Guided Reading and Individual Conferences/Strategy Groups

I have been blogging recently about the modified Daily 5 program that I have implemented in my classroom. Along with the Daily 5 activities that my students complete each day, we are also introducing and explicitly teaching a variety of reading strategies from the CAFE (comprehension, accuracy, fluency, extending vocabulary) model.

Last week I blogged about how I had started individual conferences during reading time. I have been conducted Guided Reading sessions for the past seven years, so beginning the conferences is a learning experience and I am continually reflecting and refining my new Literacy Block structure.

I have had a few conversations with teachers about why I am not doing Guided Reading in my Literacy block at this stage. For some, it is a bit of a shock and it seems to be a controversial topic, given that Early Years training has dominated how Literacy has been taught for many years in Victoria. For this reason, I thought I would blog about the differences between Guided Reading and strategy groups.

Guided Strategy Groups

This week, I identified students who are working on the same goal and who would benefit from working in a small strategy group. I noted this in my CAFE recording folder and we’ve set up a meeting for next week. Running conferences and strategy groups requires a lot of organisation and careful planning, but when you know your students, it is all fairly straightforward to implement.

The main reason I am now running individual conferences and strategy groups is because I believe it targets individual needs better than Guided Reading. During strategy groups, the teacher is working on a specific goal with a small group of students, and all of these students have the same goal (eg. checking for understanding, blending and chunking words, pausing at punctuation etc). Traditionally children are placed in Guided Reading groups because of their reading level, not the reading strategies they use. This means you could have a group of students who are all reading around a certain (instructional) level but present with very different reading behaviours. (I understand and appreciate that Guided Reading groups are designed to be “fluid” and of course kids may move groups at various times during the year.)

Of course there are advantages to Guided Reading too, and students will benefit from reading teacher selected books at times. I am not saying I will never do Guided Reading again, but I like to constantly think about best practise. Knowing your students as learners is the most important aspect here, and as long as you use methods that are backed up by sound research, you are doing your job as an educator.

In no way am I trying to convince people they should be doing things “my” way. I am simply presenting my thoughts and experiences so you can make up your own mind about how you can best cater for the needs of your students. While the Early Years model was intended to meet the needs of individual learners (and it certainly does in many areas), my experience and research shows that there can be other ways to achieve this personalised learning approach.

Remember if you want to know more about the Daily5 and CAFÉ model I suggest you purchase and read the books. They really are a wealth of information and include research behind the benefits of these approaches.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

What are your thoughts on Guided Reading and Strategy Groups?

How do you run your Strategy Groups?

How do you cater for individual needs during Literacy?


  15 comments for “Guided Reading and Individual Conferences/Strategy Groups

  1. March 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks for sharing; it makes a great read. This sort of structure works really well in the upper school, so I can’t see why it wouldn’t down lower. We have the benefit of most students being able to decode though, so the groups can be focused on the questioning level they need to work on, which differs greatly between students and changes all the time.

    It is important that the groups aren’t static… switching between ability groups and mixed groups on a regular basis helps to mix things up too. After all, the students learn best from each other, so have just as much to gain in mixed groups.

    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      March 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      @ Dale,

      It’s great to hear your thoughts. I think training the kids to select their own books from a young age is very beneficial, and we are coaching and supporting them through this process. They are really enjoying the other components of Daily 5 too, it’s great to see them actually reading during this time, and not just doing “busy work”.

      I agree that having fluid reading groups is crucial. I just found this wasn’t really happening during Guided Reading. It’s easier to change the groups around when you focus on reading strategies and group your students that way. I just feel this caters for their personal needs better.

      Thanks for your comment!


  2. Cathy Vivian
    March 24, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Kelly, you make some really interesting points here and I want to think more on them. I also run a modified Daily 5 program (wish I could get all 5 in one day, but I just can’t do it, so not really daily 5 at all. Leaving aside time constraints, I’m wondering if Guided Reading and Strategy groups need to be mutually exclusive. There seem to be positives in both, and advantages of both teacher chosen and child-chosen book-.

    I’m also wondering, do your students always manage to choose good fit books? In the past, I’ve found some of my real weak readers can do this, particularly in Read to Other time, but many are overly ambitious and don’t actually read (words, anyway).

    So much to think about…

    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      March 25, 2011 at 5:55 pm

      @ Cathy,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that time restraints make it difficult to implement the Daily 5 the way “The Sisters” do, but I think the beauty of the program is that you can modify it how it can best work for you.

      We have only started our modified Daily 5/CAFE Literacy block in the past few weeks, so we are still training the kids to select good fit books. I plan to blog about this next, so stay tuned!

      I appreciate your support,


  3. Crystal
    March 24, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    Wow this is great! Thanks! I love Daily 5 & CAFE!

    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      March 25, 2011 at 6:00 pm

      @ Crystal,

      Thanks, I agree, the Daily 5 and CAFE are fantastic programs and I’m really enjoying learning as much as I can!


  4. March 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Dear Kelly,
    Interesting post about GR and conferences and strategy groups. I was thinking like Cathy that GR and SG didn’t necessarily need to be separate groups. I think you could combine the two and have success.
    One thing I did when teaching Guided Reading was for each child to have a just right reading bag with 4-6 books at their level. I had bins of books leveled and the students could pick their books from their assigned tub. It ensured that they had the correct level for independent reading and also allowed them to have choice.
    If there was quiet reading time that wasn’t part of the literacy block, then the students could read/look at anything available in my classroom. This helped with students who wanted to look at books that were much higher than they could actually read.

    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      March 25, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      @ Julie,

      I like your idea of having a bag of “just right” books for each child. I learnt about a similar idea at a PD last year (run by Anne Hammond). It is so important that children are reading books they’re actually interested in, and this is one reason I love the Daily 5/CAFE program. To embed a love of reading in children, they need to be reading books they love. Choosing books for Guided Reading can be difficult when you take into account different the different interests (and genders) of children in each group.

      Allowing students to just browse other books (that are more difficult for them) is a good idea too. It’s important to broaden our students’ experiences with books and it sounds like you’re doing a great job!

      Great to hear your thoughts!


  5. March 26, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Kelly,

    I am following your Daily 5 posts with great interest as I embark on a similar journey within my own classroom! Our past experiences also seem to align quite closely, with Guided reading groups (organised according to reading levels) being implemented in literacy sessions regularly. This aspect always gave me the sense of having done a `good’ job because I heard all of the children read (the same amount of times!). Implementing daily 5 means that this no longer happens – I work with strategy groups based on needs and although this makes sense I am still struggling with releasing guided reading entirely. Perhaps it is habit that makes me just want to hear all the children read the same amount of times (and more than a page or two!). I will persevere though as I believe targeting a specific strategy and providing focused instruction in an individual or small group conference is surely the right way to continue to move my children forward as readers.
    To assist my class (5-6 year olds) in selecting good fit books I have created book boxes with levelled readers from which the children go `shopping’ for 4-5 books for their individual book boxes. They also `shop’ for 4-5 `good fit’ books from our class bookshelf on which I have provided a selection of fiction and non-fiction books. This means that in each child’s box they have a variety of levelled readers and interest books all of which they have chosen independently. Each night they select one of the levelled books to take home for home reading. They particulary enjoy `shopping’ for new books for their boxes!

    Thanks for always sharing and taking the time to blog about your experiences – I’m looking forward to your next post!


    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      March 27, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      @ Jen,

      It’s always great to hear from you, especially as we are embarking on a similar Daily 5 journey this year!

      I think this quote from your comment sums it up perfectly: “I will persevere though as I believe targeting a specific strategy and providing focused instruction in an individual or small group conference is surely the right way to continue to move my children forward as readers”.

      I definitely agree that it can be difficult to begin new approaches and you constantly question things to determine what the best practise is, but as long as we have faith in ourselves and understand that knowing your students is the key, we will be successful.

      I’m enjoying the learning journey this year, I’ve never reflected and refined my teaching so much! 🙂


  6. March 27, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Dear Kelly
    I have been reading the comments to your post with interest.
    As you know, I have also adopted Daily 5, and even in just a few weeks I am seeing great results from many children. Most of the class have really bought in to the idea of being in charge of making ‘good-fit’ choices.

    Like several others, I have baskets of books sorted according to levels, and I direct the children to a particular basket to choose about 6 books per week from those, and then they choose 1-2 other books from our school library, or the classroom library.
    One boy chose his new books last week and said’ “I can’t wait to start reading.” Another boy brought a good-fit book from home and before school I found him sitting in a Read to Self spot reading his book. Those are the moments that make your heart sing!

    Up to now I have been doing individual conferencing, but am slowly moving into working with 2-3 strategy groups over the week as well as seeing individuals.

    Slow and steady seems to be the way for best results.


    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      March 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm

      @ Judy,

      Thanks for your comment! You are well on your way and have introduced many key elements of the Daily 5, it’s great to hear it’s going so well!

      Isn’t it wonderful that our students are excited about reading and are so keen to choose their own books and “get lost” in the adventures of reading.

      I am moving towards starting strategy groups up too. I definitely agree that you can’t rush the process. It’s beneficial for both the students and the teacher if everything is taken gradually and the foundations are set firmly before new things are introduced.


  7. annie
    May 1, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    I am enjoying your site and comments shared. One problem I find with guided reading is the quality of reading resource we are offereing our kids to read as levelled texts. I like to hunt out what we call “real books’, the ones that kids might see in the library or at the book store, and hopefully at home and really enjoy. Sometimes I think they see many of the guided reading books we offer as school books and see that sort of reading for school. I think it important that kids see what we do in school as part of the real world reading. Thats why I love Debbie Millers work with early readers and the invitational groups that Ellin Keene wriets about i n “To Understand”.

  8. July 30, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    I agree with Annies comment that kids see the leveled books we have at school as school books. I try to instil a love of books in my students as much as I can but find that collecting enough books to be a big problem. I raid our library and have book baskets of my own that are organised into themes and authors as well as the leveled book boxes that kids use as take home readers. But there aren’t nearly enough for them to have individual book boxes (which I would love!). Does anyone else have trouble stocking their room with books? Whenever I see pictures or watch videos on the sisters website or view other US classrooms in particular I’m in awe of the amount of books they have in their classrooms. What Iwould give for some of those books to fill my classroom library!

    • Miss Kelly Jordan
      July 31, 2011 at 9:34 am

      @ Cheryl,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree, it can be hard to find the resources and the space in classrooms to store large collections of books. All schools have different budgets/literacy resources and it’s hard to get extra money for anything these days!

      Good luck!


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