Guided Reading: Classroom Culture and Environment

When you set up your classroom for Guided Reading, think about your small group space as well as your space for literacy stations or centers for Independent Work Time. You need to think about both what you and the children need for the lesson and what the rest of the class needs to work on their own.

Best Teacher Practices - Positive Classroom Culture

Set up your Guided Reading area to make the most of your time with your small group. Have everything that you and the group will need at hand so that the lesson runs smoothly. Plan what supplies and supports the rest of the class needs to work independently so you can focus on your small group.

Teach, practice, and reinforce procedures and responsibilities for Guided Reading. Your children need to know what to do to take care of themselves, each other, and the classroom whether they are in the Guided Reading lesson or working independently in the classroom.

Setting up Your Guided Reading Space

Setting Up Your Space for Guided Reading

Tips and strategies for setting up your classroom for guided reading.

Guided Reading is powerful because it is efficient. There is so much you can do in a short amount of time! A well organized and purposeful Guided Reading space will go a long way to making the short time you have with the children go smoothly and productively. Set up and organize your space, supplies, print, books, and planning materials to make the most of your planning and instruction time.


Set up your Guided Reading spot in an area where you are visible to all the children in the room. It helps you to have an eye on everything in the class and supports children in making good choices.

Make sure that your space has a place to keep supplies and books. Some teachers have a designated Guided Reading table. Other teachers sit on the carpet or at the children’s table and keep their supplies on a message board, easel, nearby shelf, mobile cart or caddies. Wherever you decide to meet with your groups, make sure that it is in a relatively quiet part of the room, so your readers can concentrate and you can hear them clearly.


Gather and organize the supplies you will need. Some of the things you’ll want to have handy each day include:

Essential Items Additional Useful Items
  • Guided Reading books
  • Dry erase boards and markers
  • Word work materials
  • Writing supplies
  • Planning and record keeping materials
  • Table easel or whiteboard
  • Index cards, scissors, sticky notes, highlighter tape
  • Whisper phones
  • Sentence strips
  • Magnetic letters
  • Laminated elkonin boxes and counters
  • Alphabet charts
  • Letter cards or cubes for making words
  • Picture cards
  • Dictionaries
  • Reading response or strategy sheet
  • Lesson specific materials


Children should be able to access print resources such as high-frequency words and skill and strategy anchor charts to support them during the small group. You can hang relevant charts where they are visible to your small group, or create table top versions for children to reference.


You’ll want to have the Guided Reading books you are using for the day’s lesson ready and nearby before you meet with your groups. In addition, have a basket of books the children have already mastered available for browsing. Children can read them as a warm up while the group is settling in or if they have extra time after they’ve finished that day’s text.

Planning and recording binder

Create a binder that you can use to plan Guided Reading lessons and store data and anecdotal notes. Having everything organized and ready will make planning and anecdotal note taking much more efficient. Your binder should contain:

  • Blank planning templates
  • Completed lesson plans
  • Class list with instructional and independent levels
  • Grouping folder or sheet
  • Assessment records
  • Form for recording anecdotal notes and observations
  • Guided Reading schedule
  • Objectives to teach at different reading levels
  • Reading behaviors to observe and note at different reading levels
  • Prompting toolkit to use when coaching children

Procedures for Guided Reading

Teaching and reinforcing procedures and responsibilities for Guided Reading will go a long way in making your small group instruction go smoothly. When children know how to take care of themselves and each other they will spend more time reading. Teaching them how to care for books and supplies will ensure your materials last a long time.

Procedure Sample Language
How to come to the Guided Reading table “Today, we will practice moving from our seats to our Guided Reading space. It’s important that we transition from each part of the literacy block without wasting any time. By understanding exactly what to do, we will have more time for reading and learning.”
How to get ready for Guided Reading “Sometimes it takes a few minutes for everyone to gather around the table and for the rest of the class to settle into their work stations. If you get to the table quickly, you can choose a book from the basket on the table that we have already read. This will help you ‘warm up’ before our lesson begins.”
How to stay focused on the Guided Reading lesson “While we are reading in our small group, we may get distracted. Let’s think about some ways we can stay focused during this very important learning time together.”
How to handle our books gently “Our guided reading books are a little bit fragile. That means they can tear or bend easily. We want these books to last a long time so lots of kids can have the chance to read them. Today, let’s talk about some things we can do to keep our books in good shape.”
How to whisper read “Today, as you begin to read, we are going to practice reading in a whisper voice. When we are reading in a small group like we are today, it is important to keep our voices down to a whisper so our friends sitting next to us can focus on their reading too, but it’s also important for readers to hear their own voices while reading, so we will read in a soft, whisper voice. Let’s practice whisper reading and share out how it helped us as readers today.”
How to create your independent space during small group instruction “Sometimes when we read in a small group, we need more space and more quiet to get our best reading done. Let’s brainstorm ways we can create that space sitting in our small group.”
What to do when you are finished reading the book “Sometimes when we are meeting in our small group, we may finish reading ahead of our classmates. Today, we are going to brainstorm some ideas for what we can do if this happens to us. One of the most important things we can do is read the book again. Readers often pick up a new idea or clarify something in the book when they read it again. Let’s brainstorm some more ideas.”
Think, turn, and talk “Today, we are going to learn how to discuss our ideas with a partner. Sharing our thoughts and listening to others will help us learn more.”

So, What Are the Other Children Doing?

One of the most common questions about Guided Reading is, “What are the other children supposed to be doing while I meet with Guided Reading groups?” The short answer is, “They are engaged in meaningful literacy experiences!” But we all know it takes some time, effort, and lots of teaching and nurturing to get children engaged and independent enough for you to give your full attention to your small groups.

The truth is that the answer will vary from teacher to teacher, and throughout the school year. Here are some ways to approach it:

  • Take the time in the beginning of the year to teach children responsibilities and procedures for Independent Work Time. Introduce activities slowly and allow children plenty of time to practice. Be patient with the children and yourself. It takes about six weeks to get everything in place.

  • Take Guided Reading groups while the rest of the class is doing independent reading from their book bags. The children can be reading to themselves, responding to reading, partner reading, or listening to books on tape.

  • If your school or classroom uses the Daily Five as the structure for the literacy block, Guided Reading can be incorporated into this time.

  • You can set up literacy stations or centers. Each center should be meaningful and connected to the skills and strategies that children are learning.

  • As long as children are truly engaged and connected to the learning and not doing “busy work” or worksheets they will thrive and grow as readers and writers.

Procedures for Independent Work Time

Children need to function with autonomy during the school day. The best way to help children reach this goal is to teach clear routines and procedures for every aspect of the classroom. The procedures that you teach should be based on the needs of your children and help support children to work independently.

Procedures for Independent Work Time Sample Language
Understanding the labels around the room “Today we will practice using the labels that are displayed all around the room. Readers, the labels in our room identify different places and also help us to understand where to put materials when we are finished working.”
How to use classroom supplies and materials “Today, we are going to explore the materials in our classroom. We will practice using these and putting them away when have finished working. We are so fortunate to have so many materials in our room to help us with our work, so we are going to take some time today to set up some procedures for when we use materials.”
How to transition between centers or stations (using a signal, timer, song, or other transitional sound to alert children to switch) “Readers, when we are finished working at one station, and are ready to transition to another one, we have to make sure that we are leaving the station set up just as we have found it. Today, when it is time to switch, we are going to practice cleaning up, and moving to the next center. By doing this, we will not waste a moment of our learning time.”
How to share roles in small groups “Readers, sometimes you may have a question about what you need to do in the center. Each week, someone in the group will be the team leader. Let’s brainstorm some questions that we may have about our work in the writing center for example. Let’s discuss how to ask and answer questions while you are working in centers.”
What to do in different stations in the room: writing station, library station, word work station “Readers, we have lots of places to learn about in our classroom. Today we will discuss these different areas, and when and how we will use them. By doing this, you will know just what to do in each center when you get there.”
How we talk to each other during Independent Work Time and throughout the day “Let’s practice some compliments to make each other feel good about the work we are doing. When we try our best, it will be easy to notice how hard our friends are working too.”

Guidelines for Literacy Stations or Centers

A literacy station or center is any area in the classroom where children work alone or with one another to explore and expand their literacy. Stations or centers can be created anywhere in the classroom. They can include your large and small group meeting places, the classroom library, or your children’s desks and tables. Some stations can even be portable. Children can take the materials and use them anywhere in the room.

Children can do a variety of activities in stations or centers, including: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and working with letters and words. The most important thing about literacy stations is that children have a chance to reinforce or extend their learning working by themselves or collaboratively with their peers.

Keep the following things in mind as you plan and set up your stations or centers:

Start small. Plan for only a few centers that support the goals you have for your children. Introduce more centers over time based on your curriculum and the needs of your children. Start slowly and build momentum after you’ve established strong routines and procedures.

Keep centers task-oriented. Provide clearly defined activities in which children can successfully engage. Start by thinking about your current practices and purposes. If your objectives this week include word families, place the same poems and word families at the center and have the children use the same processes you have been using in whole group.

Keep centers neat, organized, and attractive. Each activity should be attractively organized with all of the materials and supplies easily accessible for the children to use successfully and independently.

Label everything clearly. Make clear signs for the center and materials. Labeling materials and storage spaces allows children to self-manage the activity and return them to their assigned place.

Teach clear expectations and directions. Design centers for groups of two to four children to work and play independently or cooperatively. Teach children how to use the center and post simple directions at the activity. Expect children to be able to spend 10 to 20 minutes at a center.

Focus on “process” not “products.” Some center activities might have products that result from completing the activity, while others should celebrate the process of reading together or playing with words and won’t produce anything to check or assess. Whatever the goal, consider how the activity either motivates children or serves as a record of accomplishment.

Keep some materials constant, and rotate others. There is no set length of time for keeping activities in a center. When children need time to revisit activities and master them, they will stay in the center for a longer period of time. Other activities are rotated according to themes and areas of study. Some constant materials are the writing supplies, such as a variety of paper, pencils, markers, and pens.

Model what you want children to do. Extensive and repeated role modeling is the key to successful center management. This helps the children develop a clear understanding of what is expected of them. Centers and materials should be introduced one at a time, perhaps over the course of a week. Model explicitly what is expected and how materials are used. Link the activity to your teaching. For example: When the children see you look for rhyming words in picture books during an Intentional Read Aloud, they will be able to do the same in centers.

Establish routines. Teach procedures and routines to children to help centers run smoothly. Teach and reinforce responsibilities so that children learn to self-manage and take care of others. Establish routines for who visits which center, how many at a center, what to do with finished work, etc. Review these routines often.

Keep groupings heterogeneous and flexible. It’s important for children to have time to socialize, to work and play with and get to know all the children in their class. Everyone has things to offer and all children can learn ways to get along, share, and take care of themselves and others.

Center or Station Activities

Here are some simple, engaging, and useful center or station ideas for your classroom. All of these centers have open-ended activities that are easy to update and enhance throughout the year. Differentiate your centers to meet the needs of your class by giving children choice in activities and reading materials.

Literacy Stations Examples of Activities (K-3) Examples of Materials to Include
  • Read and retell a familiar story
  • Read and respond (in words and/or pictures)
  • Read to self
  • Read with a partner
  • Books
  • Post-it notes
  • Pencils
  • Reading response sheets
  • Prompts
  • Anchor charts to support independence
Writing Center
  • Work on a piece of writing (e.g. draft, revise, edit)
  • Draw/illustrate
  • Write to a prompt
  • Free write
  • Write in different genres or formats
  • Stationery, notepads, grocery lists…
  • Stencils
  • Books about writing
  • (Picture) dictionaries
  • Rubrics
  • Models of writing
  • Word wall words
  • Story starters
  • Writing utensils
  • Anchor charts to support independence
  • Trash bin
Listening Center
  • Listen to recorded books
  • Follow along in the print version
  • Respond in words or pictures to the book
  • Audio player
  • Headphones
  • Copies of the book
  • Paper, pencils, writing, and drawing supplies
Big Book Center
  • Read big book to self or a partner
  • Practice voice print matching
  • Practice expressive reading
  • Find high frequency words
  • Word family word hunt
  • Play “teacher” and lead friends in shared reading
  • Act out and retell story with friends, props, or puppets
  • Big books
  • Easel
  • Pointers
  • Highlighter tape
  • Writing materials
  • Index cards
  • Puppets
  • Props
  • Felt board
ABC Center
  • Picture sorts
  • Letter hunts
  • Reading alphabet books
  • Making alphabet books
  • Letter games
  • Alphabet matching and bingo
  • Picture cards
  • Magnetic letters
  • Alphabet books
  • Letter cards
  • Clipboards and paper
  • Pocket charts
  • Chenille or wiki stix
  • Stencils
  • Stamps
  • Writing materials
  • Crayons, markers, etc.
Word Work Center
  • Word sorts
  • Read or write the room
  • Rhyming word or word family bingo
  • Vocabulary activities and games
  • Word wall word games
  • Writing materials
  • Clipboards
  • Pocket chart or sort boards
  • Index cards
  • Bingo boards
Reader’s Theater
  • Retell or act out familiar stories
  • Read a familiar play or reader’s theater script
  • Author a play based on a familiar story
  • Create props and puppets
  • Writing materials
  • Props
  • Dress-up clothes
  • Puppets and toys
  • Familiar books
  • Familiar scripts
  • Simple puppet making materials (paper bags, markers, popsicle sticks, cardstock, felt, scissors, glue)
Poetry Center
  • Read to self or with a partner
  • Illustrate a poem
  • Write a poem
  • Build a familiar poem (written on sentence strips)
  • Recite a poem
  • Make or contribute to a poetry book
  • Writing and drawing materials
  • Copies of familiar poems and songs
  • Poem and song books
  • Rhyming dictionaries
  • Pocket chart
  • Sentence strips

Introducing Literacy Centers or Stations

Follow these steps to teach children how to use literacy stations or centers. You can follow the same steps whether you introduce them whole group or in small groups.

Step 1: Introduce

Make sure you have all the materials out and ready. Gather the children near you and get their attention. Tell them what the purpose of the station is and what they will be doing.

Example “After I read The Three Little Pigs I want you to remember the order in which the pigs’ houses appear. As I read the story you will hear about the first pig’s house, the second pig’s house, and the third pig’s house. I want you to try to remember what each of the houses was built of so you can tell me after the story.”

Step 2: Model/Build Meaning

Show children what to do in the center. Think aloud about what you are doing. Model the skill or strategy you want them to practice.

Example Use flannel pieces as storytelling props, put the figures of each house on the flannel board as each is mentioned. After reading, place flannel numerals 1, 2, and 3 on to each house as a visual reminder of the order of occurrence in the story.

Step 3: Practice

Guide children as they practice and help them, if needed. Provide time for children to practice independently.

Example Give pairs of children cut-outs of the three houses and have them work collaboratively to retell the story and to arrange the houses in the right order as they tell the story. To promote application in different contexts, make flannel pieces for other well-known stories with simple, sequential plots available.

Step 4: Make Connections

Help children think about the activity. Help them to remember past experiences like it. Discuss how they could apply this activity in other contexts. Encourage their ideas. Talk about some guidelines for practicing this activity independently.

Example Ask children to tell you how they might do the activity on their own. Ask them how they could use the same activity with a different story. What would they need? What would they do?

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