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Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for October 2023

The Guided Reading Debate:

Problematic Pitfall or Promising Practice

by Dr. Mary Howard

Dr. Howard granted permission for me to repost this blog she wrote about guided reading. Although the term has been attacked and villainized, the truth is Structured Literacy and the Science of Reading acknowledge the value of differentiated, small group instruction. Dr. Howard clearly lays out the tenants that make guided reading (another name for small group instruction) effective and research-based.


Please read this and share it with your staff and colleagues:

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for September 2023

Dr. Linnea Ehri’s Phases of Word Learning

and the Next Step Reading Stages

by Julie Taylor, Ph.D.


We have a wonderful literacy tip this month by my dear friend, Dr. Julie Taylor. She will tell us how Dr. Linnea Ehri’s word-learning phases align with the reading stages described in my book, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.


Dr. Linnea Ehri is a cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of New York. She has published over 160 scientific papers and served on the National Reading Panel. In the 1990’s, her research led her to develop a theory on the phases of reading development (Ehri, 1995).  She identifies five phases to describe how children learn to read and remember words. She coined these phases the pre-alphabetic, partial-alphabetic, full-alphabetic, consolidated-alphabetic, and automatic. They range from non-readers to automatic word readers.


Dr. Ehri’s phase theory is a science of reading research tenet that aligns with the Next Step guided reading stages and lesson routines (Richardson, 2016). Dr. Ehri divided her reading phases according to children’s decoding ability, something guided reading teachers take into account when we choose texts and plan small group literacy lessons. The Next Step guided reading framework offers instructional routines for teaching reading, writing and phonics skills that are developmentally appropriate for specific phases of reading. 


In this article I will correlate each of Ehri’s phases to a Next Step reading stage and include a link to a video example of the Next Step lesson activities. You will see how the Next Step framework translates the reading science into practical classroom instruction.


Ehri’s Pre-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Pre-A lesson routine, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 2). Children at this phase lack letter-sound knowledge and typically identify words by salient letters, visual features, or environmental context. They tend to memorize familiar stories and rarely attend to individual letter sounds when they attempt to read a text. 

During a Next Step Pre-A lesson, children are taught phonological and phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, and sound-letter associations. They also develop concepts of print such as left-to-right directionality, voice-print match, and the concept of a letter and a word. Children learn these skills through lively, multisensory phonics activities, shared reading, and interactive writing - activities that reinforce the relationship between reading and writing. Click here to watch some kindergarten students who identify fewer than 40 letters learn foundational skills.


Ehri’s Partial-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Emergent  lesson routine, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 3). At this stage, children continue to develop phonemic awareness, learn most letter names, and start to blend sounds in CVC words, although the decoding will be slow and laborious. Because they haven’t learned all the letter-sound associations, Partial-Alphabetic students have a meager knowledge of words they recognize by sight. Readers at this stage tend to confuse similarly spelled words due to weak letter-sound proficiency.


During a Next Step Emergent lesson, children learn letter/sound associations, sight words, and phonemic awareness through reading easy books with the teacher’s support, explicit instruction in segmenting and blending CVC words and sentence dictation. These activities promote and develop orthographic mapping, which Ehri describes as “the formation of letter-sound connections to bond the spellings, pronunciations, and meanings of specific words in memory (Ehri, 2014.) 

Click here to watch the new routine for

teaching sight words via orthographic mapping.


Ehri’s Full-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Early stage, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 4). At this phase, children have full letter-sound connections and can segment, blend, and substitute phonemes with ease. Now they are ready to decode words using word parts such as onset and rime, syllables, and inflectional endings. Children’s orthographic mapping skills are strengthened as they continue to map sounds to letters to build a growing sight word vocabulary. Decoding becomes a self-teaching mechanism (Share, 1995) in that children implicitly learn new phonics rules and spelling patterns as they independently attack the pronunciation of new words. As their accuracy and automaticity improve, more cognitive attention is shifted towards comprehension.  


During a Next Step Early lesson, children are explicitly taught the silent e feature and complex vowels. They learn to break words at the onset and rime (ch-ip) and at the inflectional ending (stand-ing). Children continue to apply orthographic mapping skills to build a large bank of sight words that do not need to be decoded. Fluency and comprehension grow in importance as children’s accuracy and automaticity improves. Writing is a crucial component of every Next Step lesson, but at the Early stage, children move beyond writing dictated sentences to create their own responses to the text they read. Go to this link and watch second graders write about the nonfiction book they read in the video titled “Guided Writing 2.”


Ehri’s Consolidated-Alphabetic Phase: (This phase aligns to the Next Step Transitional reading routine, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 5). Children begin to use multi-letter units to solve unknown words. They also use analogies, which is the strategy of using known words and word parts to teach themselves unknown words. For example, if a student doesn’t automatically recognize the word square, they might use the sound of are in care to decode square. At this point, their orthographic mapping skills are firm, and the process of reading transitions from an activity of learning to read to reading to learn. During this phase, children use their advanced orthographic mapping skills to learn new vocabulary, which further develops their comprehension of complex text.


Next Step Transitional lessons focus on explicit teaching of spelling patterns, complex vowels, and morphemes to assist students in reading and writing unfamiliar words. During reading, students are prompted to read in chunks rather than sounding out words letter by letter. Research shows that proficient second grade readers never sound out words letter by letter; instead, they usually work with large, sub-word level units. In Kaye’s (2006) study of second grade proficient readers, she found that the second graders demonstrated more than 60 different ways to overtly solve new words. Transitional word study and phonics activities include building and taking apart words by onset-rime, syllable, and inflectional endings. Click here and watch some third graders use magnetic letters to make and break apart a multisyllabic word (Word Study: Making Big Words).


Ehri’s Automatic Phase:  (This final phase of word reading (Ehri & McCormick, 1998) aligns with the Fluent stage in The Next Steps lessons, Richardson, 2016, Chapter 6). Most words children encounter have become sight words. The few unknown words they encounter are quickly decoded and stored into the reader’s lexicon. Automatic word recognition frees the reader’s attention to focus on comprehension. Proficient readers in 5thgrade and higher are most often at this phase. 


During Fluent Next Step guided reading lessons, the instructional focus is on extending vocabulary and prompting students to engage in deeper comprehension. Hundreds of studies have proven the effectiveness of explicitly teaching comprehension strategies (Shanahan, 2023). Comprehension strategies slow down the reader and force them to think more deeply about the text. In chapter 7 of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, Richardson includes 29 instructional modules for teaching the 12 major comprehension strategies: comprehension monitoring, retelling, developing vocabulary, asking and answering questions, identifying main idea and details, analyzing characters, inferring, summarizing, using text feature, and understanding text structure. Click here to watch lessons with  fluent readers that focus on comprehension and vocabulary.


I have shown how Dr. Ehri’s phase theory of word reading aligns with the Next Step guided reading stages and lesson routines. It’s a wonderful example of how the Next Step framework can translate theory into practice.



Ehri, L.C. (2014) Orthographic Mapping in the Acquisition of Sight Word Reading,

     Spelling Memory, and Vocabulary Learning, Scientific Studies of Reading, 18:1, 5-21,

     DOI: 10.1080/10888438.2013.819356.

Ehri, L. C. (2013). Orthographic mapping and the acquisition of sight word reading,

     spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 5-21.

Ehri, L. C. (1995). Phases of development in learning to read words by sight. Journal of

     Research in Reading, 18(2), 116-125.

Ehri, L. C., & McCormick, S. (1998). Phases of word learning: Implications for instruction with 

     delayed and disabled readers. Reading & Writing Quarterly: Overcoming Learning Difficulties,      14(2), 135–163.

Kaye, E. (2006). Second Grader’s Reading Behaviors: A study of variety, complexity, and change. 

     Literacy Teaching and Learning. 10(2), 51-75.

Richardson, J. (2016). The next step forward in guided reading: An assess-decide-guide 

     framework for supporting every reader. NY: Scholastic.

Richardson, J. (2023). Guided reading and reading science.

Shanahan, T. (2023). Knowledge or comprehension strategies – What should we teach? 

     Shanahan on Literacy

     or-  comprehension-strategies-what-should-we-teach

Share, D. (1995). Phonological recoding and self-teaching: sine qua non of reading acquisition. 

     Cognition, 55(2), 151-218.

Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. MA:

     Harvard University Press.


Click here to view the complete summary

of Ehri’s phases and Richardson’s stages. 

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for August 2023

A Really Good Story

by Sandra Weaver, Next Steps Consultant

I met Jameson in February. He was in a first-grade traditional classroom receiving only whole group instruction that emphasized phonics. Since Jameson was a year below grade level, his classroom teacher recommended tutoring to his mother. His mother contacted me. After meeting with the mom and Jameson, I immediately assessed him using a variety of assessment tools. Here is a list of his strengths:

  • Oral language

  • Background knowledge

  • Listening comprehension

  • Read and write about 30 high frequency words

  • Consonants and the short e

  • Able to orally segment and blend phonemes in short words

  • When reading connected text, he would attempt to sound out unknown words

  • Reading comprehension


Although Jameson had some phonics knowledge, he wasn’t able to transfer that knowledge to reading. He successfully read text at level B. Grade level for this time of year would be level G.


Based on his assessments, I developed the following instructional goals:

  • Increase phonemic awareness, especially short vowels

  • Hear and record phonemes in CVC words

  • Teach sound-letter connections for medial vowels, digraphs, and blends

  • Build a stronger bank of high-frequency words

  • Teach decoding skills and strategies

  • Teach letter formation for lowercase letters

  • Write a short retelling that includes key details

  • Increase text level reading to reach grade level expectations

We started 30-minute tutoring sessions, two times a week. I followed 
Jan’s new integrated lesson framework.


On Day 1 I taught 15 minutes of phonological awareness and phonics instruction and 15 minutes of reading a challenging book. On Day 2 we reread the book for fluency, had a comprehension conversation and did guided writing.


Jameson started to make progress immediately.  In fact, after our very first lesson, his mother sent me this message: “I wanted to touch base and let you know that Jameson was very positive after his session yesterday. He came home and knew exactly what he needed to do for homework. I haven’t seen him that empowered in a while and so I’m excited to see his progress moving forward.”

After 18 tutoring sessions (a total of 9 hours of instruction), Jameson progressed from reading at a level B to reading on grade level (text level I) with accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. That’s a really great story.

I credit Jameson’s success to Jan’s lesson framework that integrates phonics, reading and writing. In each session I explicitly taught all the reading pillars identified by the National Reading Panel (2000) and more: phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, writing, and oral language. I also monitored his progress and used authentic assessments to establish weekly goals based on his strengths and needs.

This is one of thousands of success stories from using The Next Step framework.  
You can watch some videos of Jameson do Making Words and reading grade level text below. 

For more information on remote tutoring or professional development, please contact 

Sandra Weaver

Or visit

Daisy ran to the door
and looked outside.
"Come on!" she called to Jack.

"Let's go outside and play."
Jack ran out the door, past Daisy, 
and down the steps.
He was wearing his Super Dog cape.
"I'm faster than a speeding bullet," 
he said. "Try to catch me!"


Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for May 2023

Updated Making Word Procedures 

by Jan Richardson


The Making Words activity is an excellent instructional procedure for explicitly teaching phonics skills. Children manipulate magnetic letters to make a series of words that contain the same phonics skill but differ by one or two phonemes. For example, if children are learning about digraphs, you could dictate hat-chat-chap-chip-ship-shop-chop. Using a series of words that differ by one or two letters, helps students attend to letter sequence and synchrony (the connection between sounds and letters). Making Words has been part of my “Next Steps” lesson framework for decades, but I have recently updated the procedures to teach both encoding (spelling) and decoding (reading). Here are the steps for the updated version of Making Words:


Step 1: Identify a target skill (short vowels, digraphs, blends, silent e, or vowel patterns).

Step 2: Create a chain of words that contain the target skill and differ by one letter or letter cluster. The following are examples of a Making Words activity that targets specific phonics skills. You can find more examples in The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics (Scholastic, 2019).

  • Short vowels: had-hid-rid-rig-rag-rug

  • Digraphs: dish-dash-mash-mush-much-such

  • Initial blends: crab-slab-grab-grub-snub-shrub

  • Final blends: lift-lint-list-last-cast-past-pant-pint

  • Silent e: pal-pale-pane-pan-man-mane-mine-pine-pile

  • Vowel patterns: see-seed-weed-week-cheek-creek-creep


Step 3: Give each student a tray of magnetic letters and tell them the letters they will need to remove to make the list of words.


Step 4: Dictate the first word for students to make. As students make the word, tell them to say the individual sounds. This helps strengthen their orthographic mapping skills (Ehri, 2014).


Step 5: Teach them how to break the word at the onset and rime. The onset is the letter(s) before the vowel,and the rime is the part that begins with the vowel. For example, in the word stamp, the onset is st and the rime is amp. Teaching children how to break words between an onset and rime helps them recognize common patterns within words. It also helps children efficiently decode and spell new words After they break the word, have them point to each part as they say it. Then they should remake the word and read it, blending the parts quickly.


Step 6: Now tell them to change a letter or letter cluster in the word. Don’t tell them the new word they are going to make. For example, if the children are working on initial blends, you might say change the letters S-T in stamp to the letters C-R. After they make the new word, they should break the word at the onset and rime (cr-amp), say the parts, and read the word. This activity helps them develop good decoding skills.


Step 7: Now tell them to make a new word. Dictate the next word in the chain but don’t tell them which letter(s) they should change. Say, “Change the word crest to crept. Slide your finger under the word crest while you slowly say the word crept. Which letter do you need to change? Break it, say it, and read it.” This activity helps them develop good encoding skills.


Step 8:  Children continue to make the words in the chain you created. Alternate having children change a letter or letter cluster (step 6) with dictating a new word for them to make (step 7).


This video demonstrates these updated procedures. You can download and print this handout to help you remember the new steps.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for April 2023

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by Jeremiah Short, a reading intervention teacher from Houston, Texas. He has a podcast called The Phenomenal Student. Jeremiah calls himself a structured literacy teacher, but he actually uses a variety of approaches based on his students’ needs (something I really like!). It was great having a pleasant and respectful conversation with him about current trends and challenges. After I clarified some common misperceptions about guided reading, he and I realized we have a great deal in common. Click here to watch a recording of the interview.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for March 2023

Guided Reading and Reading Science

This month's lit tip is special.

Please click here to check out what Jan has to say.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for February 2023

The New 15-minute Lesson Plan

I’ve spent countless days and hours in classrooms this school year, working with students and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with teachers. When students returned to school this fall, teachers immediately recognized that many children, especially those most dependent on in-person instruction, had fallen behind and desperately needed intense, differentiated instruction. Teachers repeatedly ask me, “With the limited time I have, how can I teach additional small groups? How can I provide more differentiated phonics instruction?”


That’s why I developed my new 15-minute guided reading lesson plans. By teaching a 15-minute lesson instead of the traditional 20-minute, a teacher can add an extra small group each day! One of my new lessons specifically targets phonics, the others target reading and writing. Each of the three easy-to-follow lessons weaves phonics skills into the reading, writing, and word study.


The phonics lesson, for example, directs increased attention to the specific needs of students by including a quick review of previously taught skills, explicit modeling of a new skill, short blending and segmenting drills, and a series of hands-on word study activities that target the same phonics skill. During the reading component, students are quickly introduced to a challenging text and then guided to read the text with accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. The writing component extends student comprehension and cements the phonics skills by having students write about the book they just read. Click here for the new lesson plans. They’re free!

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for January 2023

On Christmas day, 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six, wrote a poem called, “Christmas Bells.” It reflected the conflict he was personally experiencing at that time in our nation’s history. The Civil War was raging, Longfellow’s wife had been killed in a tragic fire, and his oldest son had been paralyzed in battle. One of the final stanzas to the poem reads, 


And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"


A decade later, the words to Longfellow’s poem were set to music, and “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” became one of America’s favorite Christmas songs.


Now, 160 years later, the world (even the education world) is still searching for peace. A “Reading War,” fueled by biased social media reports, is dividing our schools, promoting unkindness and widespread disrespect. It breaks my heart to see teachers name-calling and school districts mandating some reading programs while banning others – all based on questionable, unverified “research.” 

I firmly believe we can find peace if we follow unbiased research and continue searching for ways to engage and teach our children. Click here to see how my literacy framework aligns with valid reading research.


I recommend this series of articles (Science of Reading and the Media: Is Reporting Biased?, Science of Reading and the Media: Does the Media Draw on High-Quality Reading Research?, Science and the Media: How Do Current Reporting Patterns Cause Damage?) written by Dr. Maren Auckerman and posted by the Literacy Research Association. Dr. Auckerman, a professor at Calgary University, lists many scientific research studies and exposes the journalistic bias that is unnecessarily dividing us.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for December 2022

Teaching Sight Words


I’ve had several conversations recently with a friend of mine, Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, a researcher, author, and highly respected Science of Reading expert. Jan and I have had several discussions about the Science of Reading and guided reading. She shared this definition: “The Science of Reading is a vast, unfinished, continuously growing and evolving interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research about reading and issues related to reading and writing.” The words in blue are Jan’s; those in black are taken from the Reading League’s "Defining Guide” 

( The truth is, no one knows everything there is to know about the reading process. As we acquire more knowledge, we need to incorporate the gained knowledge into our teaching. As Mark Seidenberg (2020) once said, “We know more about the science of reading than about the science of teaching reading based on the science of reading.” With that in mind, I’ve decided to offer some more tips on how to use my Four Steps for teaching a sight word.



As readers progress, they need to develop a large reservoir of sight words —words that are automatically recognized and do not require the reader to decode them. Research shows that beginning readers who focus on letter-sound relationships when they learn words are better able to bond the words in their memory (McCandliss & Noble, 2016; Ehri, 2020). 


The Four Steps I created have always emphasized the phoneme-grapheme connections. However, I realize we may need to make those connections more obvious to children, especially children who have difficulty learning words. In the following paragraphs, I review the Four Steps and explain how to explicitly teach orthographic mapping, the bonding of sounds to letters, to help children remember words.


What’s Missing? – Tell students the word they will learn and have them segment the sounds in the word. As they say each sound, write the letter or letters that represent that sound on a dry-erase board. Point out the graphemes that match each sound and draw attention to any unusual spellings. Then remove a letter and ask students what’s missing. They can repeat the word slowly if necessary to recall the missing grapheme. Repeat the procedure removing one or more letters on each turn.


Mix and Fix – Give students the magnetic letters to make the word. As they make it, they should segment the sounds and place the letters in sequence. Then tell them to segment the word again as they push up the letter or letters that represent each sound. Next, have them mix up the letters and remake the word. Tell them to check the word by pointing to each letter as they say the word slowly.


Table writing – Have children use their finger to write the word on the table, saying each sound as they write the letter(s) that represent the sounds. Using the fingertip to write the word helps build a memory trace (Fernald, 1943).


Write and retrieve – Give each student a white board to write the word. Make sure students say the word slowly as they write it, matching the sound they say to the letter(s) they write. Then dictate a familiar word for students to write, prompting them to say the word as they write it. Finally, repeat the new word for them to write. By this time, the students should be able to quickly recall the word and write it fluently.


If we consistently draw children’s attention to the letter-sound connections as they learn a new word, they will bond the spelling of individual words to their pronunciation and build a process for remembering words.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for November 2022

Leveled books can be decodable books


For this month’s tip, I’m sharing a blog written by Michele Dufresne. Michele has written over 800 books for children. Each of her books has been leveled to help teachers match their students to books they can read. The truth is, every book can be leveled in some way, either by a readability formula, a grade level, or a Lexile. A well-written leveled book has words children can decode as well as high-frequency words beginning readers need to learn. Check out Michele’s blog to find examples of how leveled books can also be decodable books.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for October 2022

"Next Steps" and the Science of Reading


There are common confusions about the “Science of Reading;” there are also confusions about guided reading and whether it aligns with reading research. I’ve written a white paper that clarifies some of those confusions. One reason I authored my first book, The Next Step in Guided Reading, is that I had witnessed too many guided reading lessons that were not aligned with reading research. My framework has always aligned with reading science. It includes these essential research-based components:

  1. Small flexible groups

  2. Differentiated instruction 

  3. Explicit focus based on on-going assessments

  4. Teacher scaffolding

  5. A balance of direct instruction and application

  6. A gradual release model

  7. Integrated framework that includes decoding skills, reading fluency, systematic phonics instruction, vocabulary support and reading comprehension strategies.

Each of the above elements is supported by more than 40 years of research. Click here for a complete description of what “Next Steps” guided reading is, and how it aligns with current reading science. 

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for September 2022

Teaching for Fluency


Research shows there is a strong correlation between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension. Students who read with appropriate speed, accuracy, and expression are more likely to comprehend connected texts (Fuchs, et al. 2001). The important question is how do I help students improve their oral reading fluency? The answer to that question will reveal the best intervention for accelerating our students. 


The first step is to analyze the running record to determine why a student isn’t reading with appropriate speed and accuracy. 

  • Is the text too difficult?  Obviously, if the text has too many unfamiliar words, the student will read slowly. This is one challenge of taking a one-minute fluency probe on grade-level text. If the children are reading below grade level, they will not do well on this type of assessment. When analyzing fluency, be sure to use a text that is at the student’s instructional or independent range (at least 90% accuracy).

  • Does the student struggle to read one-syllable words? Analyze the one-syllable words the child misses. Do they have short vowels, digraphs or blends? Do you notice that the child misreads words with vowel teams (ai, oa, ou, etc.)?

  • Does the student have trouble reading big words? Many intermediate readers are challenged by multisyllabic words, especially those with prefixes and suffixes. 

  • Does the student struggle to read high frequency words? High frequency words are words that appear frequently in English texts (e.g. to, the, up, where, come, etc.) If children misread or pause on these words, it is because the words have not become sight words. Sight words are words the child reads automatically because they have been mapped into the brain’s long-term memory. The more sight words students master, the fewer errors they will make.

  • Does the student read accurately, but mostly word by word? There could be several reasons why a child reads accurately but slowly. Perhaps he is being overly cautious not to make any mistakes. Some children read word-by-word because they are not phrasing within sentences. For example, all the words in a prepositional phrase should be said together. As the child reads orally, note the words the child reads as a phrase. This might help you determine your next step in instruction.

  • Does the student read accurately but without appropriate expression? If a child is reading in a flat monotone, his reading lacks prosody. When a child is reading prosodically, oral reading sounds like speech with appropriate phrasing, pausing, stress, and general expressiveness. The student is “reading the punctuation” so that someone who is listening will understand the character’s feelings. Prosodic reading, or reading with expression, is widely considered to be a strong indicator of solid comprehension. 


Once you’ve analyzed the child’s oral reading to determine why the child isn’t fluent, it’s time to teach for fluency. The following chart provides suggestions for teaching students which each type of fluency challenge:

Lit Tip.7.Sepdocx2.jpg

Fluency and Dyslexia

There is no agreed-upon definition of dyslexia (Johnston 2020, Hasbrouck 2022). A common characteristic of dyslexia, however, is difficulty with accurate and fluent reading. Although many struggling readers can become fluent with phonics and decoding instruction (and lots of accurate reading practice), some profoundly dyslexic readers may never become fast readers (Reid 2018). With dyslexia, there may be neurological factors that interfere with the process of quickly recognizing words. Nevertheless, with explicit instruction that integrates reading, writing, and phonics, these students can still learn to read with reasonable accuracy and sufficient comprehension. We must never forget that, although fluency is highly desirable, comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for June 2022

The school year is over or ending soon for most of you, but I wanted to share a brand-new resource I wrote this year with Pioneer Valley Books. It is a Shared Reading curriculum for whole class instruction that integrates reading, writing, phonics, and phonemic awareness. I tested the materials for several months with first graders and saw amazing growth.  Click here to learn more about the Shared Reading curriculum and watch me teach a phonics lesson.  

Pioneer Valley now has kits for Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade. This link will take you directly to their website where you can find out what is included in the kits and how to order them.


I have samples of the lesson plans on my website.  Click here and scroll down to Shared Reading to download them for free.


Enjoy your summer, stay well, read some good books, and have fun with your friends and family.  See you in September.


Warmly and affectionately,




Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for May 2022

How to Teach Vowel Patterns by Jan Richardson, Ph. D.


Children who read at levels H and higher are often challenged by words that have a vowel pattern. Unfortunately, the adage, “When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking,” doesn’t work for many patterns (e.g., oo, oi, oy, ew, au, aw, oi, eigh, and ea as in bread). To quickly decode unfamiliar words in text, children must become automatic with the sounds these patterns make. Follow these steps to teach vowel patterns:


Step 1: Explicitly Teach the Vowel Patterns

Create a vowel pattern wall poster using the vowel pattern wall cards. Teach one pattern at a time. As you point to a pattern on the chart, say the sound /ar/, the letters A-R and the picture link (car). Having a picture link for each pattern makes it easier for children to the remember the pattern and apply it in reading and writing. Once you teach a few patterns, students can match the pattern with the corresponding picture. Here is a short video of me reviewing five patterns with some first graders. 


At the beginning of each guided reading lesson, quickly review the patterns you’ve taught by having students say the pattern, spell the pattern, and say the picture. You can download a student vowel pattern chart. You can also add hand motions, songs, or silly stories to help children remember the sound. For example, when I teach the ar pattern, I have kids cover one eye with their hand to mimic an eye patch and say arrrrr, like a pirate.

Vowel Patterns Wall Chart                                              Vowel Patterns Student Chart











Step 2: Teach children to use the vowel pattern chart when reading.

Once you teach a vowel pattern, direct children to use it during reading. For example, if they have trouble decoding the word sprain, ask them to tell you the pattern (ai) and think of a word they know that has that pattern. If they can’t think of the word rain, have them find the ai pattern on their chart. Then they can use the picture clue, rain to read the word sprain. Another suggestion is to introduce a challenging word using magnetic letters. During one of my guided reading lessons today, the children were going to see the word sharpen in the book. I knew this would be a challenging word for them to decode so I made the word out of magnetic letters and showed them how to break off the ending and break the word at the vowel. We found the ar pattern on the vowel chart and used it to read the word. 






Step 3: Use a variety of kinesthetic activities to build flexibility with the patterns. During the word study portion of your lesson, target a pattern the children have seen during reading. Then use one of the following activities to build automaticity and flexibility with the pattern:

  • Making Words. Students use magnetic letters to make a series of words that contain the vowel pattern. If you want to teach the ew pattern, for instance, you might have students make these words: new – few – flew – blew – brew – crew. After they make each word, have them break the letters before the vowel and say the two parts (/bl/- /ew/). This emphasizes the sound the pattern makes. Here is a video of some children doing making words with the oa pattern. 

  • Analogy Charts. Choose two vowel patterns you have explicitly taught the group. Then have students write the key words for each pattern at the top of their analogy chart. This works best if the key words are known words for the children. For example, the key word for ar is car and the key word for ow is cow. Then dictate a series of words that either have the ar or the ow pattern. Children should say the word, and point to the key word that has the same pattern before they write the word on the chart. Here is a video of some children doing analogy charts with ai and oa patterns. 

  • Writing words. Show students the pattern and dictate a few words with the pattern for them to write: fewer, withdrew, pewter.  After they write each word, have them underline the vowel pattern. Check out this video.

  • Make a big word. Select a word from the story that contains the target vowel pattern. Always tell students which letters they will need, dictating the letters in alphabetical order. (e.g., c, e, e, m, n, o, r, w). Tell them the word they will make (newcomer) and have them clap the syllables. After they make the word with the magnetic letters, have them break it into syllables (new – com- er). This activity helps students break big words during reading and writing. Click here to watch some 1st graders make the word started. 


Step 4: Teach children to use the vowel pattern chart when writing. If students struggle to spell a word with a vowel pattern you have taught, tell them to find the picture on the chart that has the sound of the vowel pattern. This short video clip shows one of my students using the vowel pattern chart to write the word powder. 


Step 5: Provide opportunities for overlearning by using the vowel patterns in literacy centers. After you have taught several vowel patterns, teach children a few games they can play with a partner or a small group. You will need to make a set of vowel pattern cards that have the vowel pattern on one side and the picture on the other. I like to laminate the cards to make them more durable. You can download the cards here.





Name the Pattern

  1. Students lay out the cards with the picture side up and the pattern side down.

  2. Students take turns choosing a card, saying the picture (ball), saying the pattern (all), and spelling the pattern (A-L-L). They can check themselves by turning the card over. 

Click here to watch this game.


Match the Picture.

  1. Students lay out the cards with the vowel pattern facing up and the picture facing down.

  2. Students take turns choosing a card, saying the vowel pattern (all), and then trying to recall the picture on the back of the card (ball). They can check themselves by turning the card over. Click here to watch some second graders play this game. 


Vowel Pattern Speed Game

  1. Students organize the cards in a pile with the pictures facing up.

  2. They try to run through the pile quickly saying the picture (car), the vowel pattern /ar/, and the letters that make that sound A-R. Children can check themselves by turning the card over to see the vowel pattern.

  3. The goal of the game is to build automaticity with vowel patterns. Children can set a timer and see how long it takes to go through the cards. Then they can repeat the process and see if they can do it faster.

  4. Variation: Students can play the game with the pattern facing up. Then they take turns saying the pattern (ee) and trying to recall the picture on the back of the card (tree).  Of course, they can always turn the card over if they need help. Click here to watch some second graders play this game. 


How many words can you write in 30 seconds? 

      Materials: timer, set of vowel pattern cards, dry erase board and marker for each student.

  1. The cards are stacked with the pattern facing up.

  2. The leader sets the timer for 30 seconds, and the children write as many words as they can. 

  3. After the timer goes off, each child reads the words they have written.

  4. The next card is revealed and the game repeats.


With explicit instruction, guided practice, and kinesthetic activities, you will see your students grow as readers as they develop automaticity and flexibility with vowel patterns.

vowel patterns2.jpg
vowel patterns.jpg

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for April 2022

Teaching Sight Words

I’ve been busy the past several weeks, criss-crossing the country visiting schools, modeling lessons and doing presentations on guided reading. One common thread that emerged in grades K-2 is that students weren’t automatically recognizing and writing high-frequency words. We need to explicitly teach and review these words so they can become sight words (words students automatically recognize without sounding them out). In this month’s message, I will revisit how sight words are taught and reviewed in the Next Steps lesson. 


Sight Word Review - The Next Steps guided reading lesson begins with the Sight Word Review. These are words I have explicitly taught students in previous lessons. I put this activity at the beginning of the lesson because I often have children write familiar words that will appear in the new book. By having them quickly write these words, they are more likely to recognize them when they start reading the book. Here is a video of the sight word review with kindergarten students. Remember to monitor progress with the sight word checklist so you know which words students truly know and which still need to be reviewed. Put a checkmark if the child writes the word without any prompting. Sight word checklists for each text level can be found in Appendix F of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading and Appendix E in The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics.  


Book Introduction – During the book introduction, you prepare students for a successful reading of the new book by discussing text features and teaching challenging words students would not be able to decode. I often introduce words like said, want, would, enough, though, special, etc. Having children find the word in the book helps them recognize it when they read the book independently. Here is a video of the book introduction with emergent readers. At the two-minute mark, you’ll see me ask the children to find the word “look” in the book.


Read and Prompt – While students read the book independently, you confer with each student, listen to them read a page or two and prompt them for monitoring, word-solving, fluency, vocabulary or comprehension. It is a good idea for emergent and early readers to find a few sight words after they read a page. This lets you know they aren’t just memorizing the book or relying on the pattern. You want to be sure they are looking at the print.


Here is a video of the first reading of an emergent book. At 0:58, you’ll see me ask the student to show me a few sight words in the book. 


Teach a New Sight Word - In the Next Steps Lesson framework, you will notice that "Learning a new word" is AFTER students read the book. You want students to have read the sight word several times during the reading of the book before you teach them how to write the word. I have created four steps that provide a gradual release model for learning the word and help students develop a system for remembering words. The four steps are

What’s Missing?

Mix and Fix

Table Writing

Write and Retrieve

Here is a video of the four steps for teaching a sight word.


Guided Writing – On Day 2 of the lesson plan, students reread and discuss familiar books, relearn the sight word you taught on Day 1 and write a few sentences about the book. For emergent and early readers, I like to dictate a sentence about the book that contains the new sight word and other familiar words students have learned. This facilitates transfer of the word to writing. Here is a video of an emergent guided writing lesson. During the word study portion of the lesson, I taught the sight word “look.” Notice that the sentence I dictate for them has the word look in it: Look at the dog in the park. After students write that sentence, they think of other sentences to write.


By explicitly teaching sight words across the lesson during reading, word study and writing, students will develop a large bank of high-frequency words they quickly recognize. The student then has some cognitive space available to figure out unknown words in the book.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for March 2022

What's Missing in the Simple View of Reading?

Although the Simple View of Reading (Gough and Tunmer, 1986) is a popular model of the reading process, it is being challenged by recent research. 





The Simple View of Reading model purports that reading comprehension is simply the product of two disparate elements: decoding (also referred to as word recognition) and language (or listening) comprehension. This model developed 35 years ago, also states that these two processes are sequential. Recent research, however, challenges the assumption that students should be taught to decode first and then to comprehend 


Duke and Cartwright (2021) have developed an alternate model, called the Active View of Reading. Their model expands on the Simple View of Reading (SVR) to show how research over the past 35 years has brought additional understandings that go beyond what is represented in the SVR. 

Active View of Reading Duke and Cartwright (2021) 


Duke and Cartwright point out that recent research shows that decoding and listening comprehension are not separate, distinct processes.  In fact, they overlap in important ways.  This is depicted in their model (above) with the center circle labeled “Bridging Processes.” One of these bridging processes is vocabulary. Vocabulary is related to both decoding and comprehension. For example, how would you decode the word wind.  It depends on the context. The wind is strong, or I forgot to wind my grandfather clock. A proficient reader must be able to flexibly switch cognitive attention from graphophonics (letters and sounds) to semantics (meaning).


A few days ago, I was reading with a striving 2nd grader who accurately read this sentence, “Dogs have to be taught to behave.” Then he pointed to the word “behave” and said, “Wait a minute, I see have.  Is this word behave or behave?”  My response was, “What do you think? What would sound right and make sense?” He said, “It has to be behave, but that is tricky.” He was right. English is tricky.


Another bridging process is fluency. Fluency is often associated with decoding and the ability to read words quickly, but when we consider phrasing and prosody (stress and intonation), we see that fluency is affected by language comprehension as well. 


The Active View of Reading also points out several other contributors to reading that are not mentioned in the SVR. One important process receiving a great deal of attention in literacy discussions is executive function (EF), which is listed in the left circle as part of the self-regulatory process. In a recent blog ( Tim Shanahan explains that executive function is bound up in intentionality and self-regulation. A young reader who notices a reading error (monitors), rereads, and corrects the error without teacher prompting is exhibiting executive function skills. 


I recently administered 36 running records on kindergarten and first grade students for mid-year progress monitoring. As I noted student behaviors, the children who demonstrated the self-regulatory skills of engagement, executive functioning and strategic processing were much more proficient that those who strictly relied on sounding out words. 


How do we teach students to use executive function skills?

  1. Don’t monitor for them. When a student makes an error, resist the urge to provide immediate correction. Wait until the end of the sentence to see if the student notices the error.

  2. Encourage them to take risks. If they ask for your help on a word, resist the urge to tell them the word. First prompt them to try it: What letters do you see? Is there a part you know? What would make sense?

  3. Praise them when they try to solve a word, even if they aren’t successful. When students actively engage in word-recognition strategies, they are strengthening their executive function skills.

  4. Teach students vocabulary and comprehension strategies. Chapter 7 of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading has 29 ready-to-teach modules for strengthening these important skills. 


We need to encourage our students to take risks, solve words in flexible ways, and try more than one strategy to construct meaning from text. Decoding and listening comprehension aren’t enough. Analyze your readers to determine what is missing from their reading process and then use guided reading to teach them how to be more proficient and engaged readers.

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for February 2022

Modifying the Literacy Footprints Lesson Cards

Literacy Footprints is a complete guided reading system based on my Next Step Forward lesson framework. The kits provide a scaffold for teachers to use as they plan their guided reading lessons. I’ve recently had questions about how to modify the lesson plans to meet specific student needs. The following are a few suggestions:


First, it’s critically important that you continue to use anecdotal notes and formative assessments to adjust your lessons to meet the developmental needs of your students. 


Beginning Steps or Pre-A lessons

These lessons are used with children who identify fewer than 40 letters. Since their pre-school literacy experiences vary, you’ll need to adjust the following components:


Working with sounds. Although the lesson cards suggest two beginning sounds to sort with picture cards, you should use your letter-sound checklist to select the sounds to teach. Choose one familiar sound and one new sound. When teaching a new sound, choose a letter that students know by name. The following sounds are the easiest to learn because the letter sound is imbedded in the letter name: b,d,f,j,k,l,m,n,p,r,s,t,v,x,z.


Working with letters. If students know fewer than 25 of 52 letters, be sure to make individual letter bags that contain the letters in the student’s first name and letters they can identify. The activity listed on the card might be appropriate for the students in the group, but there are actually seven different activities to choose from. The activities are listed on pages 36 and 37 of Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. The first four activities are geared for children who identify less than 25 letters. The final three are for children who know more than 25 letters. 


Emergent and Early Lessons

Sight Word Review. During this part of the lesson, dictate three familiar words for students to write. Although there are suggestions on the lesson card, you should use the sight word checklist for the group to determine which words students need to review.


Teach a New Sight Word. The new sight word listed on the card might be appropriate for the group. If the children in the group already know the word listed on the card, teach a word they don’t know. Appendix F in Next Step Forward in Guided Reading lists10 words that are appropriate to teach at each level, A-I.)


Word Study. During the last five minutes of the lesson, you should explicitly and systematically teach phonics. Most of the time, the Word Study activity on the lesson card will be appropriate. However, consider the skills your students need to learn next and use the multisensory word study activities described in Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.


Guided Writing. The day after students read the book, they write about it. At levels A-E, there is a sentence listed that you can dictate for students to write. When students are reading above text level E, there is a recommended writing prompt.  However, you still might decide to dictate the first sentence to help students get started. After you dictate the first sentence, guide students to write more sentences on their own.



Sight words – The Literacy Footprints lesson cards do not include sight word instruction after level I. However, I have found that many transitional readers (especially in grades 3-5) still need to work on sight words. If this applies to your students, add two minutes of sight word instruction to each lesson. Use the sight word checklist to identify words to review and teach. 


Comprehension focus - This is the part of the lesson I change most often. Each Literacy Footprints lesson lists a comprehension focus. It is important that you thread a comprehension skill throughout your guided reading lessons. It’s possible that the focus on the card may not be the one the students need. Use assessments and your observations to identify which strategy to teach. I often do Stop, Think, and Paraphrase (STP) at text levels J-L because many students at these early transitional levels need to strengthen literal comprehension.


Word Study - There is a recommended word study activity with every lesson, but feel free to make adjustments based upon the needs of your students. I’m learning that many striving readers need multiple lessons on the same phonics skill before they are ready to learn another skill. For example, one of my groups is learning vowel patterns.  I’m spending an entire week on one vowel pattern.  One day we might do analogy charts, another day we’ll do breaking words, and if possible, I’ll try to squeeze in a “Make a Big Word” activity where the word contains the same vowel pattern. 


Fluent Lessons

By the time students are fluent readers, your focus shifts to teaching comprehension and vocabulary strategies. The only part of the lesson I might change is the comprehension focus. If the focus on the lesson card is not one your students need, then choose a different focus. There are progressive steps for each comprehension focus in chapter 7 of Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.


Rather than being a blueprint that you must strictly adhere to, the Literacy Footprints lesson cards are a footprint to guide you through the process of planning a dynamic lesson that integrates reading, writing and phonics -- but always remember to adjust the lessons to meet the specific needs of your students!

Monthly Message from Jan

Literacy Tip for January 2022

Let’s Clear the Air about the Science of Reading…and be nice!

As a result of the current conversation surrounding the “science of reading,” there have been some unfair judgments pronounced upon Dr. Marie Clay and the literacy processing theory upon which her highly effective Reading Recovery® program is based. (Reading Recovery®, by the way, has received the highest score of any reading intervention by What Works Clearing House


“Science of reading” advocates base their views on brain research conducted by neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists. Dr. Clay, a child psychologist, also conducted research on how children learn to read. One common misconception is that Dr. Clay only studied struggling readers. That is totally false. She began her research journey by analyzing beginning readers who were high, high-middle, low-middle, and low performing readers. Then she identified the strategic actions “good readers” use and developed a program to help those who lag behind. In all fairness, teachers need to applaud and value the decades of research done by Dr. Clay. 


Dr. Clay’s research differs significantly from what is currently being advocated as the “one and only true science” of the reading process. The research cited by the SOR was done in clinical settings. Most (perhaps all) of it was conducted while children read isolated words. Dr. Clay, on the other hand, analyzed beginning readers while they read connected text. That is the big difference between the two schools of research. I would argue that studying children while they read connected text more accurately represents the process of reading. I honor and respect the work that has been done by the SOR researchers, and I have taken a fresh look at the procedures I hold dear to my heart and have made a few adjustments. But I also respect and honor the work done by Dr. Clay and other psychologists, educators, professors, and literacy specialists as they have studied children reading continuous text.


We need to listen to one another. Listen with respect. Though we may disagree on how best to teach reading, we can still be kind.  After all, we want the same thing.  We want children to become proficient readers who can’t wait to read another book.

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 13, 2021

Understanding the Purpose of Level A and B Books

by Dr. Michele Dufresne

Some people who criticize using levels books with emergent readers simply misunderstand the purpose of emergent books. These simple, patterned texts, currently being referred to as “predecodables,” teach nascent readers concepts of print, book handling skills, how to use some letters and sounds, and much more. This article by Michele Dufresne, author of more than 700 leveled books, explains the purpose and limitations of using Level A and B books with beginning readers. Click here to read her blog.

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 15, 2021

Say What? by Jan Richardson

Teachers often struggle with what to say to students when they are reading a book during guided reading. They wonder, What should I attend to and what should I ignore? When should I prompt for fluency? How do I teach decoding skills?  What prompts should I use for strengthening comprehension? I strongly recommend that you follow this sequence of prompts:

  • Monitoring 

  • Decoding

  • Fluency

  • Vocabulary

  • Comprehension


I think about this list as I confer with my students. I always start at the top. If the student makes some errors but isn't monitoring, I prompt for monitoring first (e.g. Are you right? Can you find your mistake?).


Then I think about decoding. Were there words the students couldn't decode? If so, I teach them a strategy that would help them become better readers. I might say, Check the word with your finger. Did you notice all the letters in the word? Can you break that word into parts? Just yesterday, I worked with a group of transitional readers who were struggling to decode words with endings. I taught them to cover the ending and find a known part. That strategy has far-reaching implications for early, transitional, and fluent readers.


If a student is accurate and doesn’t make many errors, I think about fluency. Was the student accurate, but slow? Did the student ignore punctuation? Does he or she need to read with appropriate expression and intonation? If so, then I use fluency prompts such as 

Don’t forget to stop at the periods.

Pause when you see a comma.

How would the character say that? Read it again and pretend you are the character. 

Discourage pointing once students have controlled one-to-one matching (usually around level C or D). 


Vocabulary is an important issue for some transitional readers and for most fluent readers. Transitional and fluent readers are usually able to decode words they have never seen before. When you notice vocabulary issues, it’s time to teach them strategies for determining the meaning of unknown words.

Are there any clues in the sentence?

Can the illustration help you figure out the meaning of that word?

Have you heard that word before? Can you make a connection to this word?

Can you think of a different word that would make sense in this sentence?

Is the word in the glossary?


If the students are decoding accurately, reading with appropriate fluency, and don't struggle with vocabulary, then I will prompt them for comprehension. How I prompt for comprehension depends upon the needs of the student. If the student needs to work more on literal comprehension, I’ll use prompts like

  • What did you read so far? Tell me what you read on this page. What have you learned about…..?

  • Who was the important character on this page? What did ­­­_____ do?


If the student is strong with surface comprehension, I’ll prompt for inferential or evaluative thinking with prompts like,

  • How is the character feeling now? How has the character changed? What caused the character to change?

  • Why did the character say (or do) that? What are you thinking?

  • Why did the author include this text feature? How did this text feature add to your understanding of the topic?

  • Think of a word that describes the character? What is your evidence for that trait?


You can find these prompts and others on pages 76, 125, 178 and 239 in my yellow book.

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 22, 2021

Count your blessings, hug your family, and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 29, 2021

Recap of #G2Great Twitter Chat on Running Records by Jan Richardson

I want to share a recap of our #G2Great Twitter chat with Dr. Mary Howard and the Literacy Lenses team, featured on the Scholastic EDU blog:

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 6, 2021

How do I find time to take a running record?

by Jan Richardson, C.C. Bates, and Maryann McBride

Do you struggle to find time in your daily routine to take running records? Click here to find suggestions for making efficient use of your instructional time while finding time to take short, running records on your students.

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 8, 2021

Virtual Literacy Workshops for Parents of Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Graders

by Sophie Kowzun

Teachers, do you have parents asking you how they can support their child’s literacy development at home? Are you looking for research-based (Reading Strategies and Science of Reading principles), quality guidance to recommend to parents? The Virtual Literacy Workshops for Parents of Preschool, Kindergarten, and First Graders is just the answer!


Virtual learning during the pandemic has presented many challenges for our youngest learners. Developing strong literacy skills prepares early learners for successful achievement across their educational years. Parents want to support their children with literacy development but often are unsure about the most effective ways to help.


We have developed a series of ten, hour-long workshops, delivered virtually over five weeks, to provide parents with the knowledge and tools they need to ensure their child is on a path to literacy learning that promotes a love of reading and writing. Parents will learn effective strategies that make learning fun while developing the essential literacy skills from highly qualified instructors with years of training and experience.


We teach the parents, and the parents teach their children! In ten sessions, you will learn how to teach your child:

● phonics skills (learning letters and sounds and application to reading and writing),

● to learn words,

● to read early level books,

● to write, and

● additional general information.


Each session addresses four of these topics, building on content presented in previous sessions. Parents have the option of attending the sessions live or recorded. A plethora of resources are provided to enhance the workshop content.


Click here to view the flyer. Contact Sophie Kowzun at Page Turner Consulting for more information, dates and times, and to register for this valuable opportunity:

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 1, 2021

Top 4 questions about teaching phonics

by Jan Richardson

Here are the top 4 questions I get asked about teaching phonics:

  1. How can I quickly assess students on the phonics skills I’ve taught during guided reading? Give students a short spelling test that includes a few words that target the phonics focus. If I’ve just taught short vowels, I’ll ask children to write words such as, jam, bet, lip, fog and bun. If my focus for the week was the vowel patterns or and ar, the quick assessment would include words like sharp, fort, and card. There are short word study inventories for each reading level in Appendices H-I of Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics.

  2. How do I know if children are transferring the phonics skills I’ve taught them to reading and writing? This is so important! To determine if students are transferring the skills to reading, use a running record. Analyze the errors to see if the student used the skills you taught them. For example, I’ve been teaching the ar and or patterns to one of my students. Yesterday, he came to the word started and said: st-ar-t-ed, started.  There is evidence he is applying the phonics I’ve taught. The best way to determine whether the student is transferring the skill to writing is to dictate the first sentence of a guided writing response and include a word that contains the phonics skill. Look for evidence that the student used the skill you just taught.

  3. What do you do if the students in your guided reading group have different phonics needs? I try to include word study lessons that target all the skills students need. For example, one student might need more teaching on short e and i, another might need to firm up the digraphs, but my target skill for the group is blends. I’ll use words in Making Words or Sound Boxes that meet everyone’s needs. Examples are swish, chimp, and chest. 

  4. What if a student’s phonics needs doesn’t match their instructional text level? In my books, I use a developmental approach to phonics instruction that matches a text level to specific phonics skills. (The following chart comes from page 16 of Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics:






It is common for struggling readers reading at text level H to still need instruction on short vowels and digraphs. When that is the case, use books that are at their instructional level during reading (level H), but teach the word study lessons that match their phonics needs (level C).  


Literacy Tip of the Week: October 25, 2021

What is the best way to teach phonics?

by Jan Richardson

This fall I’ve been swamped with requests to do professional development on teaching phonics. Let’s face it. Phonics is a hot topic right now. There is no debate: Children need to be taught phonics. Instruction should be explicit and systematic; however, it also needs to be appropriate. 

Dr. Heidi Ann Mesmer reminds us that phonics instruction needs to be taught developmentally: 

We all know that effective phonics instruction is systematic and explicit, meaning there is a clear scope and sequence and direct language that is telling students the phoneme/grapheme relationships being taught. However, a robust line of research tells us that educators must also respond to students’ development even as they work within a scope and sequence (Gehsmann, 2012, Templeton, 2012, 2015: Templeton & Gehsmann). An important study in the premier publication Science confirms this (Conner, et al. 2007). Students need different types and amounts of code instruction based on their development and current knowledge.

Click here to read her entire blog.


Next week I’ll share the top four questions I get asked about phonics. Don’t miss it!

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 18, 2021

Who is winning the reading war?

by Jan Richardson

 You hear a lot lately about a “reading war” between those who support a balanced learning approach to teaching reading and those who advocate a phonics-only approach. The latter is hiding behind a cloak known as the “Science of Reading.”  We need to follow the science and research on teaching children to read. But real science does not say that children should only be taught phonics. Real science does not say that every child should receive the same phonics lesson. If we follow the science behind the reading process, we will most certainly teach phonics and word study – but it’s critical that we also “follow the child’ and teach what the children need as they read appropriate, engaging books and write stories.


This is not about winning or losing.  It is not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s about the children. All teachers want every child to become a better reader who just can’t wait to read another book!

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 11, 2021

Do Decodable Texts Help Struggling Readers?

by Jan Richardson and Suzanne Ridge

Recently, there has been a push in some schools to only use decodable texts with struggling readers. The narrative behind this movement is that struggling readers guess at words when they use leveled texts, and giving them decodable texts forces them to attend to the letters, sounds, and words.


First, I don’t believe a struggling reader ever randomly guesses at a word. There is always a reason for the errors they make. In most cases, the reader is using meaning and some visual information (letters and sounds). For example, yesterday one of my students said “then” for “when.” This substitution was not a guess. The word “then” made perfect sense in the sentence and matched 75% of the letters. Of course, I prompted him to take a closer look, and he quickly corrected the word. Interestingly, “when” is a word he knows.  He can read it and write it.  However, even proficient readers (you and I included) will make these types of errors when we read quickly. 


Second, I worry about giving any reader, but especially a struggling one, a steady diet of only decodable texts. In my many years of successfully accelerating struggling readers, I’ve rarely seen any benefit in using decodable texts. It taxes the reader’s processing system because the stories rarely make sense, and the struggling reader ends up having to decode almost every word. 


The reading process involves orchestrating letters, sounds, structure, and meaning. When you remove meaning from the equation, you just make it more difficult to read. In fact, I’ve found decodable texts negatively impact fluency and comprehension. The following quote is from a seasoned special education teacher who has helped many children learn to read:


“In my early years of teaching, I used decodable texts and found they were confusing for struggling readers. The controlled vocabulary often did not make sense to students with language difficulties. The illustrations were limited and did not support the text. Stopping frequently to decode words was frustrating to the reader and impacted fluency and comprehension. Later in my career I used leveled readers as part of guided reading instruction. With the natural language of leveled text, the engaging illustrations and the increasing text difficulty, students began to make significant progress and enjoy reading.”

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 4, 2021

Getting to the Heart of Effective Instruction

by Jan Richardson

This past week, my newest book, The Next Step Forward in Running Records: Getting to the Heart of Effective Instruction Through Deeper Qualitative Analysis by C.C. Bates, Maryann McBride, & Jan Richardson, was the focus of a #G2Great twitter chat. It was a wonderful, fast-paced experience that probed deeper into the importance of taking running records. Here are three questions we were asked: 

1) What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope it would have in the professional world?


We felt running records were falling short of their potential. Oftentimes we would see teachers calculate the accuracy rate and ignore the analysis of other behaviors including errors and self-corrections. We hoped the book would provide opportunities for professional conversations around how running records can be used to make instructional decisions. The book incorporates questions we have received from teachers nationwide. The book addresses these questions and provides guidance on why running records are important, how to take, score, and analyze them, and connect the analysis to individual, small, and whole group instruction. Finally, the book provides insight into specific challenges that are uncovered through a detailed analysis of running records. 


2) What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?


We hope teachers will see that capturing students’ reading behaviors and using the information to provide targeted instruction is time well spent. In the book, we show how running records are an integral part of the instructional cycle. We give suggestions on when to take running records, with whom, and how often. Most importantly we attempt to help teachers move beyond the accuracy rate to deepen their understanding of students’ literacy behaviors and their instructional implications. 


3) What is a message from the heart you would like every teacher to keep in mind?


Running records require time, energy, and thought -- but we believe children are worth the effort! 

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 20, 2021

Are You Ready to Take the Next Step Forward in Running Records?

by Jan Richardson

This Thursday, September 23 at 8:30-9:30 p.m. ET, I’ll be participating in a #G2Great Twitter Chat with my colleagues and co-authors C.C. Bates and Maryann McBride. We will be exploring the value of running records and how they improve our reading instruction. 


Here are some questions we’ll be discussing:

  • Why is deeper analysis of student reading behaviors the most critical component of running records?

  • Why do we take our day-to-day running records on the second reading of a new book?

  • How do we know if children are applying decoding skills learned in isolation to their text reading?

  • How can we be more mindful of the words we tell the student (Tolds)? Are any Tolds during the running record useful?

  • What are some behaviors that show evidence of monitoring? 

  • What can we learn by recording and analyzing our observations?

  • What can we learn from analyzing self-corrections? Can the SC rate be misleading?  


Pour a cup of tea, change into your comfy clothes, and prepare to improve your skill at taking and utilizing running records!

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 27, 2021

Did you miss the chat on Running Records? 

by Jan Richardson


Last week I did a G2Great Twitter Chat on the Next Step Forward in Running Records. If you missed the chat and would like to view the script, this is the link:

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 13, 2021

Are You Ready to Lead a Book Study on Guided Reading?

by Jan Richardson

It’s getting more and more common for literacy leaders and coaches to support professional development by leading a book study. In my opinion, the best approach is a practical one – focus on how teachers can apply the ideas in the book to their own instruction.


As you plan your study session, consider the needs and desires of your teachers. Invite them to help you plan the discussion framework and create an atmosphere of trust, inquiry and mutual respect. Here are a few options for engaging teachers in meaningful study and reflection:


Share 2 - Teachers share two things they learned and two questions

they have.

Observe a lesson – Ask one teacher each month to videotape a portion

of a guided reading lesson to use during the study. Ask the teachers to focus on the students (rather than the teacher). Use some of the following questions to guide the discussion:

  • What did you notice about the students (or a student)?

  • What did the student(s) do well?

  • What might be a focus for instruction?

Case study - Ask each teacher to select a struggling reader from his or

her classroom for a yearlong case study. At the beginning of each study

session, teachers share their student’s progress and discuss ideas for the

next step in intervention.

Sticky note share – As teachers read a chapter, they mark interesting

places with a sticky note and record their thinking. At the book study,

teachers share their thoughts, explore ideas, and discuss possible

solutions to problems.

Question/Discussion – Each teacher prepares a question to pose to the


Mad Minute– At the beginning of the session, each teacher writes a one-minute reflection about the chapter. Use the reflections as springboards for discussion. 

Watch a video clip of a lesson - View a short videoclip of a guided reading lesson. (See the video section in the menu bar of this website). Preview the clip prior to the session and select places to stop and discuss procedures. 

Share an Artifact - Ask teachers to bring an artifact from their classroom

that relates to the chapter.


Book studies should prompt teachers to think, question, reflect, discuss, problem-solve, and learn. Professional learning embedded in daily decision-making and responsive teaching will read tremendous benefits for children.

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 6, 2021

New School Year -- A Renewed Focus

by Julie A. Taylor, Ph.D.

Next Step Guided Reading Consultant

As teachers return to school refreshed and renewed, be sure to always include the guided writing component of your Next Step lessons. Guided writing provides extra opportunities for students to gain control of literacy concepts in order to form a solid foundation of reading and writing skills.

In 1991, Marie Clay wrote in Becoming Literate that difficulty in reading often stems from a neglect of teaching writing, specifically if students do not learn sound to letter correspondences. In 2004, Diane McGuiness also wrote extensively in Early Reading Instruction: What Science Really Tells Us About How to Teach Reading about the importance of approaching phonics instruction through highlighting sounds in writing, what she explained is a “linguistic” phonics approach. 

Both McGuiness and Clay explain that once a few sounds are introduced to students through writing, they can be combined to make up to 40 words. Early on, students learn to understand that real words can be written down, sound by sound, and then decoded and read from print. 

Clay and McGuiness point out that when the eye (visual memory), ear (auditory memory), and hand (kinesthetic memory) are involved in the management of a written task, each offers a check on the other. This reinforces students’ understanding of how letters and sounds work, not only in reading but writing as well.

McGuiness highlights three research findings that support writing to reinforce reading skills:

  • Students score higher on every type of reading assessment when they are taught to write and spell before learning to read.

  • Training in sound to letter correspondence, when combined with the use of magnetic letters, increases student reading gains between one and two years.

  • No reading program comes close to improving student outcomes compared to teaching through a sounds to letters (linguistic) phonics approach.

Be sure not to overlook the pages in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading that help you to plan guided writing activities that reinforce sound to letter correspondences, especially in the Pre-A, Emergent, and Early lessons on pgs. 41, 88, and 139. The many guided writing suggestions will help you feel a sense of confidence and renewed appreciation for more effective teaching of reading through guided writing!

Literacy Tip of the Week: June 7, 2021

Planning for student support during summer months

by Jennifer Brownlee

Elementary Administrator and Educational Consultant

Last fall, as students emerged from their pandemic cocoons and headed back to school, educators across the country observed firsthand the student learning loss oft cited in the media, and we collectively renewed our commitment to the fact that intentional and ongoing reading instruction and practice are critical to developing readers, and thus, effective lifelong reading habits. Reading on a screen has become a necessary component of our modern society, but it is often an ineffective replacement for the essential relational interactions between more advanced and emergent readers working together through a text, building words, learning sounds and letters, all while talking and/or writing about the text. Therefore, all educators have the opportunity to provide our summer caregivers with the most effective practices to support this continued development and push back on the academic setbacks of the pandemic.


In one of my schools (97% economically disadvantaged), we were fortunate to have a robust volunteer program that included dedicated folks of a certain age, who by all intents and purposes, were wise and experienced in life, but essentially untrained in the ways of teaching and learning. They loved the kids though and wanted to see them grow emotionally, socially and academically so they committed to spending 45 minutes three times a week with 4-6 students. In an hour-long session devoted to discussion and modeling, our team trained them on key activities they could complete in 45 minutes with a small group. Activities included reading and discussing a short text, teaching some simple word study activities, and writing about the text with guidance. As a result over a 9 week period, the students in the small groups who had partnered with our volunteers, improved in reading development approximately 6 months faster than their peers who didn’t receive the additional support of the volunteers!


As you plan your summer reading programs, please consider engaging parents, community volunteers, grandparents, older siblings, and generally anyone who is willing to spend a few hours a week with children. Teach them the simple yet effective emergent guided reading activities found in Dr. Richardson’s Next Steps Forward in Guided Reading that promote specific foundational skill development. Click here for a simple presentation of activities and ‘how-tos’ to get you started. 


For more information or to contact Jennifer for summer training: or

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 31, 2021

What Teachers are Saying about Next Step Guided Reading

by Julie A. Taylor, Ph.D

With the current conversations about effective methods for teaching children to read, two interesting themes have been uncovered in recent research:

  • A gap still remains between what has been found in the research on effective literacy instruction and how teachers are trained to teach reading; and

  • How teachers perceive their literacy instruction impacts their students.


In 2020, I set out to determine how teachers perceive that the Next Step guided reading approach affects their literacy instruction and their students’ literacy development. The outcomes were astounding. 


First and foremost, I placed the emphasis of my research study on collecting feedback from teachers in regard to their opinions on the literacy instruction they implement. For my doctoral dissertation, I conducted a focus group of 13 teacher participants, representing grades kindergarten through five, special education, and teaching English language learners. They ranged in teaching experience between six and twenty-three years. Using a language software program, the teachers’ responses to the focus group questions were analyzed quantitatively to draw conclusions on how the teachers felt using the Next Step guided reading approach affected their literacy instruction and students’ literacy achievement. 

Teachers tie their success to their students’ learning outcomes.

Although the focus group questions embodied many topics and themes, over 50% of the teachers’ responses tied back to the instructional impact the Next Step guided reading training had on their students’ reading growth and on the effectiveness of their literacy instruction. Teachers felt that with each year they’d been using the Next Step guided reading approach, their own understanding and efficacy increased, and now at least 2/3 of their students read on- or above-grade level. This is in contrast to about 1/3 of their students reading on grade level prior to implementing Next Step guided reading (34% increase in student reading proficiency)! The participants also noted that after several years of using the Next Step approach, students’ “summer slide” had been eliminated. They credited this to their Next Step guided reading lessons over the past three years.

Next Step guided reading lesson plans set students up for learning success.

The focus group revealed that the Next Step guided reading lesson activities, the consistency of the lesson plan format, and their understanding of the formative assessment process, scaffolding, and differentiation contributed to successful student learning outcomes. They also noted that there has been a positive cumulative effect associated with student reading proficiency as students progressed through the grades. One participant noted:

“The Next Step guided reading approach is accessible and meets all students’ needs. The students’ responses to instruction during lessons informs subsequent instruction, which occurs on a day-to-day basis.”

Next Step guided reading lessons differentiate reading instruction for all learners.

The teacher participants explained that the Next Step guided reading lesson plans lend themselves to differentiation and consistency, not only within grade levels, but across grade levels, intervention services, ESL instruction, and special education support. The Next Step guided reading approach gives teachers increased flexibility in decision-making in their:

  • Lesson planning

  • Lesson implementation

  • Instructional decisions

Next Step guided reading lessons transform teachers’ reading instruction.

Throughout the focus group discussion, teachers reflected on their prior literacy instruction and referenced its ineffectiveness, pointing out:

“I used to feel that our instruction was so disconnected and I really just think about how it all fits together now. Our instruction wasn’t student friendly. It was not based on the kids’ needs. There was no differentiation.”

Another teacher pointed out:

“The Next Step guided reading approach really provides us with the resources the kids need to help them grow developmentally…and being very intentional with everything rather than just presenting material. My teaching is now based on my students’ needs and not just what I planned to teach that day.”

Next Step guided reading professional development is invaluable.

Lastly, the focus group participants expressed how pivotal their professional development in the Next Step guided reading approach was, and they referred to it as the best professional development they had ever received. There were several components of the professional development that had a major influence on the teachers’ instructional practices:

  • Long-term and ongoing professional development

  • Professional development that is needs-based and individualized

  • Trainer establishes buy-in with level of knowledge and expertise

  • Trainer was accessible and readily available

  • Trainer was a prior teacher and part of their collective efficacy, rather than playing the role of an evaluator

  • Teachers had a voice and input in the development of their training. 

There are a multitude of nuances to successful professional development, but a customized professional development experience that establishes buy-in, considers teachers’ needs, provides a knowledgeable and experienced trainer, and ensures the frequency and flexibility of a training model can ensure the success of implementing Next Step guided reading lessons into teachers’ current literacy practices. 

Overall, teachers felt that being extensively trained in the Next Step guided reading approach produced more intentional instruction and increased teachers’ confidence. This led to creating ongoing improvements in their literacy instruction, which also branched out to cross-curricular instructional improvements in other content areas. The focus group participants believed that these conditions increased student self-confidence, students’ literacy achievement outcomes, and “made a building of experts in Next Step guided reading approach.”

You can read my entire Next Step research study on ProQuest or by following this link.

You can contact me on or here

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 24, 2021

Is there science behind The Next Steps Guided Reading?

by Jan Richardson

This question has come up quite often in the past few months.  I have written a white paper that shows how the Next Steps Lesson Framework does indeed orchestrate the complexities of the science of reading. Click here to read the paper.

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 10, 2021

How is teaching reading like performing a circus act?

by Jan Richardson

Recently I was invited by the Bring Me a Book Foundation to be a part of their “Literacy Advocacy Toolkit,” an esteemed group of literacy leaders who are committed to “promoting the joy and transformational power of books to all children.” In my article, I advocate for balanced learning, teaching children how to balance the different aspects of the reading process to promote skilled and proficient reading. Here are some excerpts from that article:

Teaching reading requires a balancing act similar to spinning plates on poles. The plates have labels: phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, decoding, comprehension, vocabulary, background knowledge, etc. Each serves a critically important role in reading development. Teachers must carefully observe a child’s reading actions to determine when a child is ready to add another plate and which of the spinning plates needs immediate attention to keep it going. 

How to Support Balanced Learning

Prompt the students as they read challenging texts. Using challenging texts and guiding students as they read affords them an opportunity to apply the skills and strategies you teach. As your students read, prompt them to use a variety of strategies to construct meaning. Choose prompts that extend students’ use of phonics, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.


Here are some examples. 

• Check the word to make sure you are saying all of the sounds. (phonology) 

• Break the word at the ending and find a part you know. (phonics)

• Try another vowel sound and see if that makes sense. (phonics)

• Reread and think about the character. Why did the character say (or do) that? (comprehension) 

• Do you know what that word means? What can you do to figure it out? (vocabulary) 

• Can you read that sentence the way the character would say it? (fluency)


Teach appropriate phonics skills. A whole-class approach to phonics does not reach the corners of the room. Not all the class will be ready at the same time to learn the skill being taught. Phonics instruction should address what individual students need at a particular stage in their individual reading development. By embedding explicit phonics activities into a small group lesson, teachers can target the specific skills most needed. 

Include guided writing. Be sure to include guided writing in your small group reading lessons. Not only does writing about the book they read strengthen a student’s comprehension, writing with a teacher’s support is a great way to help students transfer their newly learned phonics skills to their reading and writing. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 17, 2021

RISE intervention and the Science of Reading.

by Jan Richardson

Recently, I did a webinar with Ellen Lewis on how the RISE intervention program orchestrates the complexities of the science of Reading.  Click here to view the webinar.

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 19, 2021

Which comes first, the letter or the sound?

by Jan Richardson

Research has proven that students who enter kindergarten not knowing their letters are at risk. However, we can change this projection if we take immediate action. I’ve spent the past 20 years collecting data on students who enter kindergarten knowing less than 40 letters. Two instructional procedures have quickly taught letter names, letter sounds, and many concepts of print: Tracing the ABC book and the integrated Pre-A lesson. Tracing an ABC book with a tutor is designed to teach letter names (upper and lower case). I recommend that students say the name of the letter twice (as the student traces the letter in the ABC book) instead of saying the letter name, letter sound, and picture (A-/a/-apple). Students with very limited letter knowledge are likely to become overwhelmed if asked to learn the letter name and letter sound at the same time (Lipson & Wixson, 2010, Successful Approaches to RTI ). However, as students learn letter names, they often learn letter sounds since the sound for the letter is often embedded in the name of the letter. Thus, if students know the name of the letter it will be easier for them to remember the sound of the letter (Lipson & Wixson, 2010, Successful Approaches to RTI, p. 42).


At the same time the student is tracing the alphabet book, I recommend a daily, 20-minute lesson that includes working with letters, working with sounds, reading an easy book with the teacher, and doing interactive writing. These four activities integrate a variety of skills including phonemic awareness, phonics, visual memory, visual scanning, letter formation, directionality, using picture clues, early print concepts, and most important, they learn that reading makes sense. If we catch these readers early, we can close the achievement gap and prevent many of them from experiencing difficulty learning to read. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 26, 2021

When should I move emergent readers to level C?

by Jan Richardson

It is important to move students out of the patterned texts as soon as possible. This will force students to attend to the details of print and apply letter – sound principles. Read the complete blog by Michele Dufresne here.

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 12, 2021

Does Assessment Make Sense?

If assessments do not impact instruction, they are of little value (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). The first step in teaching guided reading is to get to know your readers. Most teachers use some form of Dr. Marie Clay’s running record to assess their students. Some districts use formal running records three times a year as a summative assessment, but the running record is even more valuable as a formative and diagnostic tool. If the running record contains some errors, it can provide a snapshot of the reader’s strategic processing in addition to an approximate instructional text level. I find running records to be extremely useful, even with fluent readers. By looking for a pattern of errors, I might notice the student ignores inflectional endings, struggles to decode multisyllabic words, or ignores punctuation. Sometimes a slight hesitation on a word signals the student might not know what the word means. But the first thing I analyze is whether the student is monitoring for understanding. A reader who is satisfied to skip or mumble through an unknown word is unaware of the importance of constructing meaning. The next time you sit with your students and listen to them read, ask yourself. Does this student monitor when meaning breaks down? If the answer is no, target monitoring as your next instructional focus. When you confer with the student ask, Were you right? Does that make sense? Did you understand what you just read? Then teach him or her a variety of strategic actions such as rereading, breaking words apart, and asking questions that get to the heart of comprehension. Assessment does make sense when we use it to make instructional decisions.

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 5, 2021

Interactive Writing: Developing Readers Through Writing

by Dr. C.C. Bates

The following tip is based on Dr. Bate’s new book -- Interactive Writing

During Interactive Writing we have the opportunity to create a meaningful message with children. The message can be a daily classroom recap at the end of the day (one of my favorites because when children are questioned about what happened at school instead of saying nothing, the day’s highlights are fresh in their minds), the results of a science experiment, or a letter to a favorite author. Whatever the selected genre and form, the ensuing conversation with children provides rich opportunities to support language development including background knowledge and vocabulary. During the writing, children explicitly see how language and print work together as we create a readable text – a text children can go back and revisit and reread independently. This month, I will share tips and ideas for using IW to teach foundation skills like concepts about print, phonemic awareness, and phonics. 


Before we get to the heart of instruction, however, I have to tell you that prepping for this literacy activity is paramount to its success. IW isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, I often feel like I have run a marathon after engaging in IW. There are so many opportunities to differentiate instruction for individuals and making the best in the moment teaching decisions keeps my brain going at lightning speed. While the tips I am going to share may seem obvious, I state in my book that, “The apparent spontaneity of responsive teaching is actually built on a plan and grounded in observation and assessment” (p. 41) That plan begins with clearly established routines and procedures. For example, at the beginning of the year I have children practice how to come up to and participate on the chart. This may sound trivial, but if it takes a child 15 minutes to come up and add a letter or a word to the IW text, chances are I will have some management issues on hand. Rethinking where IW takes place in the classroom may help. The flow of traffic is key and the space where children will write has to be accessible. As you are planning the layout of the classroom bear in mind that, “Creating a conducive environment for interactive writing means making space” (p. 47). 


Another important consideration is time. When engaging in IW, I keep a close watch on the children’s body language. Are they getting fidgety and restless? At the beginning of the year, an IW session may only last 10-15 minutes. As the children’s stamina increases, IW lessons may be as long as 25-30 minutes. Regardless of the length of the IW session, I must always maintain a divided attention. The child at the chart is obviously engaged, but for the children on the floor, this can be tricky. To make IW interactive for all children, I use what I call Participation Packs. The material inside the Participation Pack may be as simple as a small white board, but it allows the children on the floor to work alongside the child at the chart. After many years of trial and error, I developed a management system for the Participation Packs (more about this in chapter 2). I also have to remember that at any point if things start to fall apart, I can quickly close the session by using the marker to finish up the sentence or thought.


In closing, having an organized system for IW assists with all things related to management. Further, taking the time to launch a framework that provides structure for both teacher and students alike supports teaching and learning. Most importantly, an established framework for IW allows me to focus on the reciprocal relationships in writing and reading and allows me to make important instructional decisions. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 29, 2021

Aligning Fountas and Pinnell’s System of Strategic Actions with Jan Richardson’s Comprehension Strategies in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading 

by Ellen Lewis and Dr. Carolyn Gwinn


As our focused work unfolds nationwide, we are often asked how Benchmark Assessment System categories of Thinking Within, Thinking About and Thinking Beyond the Text (Fountas and Pinnell) align with the comprehension strategies and corresponding modules featured in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading(Richardson). The chart below, featuring this alignment, will be helpful as you plan and deliver glove fit comprehension focused lessons. For example, if students demonstrate a limited awareness of the F&P strategic action Inferring, your next steps to support and deepen their understanding

would be to use Chapter 7

comprehension modules Red

Questions, Who-What-Why, Inferences

from Dialogue, Actions and Inner

Thoughts as well as Drawing

Conclusions (Modules 9, 15, 20, 21,

22, 23).  Scoring formal and informal

comprehension assessments is one

step, but the crucial decisions made

next are vital for our students’ growth

as vibrant thinkers. The aligned chart

can help provide spot on,

comprehension specific instruction –

a win-win situation for students and


FP Strategic Action  NSFGR_Page_2.jpg

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 15, 2021

Help! I have too many reading groups.

I frequently receive emails from teachers asking for help with their reading groups. The most common problem is they have too many groups. Here are some tips for creating flexible small groups:


     1. Use the Assessment Summary Charts to summarize the data on individual students. There is a chart for each reading stage, pre-A through fluent. You can download the charts from here.

     2. Consider a range of instructional text levels when forming small instructional groups. Students are rarely at a specific level like a D or a P. They are more likely a C/D or P/Q/R. Look beyond the accuracy level and analyze the types of errors, the fluency, and the child’s comprehension. Once you determine the instructional ranges, select groups based on your focus. You might have a group of students reading at text levels P/Q who need to improve accuracy and fluency, or another group at Q/R who may need to work on deeper comprehension.

     3. If a student doesn’t fit well into any group, teach the student individually with the 10-minute lesson plan or work with your teammates to share students.

     4. Consider regrouping every few weeks. As your students make progress, update the assessment summary chart and create new groupings. Keep your groups flexible and targeted. Always remember to Assess – Decide – Guide so that every student becomes a better reader.

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 8, 2021

Does the Next Steps Lesson Framework Teach Orthographic Mapping? 

by Jan Richardson

With the recent emphasis on the science of reading, I’ve been asked to explain how the “Next Step” guided reading lesson framework improves orthographic mapping. Orthographic mapping is the process of creating sound-symbol connections to recall the spelling, pronunciation and meaning of words. Automatic word recognition (commonly referred to as sight vocabulary) happens after the word is read over and over and mapped in the brain through the neural connections between the letters, sounds, and meaning. For most early readers, orthographic mapping occurs after four or five encounters with a new word, but it can take much longer for some.


When students first encounter a new word, they have to use a strategic action to figure it out. They might sound out each letter (j-o-g), break the word at the onset and rime (pl-an), recognize a known part (some-times), or read each syllable (sud-den-ly). The second time they encounter that word should require less effort. By their third or fourth encounter, they usually can read the word quickly because it has been stored into their long-term memory. The word has been “orthographically mapped.” 


In order for orthographic mapping to occur, children need three things: phonemic awareness, phonics, and oral vocabulary. Each supports the process of increasing a child’s sight word vocabulary. 


  • Phonemic awareness – Students need to hear sounds in sequence. Hearing the sounds will help them write the word. It also helps them recognize their error when what they say doesn’t match what they see. For example, if a child reads runs for ran in the sentence, “The dog ran down the road,” runs makes sense and has some of the same letters as ran. However, children with good phonemic awareness will notice their error because they don’t hear the short a in the middle of the word runs, or the letter s at the end. Phonemic awareness helps children notice errors which then leads to self-correcting.

  • Sound-Symbol awareness – Readers also need to match the sounds to letters. Matching letters and sounds is an element of phonics. Children need to attend to the letters in a word, say the sounds of the letters and blend the sounds together to read the word. 

  • Meaning – Students need to connect the letters and sounds to a word in their oral language. If the word is not in their listening or speaking vocabulary, it will take longer for children to map it.


How to support orthographic mapping

The following procedures and activities presented and explained in the “Next Step” lessons support orthographic mapping:

During Reading

  • Prompt students to check a word by running their finger under the word while they say the letter sounds. You should prompt students to check a word when they are right to confirm a response and when they are wrong to correct an error.

  • Prompt students to break a word at the onset and rime or find a known part. This draws students’ attention to detailed visual information. 

  • Make sure students reread books they have read during guided reading. Multiple exposures to a word will bond the sounds and spelling patterns to build automaticity with decoding and word recognition. (For more on the benefits of rereading familiar books, see last week’s tip.) 


During Word Study

  • Use the “Four Steps” described on page 130-131 of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading for teaching high-frequency words: 

    • What’s missing?

    • Mix and Fix

    • Trace with the finger

    • Write it and retrieve it


These procedures use multisensory activities to support orthographic mapping and increase visual memory. When a word doesn’t have a letter-sound match, draw the student’s attention to that part of the word. For example, the word what sounds like it should be spelled whut. Point out the exception so students spell the word correctly.

  • Use the Picture Sorting activity to teach phonemic awareness and link sounds to letters. 

  • The Making Words activity is an excellent way to draw students’ attention to the minimal differences in words. Have students use magnetic letters to make a series of words that change by one letter. Here is an example that uses the ar pattern: star – start – stark – shark – hark- hard.

  • Dictate words for students to write in Sound Boxes. This process teaches students to listen to individual phonemes, record the letter(s) that represent those phonemes and then blend the sounds to read a word. Be sure to dictate words that match your phonics focus.

Short vowels:





During Writing

  • Have children say each word as they write. This helps them develop orthographic mapping skills because they can connect the sounds they hear (phonology) to the letters they see (visual). 

  • Use Sound Boxes during guided writing to help students write challenging words. 


As your students encounter longer words during reading, encourage them to break the words at the onset and rime, at inflectional endings, or by syllables. When writing big words, they should say each syllable as they record the sounds. Attending to the larger units of sounds will improve their spelling of multisyllabic words.


If you follow these suggestions, your students will attend to the details in words during reading and writing and acquire larger sight vocabularies.

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 1, 2021

Why students should reread their guided reading books

by Jan Richardson

Some teachers have asked why students should read a familiar book on Day 2 of the Next Step Forward Lesson Framework. It’s because rereading builds fluency, improves decoding skills, and supports comprehension.


                        Two Day Next Step Forward Guided Reading Lesson Framework

                                          Day 1                                      Day 2

                                Sight word review                               Sight word review

                                Read a new book                                 Read familiar books 

                                Discuss and teach                               Discuss and Teach

                                Word Study and Phonics                    Guided Writing


The first reading affords children an opportunity to work on the decoding skills they’ve been learning. When they read a book for the first time, there are usually some challenging words for them to solve. Rereading the book on Day 2 helps them increase their reading speed and their sight vocabulary. The words they worked to solve on the first day are usually automatic on the second, and since there are fewer decoding challenges during the second reading, children can devote more of their cognitive processing to phrasing words, reading with intonation and expression, and understanding the text at deeper levels. 

Don’t skip Day 2 of the guided reading lesson. Give your students an opportunity to reread their books with your prompting and scaffolding. On the second read, you might be able to direct their attention to things like punctuation or why the author included a bold word. The second reading also presents an ideal opportunity to ask them to make inferences, summarize, or draw conclusions. Emergent and early readers should continue to reread familiar books in the classroom and at home. Rereading books does more than help your students read faster -- it helps them read better! 

Literacy Tip of the Week: February 22, 2021

"What is Guided Reading?"

by James Cannon

“It’s not unusual to hear the term guided reading used to describe small-group instruction. But does that term mean the same thing to everyone? Some teachers, any time they meet and read with small groups, call it guided reading regardless of the text they use, or the instructional focus of the lesson.” Read the rest of James Cannon’s article at He does a great job explaining the essential elements of guided reading and why it is effective.

Literacy Tip of the week: February 15, 2021 

Teaching Vocabulary to Fluent Readers

This week’s tip explains how vocabulary is taught in a fluent lesson plan. All page references are from Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (Richardson, 2016).


Introducing New Vocabulary – Fluent readers should be able to figure out most new words by using vocabulary strategies. However, if there are new words or important concepts students would not be able to figure out by themselves, briefly introduce the words using the Four Steps on pages 235–236.

Prompting during Reading – If students need more scaffolding with using strategies to figure out the meaning of new words, use Module 7 on page 264. As you work with individuals, use one of these prompts:

Were there any words you didn’t understand? 

What can you do to figure it out?


Are there clues in the sentence?

Can you use any text features to tell me more about the word? 

Is the word in the glossary?

Can you substitute a word that makes sense? 

Teaching After Reading – Select a challenging word from the text and model one of the following vocabulary strategies.


Word Study – If students need more explicit instruction on common prefixes, suffixes, or Greek or Latin roots, select a word from the text and have students make it with magnetic letters.  Then have them break the word at the syllables and at the affix and root. As a follow-on activity, distribute white boards and markers and dictate two words with the same affix. Have students write the words and discuss their  meaning. For example, you might teach the –tion feature in the word invention. First students make the word with letters and break it at the syllables (in-ven-tion), then discuss the root and affix (invent + tion). The next day during guided reading, dictate these words for students to write: transportation, interaction, and solution.

New Word List – Choose two words from the story for students to add to their New Word List (See Appendix L in Next Step Forward in Guided Reading). These words might be ones you defined in the introduction or words you discussed after reading. Encourage students to use the new words in discussion and in their writing. Every few weeks take a few minutes from the guided reading lesson to test students on the words. See Fluent Video 4 (Next Step Forward in Guided Reading). 

Vocabulary Strategies.png

Literacy Tip of the Week: February 8, 2021

Teaching For Transfer

by Michele Dufresne

My friend and co-author Michele Dufresne, wrote an excellent blog about how to help children transfer what they learn in word study to their reading and writing. Click here to read the blog and watch a video of Michele teaching for transfer,

Literacy Tip of the Week: February 1, 2021

What is developmentally responsive phonics instruction? 

by Jan Richardson

Last week I did a webinar with my friend, Michele Dufresne on how to teach phonics explicitly, systematically and developmentally during a guided reading lesson. If you missed the webinar, you can watch the free recording hereDespite what some critics, have assumed, I have always believed in teaching phonics—ALWAYS! My very first book (now out of print) included a scope and sequence for teaching phonics during guided reading with explicit language and multisensory procedures. My recent book on phonics, written with Michele, The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, builds upon this original work and extends it to include ready-to-teach lessons that are responsive to the developmental needs of readers. Am I saying that not all children need the same phonics instruction at the same time? Yes! That’s exactly what I’m saying! We need to assess our students’ phonics needs, decide what skill to teach next, and then guide them during small group lessons using multisensory, engaging activities that teach the phonics skills they need. By integrating phonics instruction into a guided reading lesson, you give children ample opportunities to practice and apply the skill to authentic reading and writing. 


My friend Heidi Ann Mesmer (we were in the same doctoral cohort) has written an excellent blog on Developmentally Responsive Phonics Instruction. Here is a quote from her blog:


What is Developmentally Responsive Phonics Instruction?

We all know that effective phonics instruction is systematic and explicit, meaning there is a clear scope and sequence and direct language that is telling students the phoneme/grapheme relationships being taught. However, a robust line of research tells us that educators must also respond to students’ development even as they work within a scope and sequence (Gehsmann, 2012, Templeton, 2012, 2015: Templeton & Gehsmann). An important study in the premier publication Science confirms this (Conner, et al. 2007). Students need different types and amounts of code instruction based on their development and current knowledge.


Click here to read the entire blog. It’s all good stuff!

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 25, 2021

MSV is NOT a Method for Teaching Reading 

by Jan Richardson

Social media posts and blogs have been critical of the “three-cueing theory,” or MSV, claiming it is an ineffective way to teach reading (Hanford, 2019; Schwartz & Sparks, 2019). Those critiques, sometimes written by journalists and appearing in non-peer-reviewed sources, have gained momentum and are influencing education policy and practice. To make the case for why running records should be part of our assessment and instructional practices, it is important to understand MSV. 

The three-cueing theory, a phrase often used interchangeably with MSV, is not a theoretical model of reading, nor is it a method of or approach to teaching reading. It is a way of recording and analyzing students’ errors and self-corrections. It enables us to examine the sources of information young readers use or neglect while they are reading: 

M: meaning or semantics
S: structure or syntax
V: visual and phonological aspects of print 

“Using codes, we record the systematic observation of oral reading behaviors and analyze how students are monitoring their reading and processing written language (reading is a language process—together with writing, speaking and listening), to support instructional decision making” Bates, McBride & Richardson (2021). The Next Step Forward in Running Records, Scholastic, p. 20-21.

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 18, 2021

What to do when children appear to guess at words

by Jan Richardson

“When very young children first engage with books, they often use the pictures to make up their own stories. As they learn that print carries the message and learn about letters and sounds, they begin to realize that what they say must match the words on the page. But some children continue to avoid print and invent text, relying on their language skills and the pictures for support” (The Next Step Forward in Running Records, 2021, p. 195). 


We should never encourage a child to guess at words when reading. With their very first exposure to reading, children should be directed to use the letters and sounds. However, some children find it difficult to attend to the print. If you have a student who is avoiding print, try one of these ideas.

  • Create a simple text using the child’s name.

  • Choose a non-patterned book for the student to read. Make sure there are some known words and words the student can figure out.

  • Choose books that have different language patterns so the child has to look at the print.


Here is an excerpt from page 198 of The Next Step Forward in Running Records (Scholastic, 2021), written with C.C. Bates and Maryann McBride:

If children are presented with a single type of text, they can begin to construct a theory of reading based on the characteristics of that text type. For example, when they read only nonsensical decodable or accountable text, they may begin to think reading is about calling out the words on the page. When they read only predictable text, the repetitive pattern can become a crutch. Children may rely on the pattern without looking closely at the print. So, it is important to give children a variety of text types, while also developing their bank of known words. It is also important to provide instruction in using visual information to decode while making sense of text.

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 11, 2021

Effective Reading Instruction Begins with the Knowledge of the Reading Process

by Jan Richardson 

Effective reading instruction requires knowledge of the reading process. Cognitive psychologists have proposed several theories about how the brain learns to read. Each theory includes the visual information system (letters), phonology (sounds), and meaning. As we observe young readers and record their reading behaviors, we can uncover how a particular child is processing text and, most important, what we should say and do to help them integrate these information systems. My newest book goes beyond the coding of a running record and digs deeper into instructional implications that help us guide students in creating an effective reading processing system. 


Here is an excerpt from page 12 of The Next Step Forward in Running Records (Scholastic): 

When we know why we are implementing certain practices, it strengthens teaching and learning. Without a theory to underpin our work, we are simply going through the motions. Reflective practitioners are able to adapt instruction based on the needs of children because they have developed a rationale grounded in theory that connects content and pedagogical knowledge to their observations of individual children. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 4, 2021

Take the Next Step Forward with Assessment by Jan Richardson

I recently had the pleasure of writing a book with colleagues C.C. Bates and Maryann McBride. The Next Step Forward in Running Records (Scholastic) will be released January 19. Running records are powerful tools that enable us to capture our observations of a student’s reading behaviors so we can make instructional decisions. The following review sums up the purpose of the book: 


The Next Step Forward in Running Records is far more than just the next step—it is a tremendous leap forward for classroom teachers, interventionists, coaches, and administrators. It moves from the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of running record coding, scoring, and analysis to the ‘why’ behind instructional decision making. This fresh perspective is easy to read and digest, and important for anyone interested in using running records as a formative assessment tool.” 

JEFF WILLIAMSK–12 Literacy Coach and Reading Recovery Teacher Leader, Solon City Schools, Solon, Ohio


Click here to order your copy of our book. 

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