Friday, August 10, 2012

Guided Reading: A little novelty goes a LONG way!

I will be the first to admit that I LOVE cute… I love when things match… I love using colors to code EVERYTHING…  I love when things just work like magic… but most of all, I love when SIMPLE things increase engagement, and therefore help my students.

I have a pretty fantastic collection of tools I use for Guided Reading groups.  Every class, and even every small group, responds differently to the “tools”.  So some years, I use a variety, and some years I stick with one or two that are best.  You don’t need me to tell you what ever good teacher knows- teaching is all about responding to the needs of my students.
I will go through each and give you some ideas for how I use them.  Most of the items are from the Dollar Store.  (My friend Jean likes to tease me that I am the “Queen of the Dollar Store”- I almost named my blog that, but decided against it at the last second.)
This post will be all about the tools I use during small group sessions, but it’s not really about how to run small reading groups.  I will tackle that topic another day!

Let me start by telling you about my shelves… They were donated by a craft store that was going out of business.  It is really meant to be turned the other way, and was twice as thick, but the back was hollow.  Thankfully, my brother helped me cut off the extra wood from the back, and then I sanded and painted it. These baskets from the dollar store fit PERFECTLY! It was a match made in Heaven!
Basic supplies:
First I have a caddy that holds some basic supplies that I like to have handy.  Things like markers, a stack of index cards, dot stickers, pens, pencils, and sticky notes. (I also have these fun spinners- some are from Lakeshore and some are from Dollar Tree.)
I use a LOT of index cards.  For each book we read, I pick out select vocabulary and write it on cards.  (Sometimes they are sight words, harder decodable words, unfamiliar vocabulary, or just interesting words like homophones, etc.)  It allows me to pre-teach the words. We play different games with them- I will share some of those later! :)

I use the markers for many different things-- but especially for writing the focus words from their Leveled Reader on index cards.

I use the colored dot stickers to help my students know what Guided Reading Level they are on… These are fancy pre-printed labels from Scholastic.
These spinners are such an easy, and quick way to engage your students!  Who doesn't love to flick a spinner and answer a question? I know I sure do! :)
Highlighters, sticky notes, pens, pencils, all that fun stuff!
Sight words
These are sight words sets, bound together.  Honestly, I did not make these myself, they were given to me.  I have another set that I made, I will show you later. J  These are great because they are leveled (in order of difficulty- I don't just have the 100 first grade words) and they stay together really well!
Oh, goodness! I could write and write and write about pointers! So many options! So much room for creativity! And, just by giving your student a pointer, you will instantly increase the engagement of your lesson- but don’t forget to set up your behavior expectations before giving them out! J Otherwise, they are just a toy and you will be frustrated!
Any time that you want your students to read- word lists, phrases, books- you can let them use a pointer…  I do not ALWAYS let them use a pointer.  Occasionally I will use it as an incentive- the first group that is ready- or any group that has 100% of their members that completed their homework.  And sometimes it’s just nice to mix it up! 
These first pointers are just wands I got at a party store.   Guess what?! Even the boys like to have a magic wand... sometimes more than the girls! J
These are assorted drink stirs.  I have a variety.  (I never pay full price for them- right now is the perfect time to find them on clearance- look in the summer clearance section). You can also get them fairly inexpensively at party or dollar stores. J
Finger puppets and witch (or monster) fingers are major favorites!  I like these for my lowest students—you know the kids that NEED to point as they read, but just seem to forget?  Magically, just putting something on their finger helps them to remember to point!
They all fit into one of these baskets!
Word Stretchers!
 Take a slinky, hold it with two hands. As you stretch out the slinky, also stretch out a word. For example “cat” would be “cc-aa-tt”. This is a great, tactile way for students to start phoneme segmentation. These are only used for my lowest students—our Kindergarten teachers are FABULOUS and most of my students come in masterfully segmenting words (i.e. “cat” as “/c/-/a/-/t/”). However I have students that move in each year, and it never fails that one or two don’t have the phonetic skills necessary for First Grade. This is a great (and inexpensive tool) to practice with! (Want to guess where I got them? If you said the Dollar Store- you deserve a gold star!) J

If you have an ESL population in your area, you are likely well aware of how challenging the short vowel sounds of “e” and “I” are for them to distinguish.  One way I help my students understand is by giving them a mirror.  They watch their mouths as they say the sound in isolation “/e-e-e-e-e-e/” and “/i-i-i-i-i/”.   Then we say cvc words with either /e/ or /i/ and they watch their mouths to see if they can identify which letter spells the sound they hear.  It’s fun for them- because kids are always interested in watching themselves talk- and they really start to think about how they look- and more importantly how it FEELS to say each sound.  After a few practices, we put the mirrors down and just focus on how it feels.  Then we identify the letter by the sound and how our mouth feels.  It’s pretty great!  (I got my mirrors at a craft store- I found 30 mirrors for $4.00 on sale- I keep a few in my Guided Reading supplies.  The rest of the set gets borrowed by other teachers when they are working on self-portraits!)
Frogs and Lizards?
Yes! I’m partial to the frogs (my classroom theme for the first few years that I taught was all frog, so I am slightly partial to the little guys!) but the lizards are fun, too. 
We play a game called “Hop and Read”.  It works best if you have a table of words that you want your students to read.  They literally use their little frog (or lizard) to read the word and then hop on it.  My rule is that you have to read the word before you land on it!  (One of my former colleagues had them read it after they landed on it- it works either way!)
I have some word mats that have word families on them but most of the time we use our 5 weekly sight words. Here’s an example of what the chart might look like (super simple!)
If you are interested in word families, my favorite resource is Mrs. Alphabet’s website! (Look under “classroom” and then “Word Families”).
Sight Word Strips

Sight words are like basic math facts.  You just have to master them!  So I try and give my students LOTS of opportunities for practice—but I like to have a variety of ways so that my students are willing to practice repeatedly. J (Everything is a “game” in my class!)
These are very similar- just using two different word lists.  Here’s how we “play” with these:
Each student in the group is given a list.  At the same time, they read their words out loud.  (I choose a different student to listen to each “round”- they never know when or if I am listening to them. They think I am magic and am listening to all of them- which I am, but I focus on one at a time to check for accuracy.)  When they are done- or almost done- I say “dun, duh-duh-dun-dun” and they say “dun-dun!” and pass their strip to the next person and start again!  No one “wins” this game, but they never seem to notice.  They also know that if they finish the list, they start it again.  (Some of my high kids really like to see if they can read it twice before I signal- my lowest little guys are just as excited when they finish the list!). 
It’s easy to differentiate because the word lists are numbered.  Super easy to make- super fun to play!
Comprehension Sticks
These sticks have different comprehension questions.  Each student draws one and reads it. (Some questions are answered BEFORE reading, some are DURING, and others are AFTER.  With training, they can quickly identify when they will need to answer their question.) 
They are already things you would discuss, but simply allowing your students to choose will automatically increase their engagement level.
Comprehension Lollipops
One of the teachers on my team, Cheryl, made these for us last summer.  They are great! They work the same way as the sticks, but they are even cuter!
Take the sight words you have already learned and write them on cards.  Add in a few cards that say “Yuck!” and mix them into the sight words.  Each student takes a turn, draws a card, and reads it.  If they read it correctly, they keep it.   IF, however, they draw a “Yuck!” card, they have to give back all of their cards!
My lowest group usually spells it after they read it.  (“My word is “the- t-h-e- the”)
My high group has to use the sight word in a sentence (“the- The cat chased a mouse.”)—This helps with homophones! (Like to, too, and two!)
Word Family Sticks
I simply printed word families, cut them out, and covered them with some clear box tape.  Students add a letter (they can write it right on the stick with a low-odor whiteboard marker) to build words.  Usually I have them write a list of all the words they came up with on a whiteboard or recording sheet. 
I also have letter dice- sometimes they roll a letter and see if they make a real word or a nonsense word. (When we do it that way, they record it on a t-chart). I will share more nonsense word games another day!!
(This is a great small group activity that the kids can do independently while you do testing, or a running record, etc.)  Eventually, I turn it into a center.
Word Detectives!
So many things can be done with these little magnifying glasses!  (I got mine at the Dollar Store—I am sure that, by now, you are SHOCKED by that information!) J
·         Find word with __. 
·         Identify the sight word __.
·         Read the sentence.
·         Read the list of words (another great tool you can use with the sight word chart I showed about above!)
Tactile Letters
I am a very tactile learner, which translates into me being a very tactile teacher. I am always looking for new and great ways to incorporate learning styles in my teaching. 
These sandpaper letters are perfect for your tactile learners.  They can trace them with their fingers. (I do this with my lowest students- and with any of my students that have fine motor struggles- in First Grade it’s often most-noticeable in handwriting and scissor activities.) 
These are commercially made.  They were a great thing I inherited from my mom. J (Have I mentioned how awesome it is to have teachers in the family?) I have seen other teachers make their own with hot glue dots.  That is totally something I would do! J
We do dictation and written responses pretty regularly during small groups.  We have regular whiteboards in my classroom, but for Guided Reading, I prefer to use one of two options.
A glossy page protector with a piece of cardstock inside is literally the most inexpensive whiteboard equivalent EVER.  TIP: USE LOW-ODOR markers.  (Right now I have the BIC markers because they were a great back-to-school sale deal and they have been working really well!)
These are awesome.  Every year at the UEA Convention (Utah’s Education Association Convention) they hand out a sample magnetic board.  Well, after a few years of going, I have a set for my small groups.  (I am lucky because usually my friends that go with me give me theirs, too! Now that I have a set, we’ll start collecting a set for them, too!) The boards are really not that expensive, so you could just buy a set J I just had so many from before I started teaching that it made sense to continue my collection.
Whew!  That was quite a post!
And I didn’t cover all of the games and poems I use!
We’ll have to save that for another day!


  1. I loved your blog.....I am a teacher and my first grader is straggling with reading and I do already do some of the things you do but I liked the "yuck" game....

    1. I am so glad! It is one that my kids BEG to play! :)

  2. Wow!!! Thank you so much for sharing such wonderful ideas!! I can't wait to use them in my classroom :-) My favorite: The comprehension sticks

  3. I know this post was from a long time ago, but I was wondering if you have a list of the comprehension questions you use on the sticks and lollipops that you could share? Maybe they are on a different post. Found your blog through pinterest!

  4. What is the story about?
    Who are the characters in the story?
    Where did the story take place?
    When did [the character] change? Why?
    What would you tell the President about this book? (We use that for summarizing--- because, of course, the President couldn't possibly have time to read every book, so we have to tell him the most important parts-- we even have a photo of President Obama for them to talk to).
    What happened first?
    What happened last?
    Why did [the main character] _____?
    What could [the main character] have done differently?
    What is one important detail of the story?

    Does that help? Sorry it took so long, the notification of you comment was hidden in my SPAM email :(
    Feel free to email me if you have any other questions!

    1. Yay, thank you! I was going to ask the same thing. I’ve looked and looked for good comprehension questions and I like yours the best.

  5. You shared lots of great ideas here! Thank you so much for taking the time. I pinned a few of them! I especially appreciated the reading comprehension manipulatives.
    Heidi Butkus

  6. I love all of these ideas and I'm ready to head to the dollar store to see what I can find :)
    I teach an alternate curriculum with kiddos who generally have sensory and attention needs as well as their cognitive needs. GREAT post! I'll be following you now!

  7. I love your blog page. I have a grandson in the 3rd grade. He hates reading and I think it is because he has a hard time reading. Is there anyway I can help him. I have him with my everyday after school. So I could work with him daily. Thanks Linda

  8. This is a treasure box! I'll be teaching a mixed age group of kids with differing needs this year. Your ideas will be enjoyed by happy children in my class! Thanks!

  9. I know this blog entry is from a few years ago, but I just stumbled upon it and am in love!! I have already printed out the guided reading questions and will be assembling mine soon. Where did you find the word lists? Did you put these together yourself or were they already compiled? I would love to have these for my kiddos. Thanks so much for your amazing ideas!

  10. I use a FREE guided reading lesson plan template on TPT. There are versions for K-5. It’s very customizable- you can add reading groups & student names. There are also drop-down lists of Common Core State Standards. Saves a LOT of time!

  11. I use a FREE guided reading lesson plan template on TPT. There are versions for K-5. It’s very customizable- you can add reading groups & student names. There are also drop-down lists of Common Core State Standards. Saves a LOT of time!

  12. OMG where did you get the guided reading spinners

  13. Next year will be my first year teaching first grade after 26 years of upper grade! What things would you consider MOST necessary for my new first grade classroom????

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  15. I am new to tutoring 1st and 2nd graders in reading. Where can I get a list of sight words to work with?