations to inform your instruction.

Guided Reading utilizes a structured framework; however, there’s also flexibility built in to allow you to—say it with me—differentiate your instruction!

Hang with me, my teacher peeps! Day 3 is on the horizon…

Guided Reading Lesson Plan, Day 3

Guided Writing

For your Guided Writing focus on Day 3, give students a writing prompt; then guide them, giving appropriate differentiated instruction on specific encoding or comprehension skills as needed as you observe their writing.

For Fluent readers –

The writing lesson can happen in the Guided Writing book or in a writing notebook. Focus your instruction on a particular comprehension skill and guided writing skill with your Fluent readers. You may ask them to use the SWBST structure to summarize the text. Encourage students to compose strong sentences with lots of details from the story.

Teach and model a new comprehension skill; then allow your Fluent readers the opportunity to practice and master it.

3 days worth of Guided Reading lesson plans…and that’s a wrap!

Finally! Thanks for joining me for a quick tour of these Guided Reading lesson plans!  I hope this will help you as you plan Guided Reading lessons for the kiddos in your own classroom. Thanks for the commitment you’ve made to becoming an amazing teacher. Although it takes work, it also takes passion. Since you’re committed to learning how to become a better teacher, I believe you have both. So keep at it! We need more like you!


This intro has covered the basic elements of a Guided Reading lesson plan. However; In my new workshop, Guided Reading That Works, I dive deep into lesson planning, giving you in-depth videos and detailed, multi-day lesson plans for Emergent, Early, Transitional and Fluent reading groups.

Plus, there’s some amazing bonus content, so be sure to check it out!

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