What Should Your School’s Reading Instruction Look Like?

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Do you remember how you learned to read? Were you in a reading group? Did you use the SRA boxes? Plenty of research tells us what works best for learners who are learning to read and what the best method of reading instruction is.

Reading Instruction

what should your school's reading instruction look like

What we should see in our children’s classrooms when it comes to reading instruction:

Children select their own books — choice is important! (See my post “Just-Right Books“) Watch how to select a just-right book.

REAL books.
Real, authentic books not “decodable” books with controlled vocabulary.

Comprehension focused.
The focus is on meaning not skills.

Kids talk about books and discuss with other readers.

Reader’s Workshop approach
1) Short direct instruction on something good readers do, usually a cognitive skill (5-10 minutes), 2) a long reading time (30 – 60 minutes) in which children read and apply the lesson to their own, self-selected books as well as a time for the teacher to confer with individual students, 3) ends with reading journal writing and a whole-group reflection time (5-10 minutes).
Watch a Reading Workshop in 1st grade. This is what you should want for your child!


Reading comprehension strategies explicitly modeled, taught and practiced.
Strategies that good readers use: use fix-up strategies when comprehension is interrupted, connect to background knowledge, determine importance, make inferences, visualize or make sensory images, ask questions, synthesize, be meta-cognitive about his or her own thinking. Reading strategies printable.

Limited phonics.
Phonics is a part of a balanced program but shouldn’t be overemphasized. Even in a kindergarten classroom, phonics should be no more than 20 minutes a day. (Phonics becomes unnecessary when children are reading fluently.)

Daily read aloud time.

Individual and partner work.

Whole group, small group and individual instruction.

Variety and quantity.
Lots of books in the room available to children, of different genres, topics.

Teacher models being a reader.
Teacher shares with students what he or she is thinking when she reads, books she or he likes, etc.

Variety of assessments including and especially conferring with students.
Watch an example of a teacher-student reading conference. Love this! This teacher can totally differentiate (individualize) for this reader because he’s assessing the reader and providing individualized instruction.

Reading and writing are connected and taught in cooperation with each other.

Flexible and fluid guided reading instruction.

“The Daily Five” (Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, Word Work)

What we don’t want to see — because it’s not good for learners:

Teacher selects the books for the children to read. Children do not get to choose.

“Decodable” leveled books.
No real books to be found. These books often don’t make sense and aren’t interesting to readers so can be much harder than real books.

Phonics emphasized over comprehension.

Grouping by ability exclusively.
Guided reading programs do this.

Round-robin reading.
No comprehension happening here because students are either planning ahead what they’re supposed to read or worrying.

Assessments are tests only.

Reading does not include writing.

Whole group instruction and activities.

Teacher doesn’t model his or her own thinking out-loud for kids.

Everyone reads the same book or basal reader.

Paper and pencil activities (test prep, worksheets).


Rhodes, Lynn, and Curt Dudley-Marling. 1996 Readers and Writers with a Difference. A Holistic Approach to Teaching Struggling Readers and Writers.

Zimmerman, Susan, and Ellin Oliver Keene. 1997. Mosaic of Thought.

Zemelman, Daniels, & Hyde. 1998 Best Practice New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools.

AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Enokson

What reading instruction are you seeing at your child’s school?

Anything you’re wondering about you need me to explain?

Workshop Approach to Instruction
Constructivist Classroom
What to Expect in a Writer’s Workshop
The Case Against Skill and Drill Curriculum 

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  1. Great ideas and resource links, Melissa. Found this via your 2011 popular posts.
    I was just looking at the reader’s workshop video and found it so relevant.
    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  2. Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read

    This 58-page teacher’s guide provides a framework for using the findings of the National Reading Panel in the classroom. It describes the NRP findings and provides analysis and discussion in five areas of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. Each section also suggests implications for classroom instruction with examples of how the findings can be implemented.