Literacy Tips

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,



vowel patterns2.jpg
vowel patterns.jpg

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.






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 22, 2021

Teaching the Word Study Activity: Making a Big Word

I’ve received several questions about Making a Big Word. I don’t want there to be any confusion about this powerful procedure. Making a Big Word is NOT about teaching a specific word; it’s about teaching children how to hear and see parts in words.


Steps to Making a Big Word

1. Choose a multisyllabic word from the story that has easy to hear sounds and a phonetic element they need to learn (e.g. dangerous, reliable, discourage, disgusted, captured, duration, etc.). To make the task easier to manage, I try to select a word that doesn’t have toomany duplicate letters.  

2. Give students a tray of magnetic letters and tell them which letters to remove from the tray. I say the letters in alphabetic order so that it is easier for them to find the letters on the tray AND so they don't remove the letters in the order they appear in the word. Distribute any duplicate letters.

3. You say the word. Have students repeat the word while they clap each part (dan-ger-ous).

4. Students use the magnet letters to make the word. Scaffold individuals as needed.

5. Once the students have made the word correctly, tell them to say it again and break the letters apart. They break the word into the audible parts, not necessarily according to syllabic rules.

6. Students make the word once more. If there is time, have them repeat the process. 

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.

Digraphs and blends: (Digraphs are placed in one box because they have one phoneme.  Use a separate box for each phoneme in a consonant blend.)

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                 

                                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: 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). 

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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. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 28, 2020

Looking back inspires me to look forward. All the “bad” things of 2020 help me appreciate even more the good things of my profession. Because I didn’t travel much in 2020 and didn’t speak at conferences, I was able to focus on my primary passion – teaching children to read. I volunteered to help striving readers who were in danger of falling behind their classmates. Since April 1 I have actually taught over 300 virtual guided reading lessons. There’s joy in going back to our roots -- remembering who we are (teachers), what we do (teach), and why we do it (because of the children). I wish you a very Happy New Year. Let’s look forward to 2021 as an opportunity to bring the joy of reading to our precious students!

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Literacy Tip of the Week: December 21, 2020

Last week I used Michael, a struggling reader in 1st grade who knows no letters and sounds, to model how to use the Pre-A Problem-Solving Chart on page 47 of Next Step Forward in Guided Reading to uncover a student’s strengths and needs. This week, I’ll use Michael again to share how to use this information to make important instructional decisions aimed at accelerating Pre-A readers.


Collaborative Observation 

It is very helpful to ask someone to observe you as you teach the student. This second set of eyes may notice things you miss as you are teaching. Ask the observer to note:

  • What can the child do without support?

  • What are glimmers of known letters, sounds and words?

  • What type of scaffolding is working?

  • Am I doing something the child can do by himself? Clay reminds us we should never do something for a child that the child is capable of doing for himself (herself).


I observed a Pre-A lesson with Michael and then I taught him while the other teachers observed. Here are some things we discovered.

  • We confirmed our assumption that Michael is an auditory learner.  Quite unexpectedly, we discovered that he had memorized the entire ABC book. When the teacher placed a few magnetic letters in front of him and asked him to find the lowercase l. He wasn’t able to point to the letter, but he said, L-L leaf. We checked our assumption with a few other letters and he always responded by saying the letter twice and then the picture. He had memorized a picture for each letter name! We decided to use this strength to teach him some letters. 


Planning a Lesson with Clear Goals

Together we created the following intervention plan for Michael. Although every struggling reader is unique, you might try some of the following activities with your struggling readers. We identified a goal for each lesson component:


Pre A Lesson Component                                                              Goal

Work with Letters                                                   Use the ABC chart to identify letters by name

Work with Sounds                                                  Understand the concept of  a letter “sound” 

Work with Books                                                    Attend to print (know words and first letters)

Interactive Writing and Cut-up sentence             Attend to print (know words and first letters)


First, we placed the ABC chart in front of Michael throughout the entire lesson.  We made sure the pictures on the ABC chart matched the pictures he had memorized from his ABC tracing book.





Work with Letters – Michael worked with the letters in his name and the ones where there was a glimmer of recognition (x and f). Here is the activity we created for Michael.

  1. Place the magnetic the letters on the table in random order.

  2. Ask the student to find a letter. For example, say, “Show me the f.” 

  3. If the student does not immediately point to the f, have him recite the routine from the tracing activity (f-f-fish). If he still can’t locate the f, have him go to his ABC chart to find the picture of the fish. He points to the f under the picture of the fish and then finds the magnetic letter f and says, f- fish.


Work with Sounds –Michael used the pictures on the ABC chart to learn the concept of a letter sound.

  1. Place the ABC chart in front of the student.

  2. Ask him to find a picture in the first row. (e.g. Find the dog.)

  3. Then have him say, dog, /d/.  When he makes the /d/ sound, have him touch his face (or his face mask in this case). The goal is for him to realize /d/ is a sound.

Repeat the process with a letter in each row. The following letter sounds are often the easiest to learn first because they have the sound in their letter name: b, d, f, j, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, t, v, z.

Working with Books – Since Michael is quick to memorize the sentence pattern in a book, this gets in the way of him attending to print. Once he hears the pattern, he can read the book by only looking at the pictures. We decided to make simple books for Michael using his first name and his brother’s name, D’Angelo. This is the first book I made for Michael.




We learned several things as Michael read this book. He attended to the first word on every page except the last. It was a mistake to change the pattern to an unknown word (We). He didn’t know the letter W or the w sound so Michael had nothing he knew on this page that would help him attend to print.  We also learned that he didn’t know the concept for motorcycles or dinosaurs, but he quickly picked up these concepts on the second reading.


Interactive Writing – The dictated sentence was “Michael likes fish.” We chose this text because he can write his name and has some knowledge of the letters l and f. During the activity, Michael wrote his name without any help. Then we made him say, likes-/l/. Since he couldn’t tell us the letter L, we said, /l/ just like leaf.  Michael found the leaf on his ABC chart and said, L- L leaf. Then he copied the l into the sentence. We repeated this process for F in fish. The teacher wrote the rest of the letters in the sentence. 


Next, we cut the words apart. Michael quickly remade the sentence. Then I had the teacher write the words D’Angelomilk, and pizza on separate cards. We randomly lined up the words in a tower and dictated the following sentences for Michael to make with the cards:


fish      Michael       likes     D'Angelo      pizza

Sentences Michael made:


D'Angelo likes fish.                  

Michael likes pizza.                         

D'Angelo likes pizza.

Michael had no trouble finding the names Michael and D’Angelo. When he had to find the word pizza, we helped him find the picture on the ABC chart that starts the same as pizza. Once he found the picture of the pig, he was able to use the letter on the ABC chart to find the word card that said pizza


I’m reminded of a quote from Marie Clay, “Work until your ingenuity runs out and until he is moving fluently around his personal corpus of responses—the letters, the words and the messages he knows how to read or write.” Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals, Heinemann, p. 32.

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 14, 2020

Students ARE Learning Something (even if the data doesn’t show it)

I was recently contacted by some passionate and determined teachers to see if I could help them problem-solve a first grade student. Michael entered the year knowing zero letters and sounds and not able to write his name. He had been tracing the alphabet book every day for several weeks, but he hadn’t learned a single letter. He did learn to write his name and had memorized the spelling of his name, but he could not identify the letters in his name when they were presented to him randomly. Wanting to help this student and his teachers, I first asked them to tell me Michael’s strengths. This is the first step in accelerating any struggling reader. To identify a Pre-A reader’s strengths and needs, use page 47 of my yellow book, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. I’ve charted Michael’s strengths and his needs in these 12 areas: 




As Dr. Marie Clay has said, let’s begin with his strengths:

Michael’s Strengths:

  • Uses Oral Language Skills – Michael’s native language is English. He has adequate communication skills and can repeat simple and some complex sentence structures (as determined by the Record of Oral Language (Clay, 2015).

  • Writes Name – Michael writes his name without a model.

  • Forms Letters – Michael forms letters correctly. He can copy a letter from the ABC chart.

  • Knows Letter Sounds – When asked to give the sound for the lower case letters, he occasionally provides the correct sound for m and f. Dr. Clay calls this a “glimmer of recognition.”

  • Uses pictures –  He uses the pictures when reading a level A book.

  • Applies one to one matching - He controls voice-print match on one line of text.

  • Understands Concepts of Print - He tracks left to right across the page, knows the first and last word, first and last letter, can identify the number of words on a page and the number of letters in a word, and can point to the period. When writing a sentence with the teacher, he knows to put the period at the end of the sentence.

  • Other – 

    • He can identify the letters in his name by spelling his name. If you point to the h, he has to say, M-I-C, and then he will say H. 

    • He knows most animal names.

    • He remains focused during the lessons and is motivated to learn. (This is a very important strength!)


Michael’s Needs:

  • Identifies Letters – On October 30 he was assessed on his letter knowledge and identified zero letters. Here were his only responses:

    1. For Q, A, and E – he said “place”

    2. For I, and b – he said “she”

    3. For L, Y, f - he made the /d/ sound.

  • Knows Letter Sounds – Although Michael has occasionally provided the letter sound for m and f, he does not understand the concept of a letter sound. He will provide a word or letter name when asked to give the sound a letter makes.

  • Clap syllables, Hears Rhymes, Hears Beginning Sounds – Michael is weak in phonology. He does not hear syllables, rhymes or any part of a word. 

  • Other - He cannot name the numbers 1-9 and does not identify some colors. 


By completing the Problem-solving chart for Pre-A readers, we realized Michael has been learning. Michael is an auditory learner evidenced by the fact that he memorized the spelling of his name when it was made into a song. 


If you have some children in your classroom who are keeping you awake at night because you don’t think they are making progress, remember these children ARE learning something. Our job as educators is to identify what they are learning and how they learn best. "If the child is a struggling reader or writer the conclusion must be that we have not yet discovered the way to help him learn. (2005, Literacy Lessons Designed for Individuals Part 2, p. 158)


In next week’s tip I will show you how we adapted the pre-A lesson to build on his strengths. 

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Literacy Tip of the Week: December 7, 2020

I was interviewed recently with Ellen Lewis, my RISE co-author, about implementing short-term intervention on a virtual platform. Read our blog here and learn some practical tips for accelerating struggling readers.

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 30, 2020

Is the Science of Reading at Work in RISE?  by Jan Richardson

Some teachers asked me if my Next Steps lesson framework and RISE follow the science of

reading. The answer is a resounding YES! Each lesson orchestrates the complexities of reading

by teaching phonology, phonics, orthography, and sight word recognition during word study;

monitoring, decoding, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension during reading; and the

application of all of these skills during guided writing. The RISE intervention is based on the

guided reading lesson framework outlined in my yellow book, The Next Step Forward in Guided

Reading (Scholastic, 2016) and is further described in The Next Step Forward in Reading

Intervention (Scholastic, 2018). Data continue to show that the intervention works. I call it, “my yellow book on steroids.” Click here for a further description of the science of reading at work in RISE. We can meet the needs of our striving readers if we “RISE” to the challenge!

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 23, 2020

Count Your Blessings – and Count Your Hugs  by Jan Richardson


One of the many downsides to the coronavirus pandemic is that people now fear to shake hands or hug, even members of their family.


Hugging is healthy. In fact, scientists say that hugging someone for just 20 seconds releases the bonding hormone oxytocin, which can lower your blood pressure, slow your heart rate and improve your mood.


How many hugs do you need? Family therapist Virginia Satir says, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” We might not feel comfortable hugging Uncle Joe or Auntie Jean that much, but maybe we need to hug members of our immediate family more than we do. According to research, we should have as many hugs as possible to reap the greatestpositive effect. (


How can you hug safely? Scientists say that the risk of exposure during a brief hug is surprisingly low. Here are some simple ways to reduce the risk of spreading the virus:


- Wear a mask.

- Point your faces in opposite directions (the position of your face matters most).

- Don’t talk or cough while hugging.

- Try not to cry, even tears of joy. Tears and runny noses increase the risk of spreading the virus.


This is Thanksgiving week. Remember to count your many blessings, stay safe, -- and be sure to

give grandma and grandpa a hug. They need it!

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 12, 2020

Does Guided Reading Work for Students with IEPs?

By Julie A. Taylor, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant,


“I teach special education. Can I use guided reading?” The answer is YES, YES, YES!! Students with learning and language difficulties need specially tailored instruction that meets their needs in all areas – reading text, strategic actions at the point of difficulty, self-monitoring, writing, word study, and comprehension. Since students with IEPs have such varied strengths and weaknesses, they need evidence-based, customized instruction that meets them where they are on the continuum of literacy development and grows them into proficient readers and writers (Foorman et al., Institute of Education Sciences, 2016). Through Jan’s Assess-Decide-Guide framework, teachers learn exactly what students need for instruction in all areas of literacy, and specifically how to meet those needs through teaching and instruction that is receptive, formative, active, and engaging - and most importantly wastes no time!

Jan’s guided reading approach allows teachers to plan lessons by combining elements of powerful literacy instruction into a highly effective framework that wastes no time in giving students the specialized, laser-targeted instruction they need. Jan’s approach to guided reading instruction is precisely what helps to close learning gaps for our most vulnerable students. Teachers learn to make day-to-day instructional decisions based on student needs, so no time passes without students receiving lessons that are planned especially to suit them. This continuous teaching and learning cycle helps students with IEP’s to efficiently increase their literacy proficiently through streamlined lessons that are the most beneficial for them.

Hundreds of special needs children I have taught, including my own children, are living proof of the research that has repeatedly shown that reading ability, not IQ, is tied most closely to school and real-world success (Sparks, Patton, & Murdoch, 2013).

If you are a special education teacher, I recommend using Jan’s progress-monitoring charts for tracking student progress. They are ideal for setting goals and objectives on student IEPs and align perfectly to foundational, language and vocabulary standards. For access, click here.

Literacy Tip of the Week: April 5, 2020


Virtual Bookclubs

By Jan Richardson

Because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, teachers are searching for effective ways to teach their students remotely. Here are some tips for doing virtual book clubs.

1. Form partnerships - Invite your students to participate in a book club with another student. You could group kids together or give them an opportunity to connect with one of their best friends.
2. Get resources – The children will need to read the same book. Some schools have made entire virtual libraries available for free. You could also use text that can be downloaded or free from the Internet.
3. Provide discussion starters – I just added discussion starter bookmarks to my website. Students can use them to ask each other questions about the books they are reading. Click here and here for the free book club bookmarks.
4. Get students connected – If parents agree, children can use their cellphones to Facetime with each other, or they could use an Internet platform such as Zoom or Google Hangouts. The important thing is that they read books and discuss them with their classmates.

 Here is a video of my granddaughter, Anna, doing a virtual book club with her best friend, Amalia. They are both reading The Ghost of Blackbeard, a Literacy Footprints book. View the book here.

Then watch the video  of the girls discussing the book using the book club bookmarks. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 28, 2020

Thank you! 

Today I want to thank you for your passion for teaching students, even when they can’t come to your classroom. 

Since schools are closed, I’ve been exploring ways to teach guided reading remotely. You could schedule a live lesson with individual students or record a lesson that children can do with their parents. I’ve been using the techniques on my grandkids, and they love the lessons. I’ve added a resource to my website called Steps To Teaching Guided Reading Remotely. Click here to access the handout. Here is an example of a three day fluent lesson with a short word study activity.

Click here for videos

Day 1 – Reading the book using the Yellow Questions strategy
Day 2 – Reread the book using the Key Word summary strategy
Day 3 – Guided Writing
Day 4 – Word Study – This could be added to one of the lessons above

You can access the book, Cat People, Dog People, Gecko People here.

For other examples of video lessons for text levels A-N click here.

I’m doing two free webinars this week. The first is this Monday, March 30, at 4 p.m. EST. Michele Dufresne and I will be presenting on our book, The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics. You can register at this link.

The other webinar will be April 2. It’s on teaching guided reading remotely. Click here to register for that session.

One more tip for online word study. I have partnered with Jack Hartman to do a series of videos on letter formation, sight words, and breaking words. Remind your parents they can view these at home on Jack’s YouTube channel here.

Stay healthy, dear friends!

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 15, 2020

At Home Learning for Challenging Times 

With the closing of many school systems because of COVID-19, keeping students engaged in meaningful learning is especially important. Furthermore, the challenge of being housebound with children who are used to a school routine can be daunting. Here are some websites to share with parents and students: 

1. Scholastic has a website that offers online books, videos, and hands-on projects to keep kids reading, thinking, and learning.  There are 20 days of resources and activities sorted by grade level. For example, students can read or listen to a book about spiders, watch an engaging video, and do follow-up activities to enhance their learning. This is all FREE! Check it out!!   (By Ellen Lewis,


2.Kids love dancing and singing with Jack Hartman on YouTube. Here is a link to my newest Break it, Say it, Make it video with Jack.


3.Did you know you can take virtual tours of museums? Here is a link to 12 museums around the world.

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 8, 2020

This Wednesday, March 11 at 4 p.m. EST, Michele Dufresne and I will be offering a free webinar on running records. We will share how to use running records to guide your small group instruction. After the 20 minute presentation, we will answer questions about running records. Click here to register for the webinar. I hope you will join us.

Literacy Tip of the Week: March 1, 2020

I am reposting a review of the RISE INTERVENTION from Amazon. It has useful information for teachers who are considering this intensive, short term intervention.




5.0 out of 5 stars RISE is a valuable resource


Reviewed in the United States on November 17, 2019

Format: PaperbackVine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)

One of the most powerful things about using RISE as a strategy to help student reading, is that it focusses on the content. Without understanding the content, there is no reading. Understanding and breaking down the steps to comprehension are crucial to student success.

I entered graduate study to become a Reading Teacher and Reading Specialist when my youngest was in 7th grade and he proudly brought home a certificate showing me that he could read Nonsense words at Grade 26 level. That meant he was done with the supplemental reading program in our public school. He had not learned to read better, nor had he learned to enjoy reading, but DARN, GRADE 26! He was my first child ever who struggled with reading and to see these results from a public school were devastating.

There are two sides to the Teaching Reading world. One is pronunciation and rote learning, and the other is the richer world of comprehension and learning to love words and how they enrich our world.

This is the richer world of comprehension and love of language.

Literacy Tip of the Week: February 23, 2020

For this week’s literacy tip I’m reposting a blog by Michele Dufresne on guided writing. You can view the lesson plan and the actual guided writing lesson I taught a group of 2nd graders reading at text level K.

Read blog (February 13, 2020)

Literacy Tip of the Week: February 16, 2020

Guided Writing by Tammy Seals

This week’s tip on guided writing is written by Tammy Seals, one of my Next Steps Guided Reading Consultants.


Although students may be writing more, they aren’t necessarily writing better. Teachers often struggle to teach writing standards to their students, especially their striving readers. Many students still need support with writing skills they should have mastered in earlier grades. Guided writing is the perfect tool to help them become better writers.


Guided Writing is assisted writing. It extends comprehension on the text students have read during guided reading and improves writing skills as teachers work side by side with their students (The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading, p. 139).  Teachers should select a response format for writing based on the book the students read and their comprehension focus for the group. Then teachers help students create a simple plan and prompt them as they write. With transitional and fluent readers, Jan suggests teachers analyze writing samples to pinpoint a target skill for each student. See pages 198 and 199 for a list of goals and prompts for transitional readers.


Whenever I teach a session on guided writing, I ask teachers to bring a few student writing samples so we can analyze the writing and select a target skill using Dr. Richardson’s writing skills continuums (pp. 207-208). I love to model guided writing lessons to show teachers how to scaffold and assist students on the spot. I demonstrate how important it is for some students, especially English learners, to orally rehearse their sentences before they write them. This gives teachers the opportunity to support the student in developing standard English structure. Guided writing is the bridge between whole-class writing lessons and independent practice. Once you have taught students a target skill during guided writing, expect them to practice that skill during writing workshop or independent writing time. Reading word study, and writing are reciprocal processes that should be integrated in every guided reading lesson regardless of the text level. 


Guided Reading consultants are available to assist and scale this type of professional development model in schools and districts. 


Tammy Seals, M.S.Ed.

Guided Writing PD in Charleston, West Virginia


Literacy Tip of the Week: November 16, 2020


Teaching Whole-Class Writing Lessons by Jan Richardson

Last week I posted a lesson framework for shared reading and a video of a Day 1 lesson with second graders. Now I want to share a little more about the whole-class writing experience. 


After students reread the book on Day 2, have them collaborate with you to write a response to the book. You might use interactive writing (teacher and students share the pen to write the message), shared writing (teacher acts as the scribe while the students provide the content, words, word parts, or letters) or independent writing (students are provided a prompt but they write on their own). Here are the steps to doing a whole-class writing experience that relates to the shared text.


Step 1: Decide whether you will use interactive, shared or independent writing.

Step 2: Dictate a sentence or provide a writing prompt.

Step 3: Help students plan their writing using key words or an illustration from the book.

Step 4: Engage students and teach them grade-level skills and strategies as they write about the book.


Here are some general guidelines for doing a writing lesson in K-1 and 2-3:


    Grade K/1

    Interactive/Shared Writing

    Dictate a few sentences about the book. Include sight words you have taught in this or previous    

    shared reading lessons.


  • Engage students in helping you spell each word. Have students say each word slowly as you target specific sounds to hear and record. Use sound boxes when appropriate.

  • Display the ABC chart and have students use it to link sounds to letters. (Which letter makes that sound? What picture goes with that sound?)

  • Teach letter formation on a few letters. (Let’s write that letter in the air.)

  • Practice writing the new sight word. When you come to the sight word you taught, have students write it on a white board or paper as you write it in the sentence.



     Grade 2/3

     Shared/Independent Writing

     Choose a response format that connects to the instructional focus.


  • Display the writing prompt.

  • Make a writing plan with the students.

  • Do a shared writing or have the students independently write.

  • Confer with the students as they write.

  • Possible teaching points:

    • Say each sentence out loud before you write it.

    • Say each word slowly as you write it.

    • Clap big words and say each part as you write it.

    • Reread each sentence to check for accuracy.

    • Use transition words.

    • Use appropriate punctuation.

    • Add interesting details.



Click here to watch a video of a Day 2 whole class shared writing lesson. I used a combination of shared and independent writing.


Follow-up Activities:

After the lesson, you could put the book in a center for students to read with a partner. Here are some other follow-up activities you might consider:

  • Make a recording of the students reading the book and place it in the listening center along with a copy of the book.

  • Have students draw a picture of their favorite part in the book and write about it. 

  • Write the dictated sentence on a sentence strip. Cut it up. Place the cut-up sentence in the reading center or send the sentence home for students to remake.

  • Have each student write a page to make a class book about the topic.


Remember that Shared Reading is a key part of a comprehensive literacy program because it exposes all students to grade-level texts. However, acceleration is best achieved through guided reading because you are able to confer with, prompt and teach individual students based on their needs.


Click here to watch me do a free recorded webinar on shared reading.


Literacy Tip of the Week: November 9, 2020

Teaching Whole Class Reading Lessons by Jan Richardson


I recently had the privilege of teaching a shared reading and writing lesson with a group of second graders. I knew their instructional reading levels ranged from Pre-A to level L, yet through a shared experience I was able to support them in reading a grade-level text and writing about it. Here are the steps for teaching an effective whole-class reading lesson:


Step 1: Choose a text that is at the instructional level for that time of school year.

Step 2: Select an instructional focus from Chapter 7 of my book, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.

Step 3: Follow this two-day lesson framework, 15-20 minutes each day.

Day 1

Component                              Procedure

   Read the Text                                Display the text (enlarged or digital version). Read it aloud as 

    (with an instructional focus)                  students follow along. Use choral, echo, and cloze reading to engage 

                                                          the students. Stop 3-4 times and have students share their thinking. 


   Discuss the Text                           Engage students in a short discussion that matches the

                                                          instructional focus.


  Teach                                              Spend a few minutes teaching a grade-level skill. Options include:

                                                          --  Concepts of Print

                                                          --  Monitoring 

                                                          --  Phonological awareness

                                                          --  Sight words

                                                          --  Word solving

                                                          --  Fluency

                                                          --  Vocabulary


Day 2 

Component                               Procedure

   Reread the Text                              Have students follow along as you reread the text. This encourages

                                                            risk-taking, improves fluency, and supports oral language          


   Discuss the Text                             Engage students in a discussion that matches your instructional



   Teach                                              Model one of the following:

                                                            --  Concepts of Print

                                                            --  Monitoring 

                                                            --  Phonological awareness

                                                            --  Sight words

                                                            --  Word solving

                                                            --  Fluency

                                                            --  Vocabulary


    Writing                                           Guide students in writing about the text. Use interactive, shared,                                                                   or independent writing.



Click here to watch the Day 1 shared reading lesson. Next week I’ll post the video of the Day 2 lesson and talk more about the shared writing experience.



Literacy Tip of the Week: November 2, 2020

Teaching Word Study Face-to-Face and Remotely

By Jan Richardson and Michèle Dufresne


Word study is teaching students how words work. Carefully constructed word study lessons help students develop phonemic awareness, learn phonics, recognize high frequency words, apply spelling patterns, expand vocabulary, and understand morphology. In our book, The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, we present over 300 engaging, developmentally appropriate word study lessons that utilize nine different word study procedures. In this article we will describe one of the procedures, Breaking Words, and explain how it to teach it face-to-face or remotely.


Breaking Words

Breaking Words improves decoding skills by teaching students how to take words apart in flexible ways. With early Breaking Words, students break one-syllable words at the onset and rime (st-and). Research shows that breaking a word at the onset and rime is a more effective and efficient way to decode a word than sounding out letter by letter (Moustafa, 1996). 


After students understand how to break one-syllable words, they can begin to break words that have inflectional endings (st-ain-ed). More advanced readers learn to break words by syllable (tre-mend-ous) and by affixes and the base word (un-speak-able). Students transfer what they learn in Breaking Words to solve unknown words during reading.  


Steps to Teaching Breaking Words

  1. Write a level-appropriate but challenging word on a dry-erase board. (Don’t say the word and ask the students not to say the word.)

  2. Have students make the word with magnetic or paper letters.

  3. Tell the students to break the word into parts (e.g. br-ick, gl-oat-ing, pro-tec-tion).

  4. Read the parts chorally.

  5. Have students remake the word and read it.

  6. Repeat the process with another word that has a similar feature (e.g. st-ick, fl-oat-ing, frus-tra-tion).

  7. Finally, write a similar word on a dry-erase board and have students break it in their heads and read it (e.g. prick, bloating, satisfaction).


Adaptations for Remote Instruction

You can teach this activity remotely by making a few minor adjustments. Send home magnetic letters. If you don’t have the resources to send magnetic letters home, email students a page of letters they can cut apart and store in a plastic resealable bag. Another option is to have students write the letters they will need for the activity on separate sticky notes. 





It is important for you to see what the students are doing during the remote word study activity. Ask them to tilt their computer screen or iPad so you can watch how they break the word. 


The Goal of Word Study

The purpose of all word study activities is to teach students how to flexibly solve unknown words in reading and writing. The activities in our book are specifically crafted to help students learn valuable word study skills and apply those skills as they read authentic texts. 


To learn more about needs-based word study instruction, see The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 26, 2020

by Jan Richardson

I recently did my first Facebook Live event titled, Let’s Talk Intervention.  I shared practical tips for accelerating struggling readers from Pre-A through Fluent. To watch the recording, click here

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 19, 2020

Teaching RISE Remotely by Leslie Lausten,

Reading Specialist and Educational Consultant  Click here for bio.


The 2020 school year is upon us--and it’s a doozy! So many new challenges have come hand-in-hand with remote and hybrid learning. However, remember this: our students still need good, solid instruction, even if they are learning at home! Many, perhaps most, have lost instructional time and are starting to fall behind. If they were already behind when schools closed in March, they have fallen even further behind by now. What can we do? 


The answer is RISE remote! As a Jan Richardson consultant, I was one of the first to pilot RISE and RISEUp in a remote format. Using the resources from the new RISE and RISE Up kits, in conjunction with The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (Richardson, 2016) and The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention (Richardson & Lewis, 2018), we were able to work out a few kinks and develop steps to ensure high-quality intervention. 


Step 1: Choose an implementation model. There are several options to choose from. RISE is flexible and can be taught during the school day or after school. 

     ● Option 1: 20-30 minutes each day. RISE students have Stations 1 and 2 on Day 1 and Stations 3 and 4 on Day 2. RISE Up students have Station 1 for 20 minutes on Day 1 and Stations 2 and 3 for a total of 30 minutes on Day 2. If you choose this option, the program would likely be 12-16 weeks.


     ● Option 2: 45-60 minutes each day. With this model, the students experience all stations every day. They could have all stations at one time or be taught some stations in the morning and the others in the afternoon. Since students are receiving intensive intervention instruction, the program would likely be 6-8 weeks.


Step 2: Select and train the RISE instructors. In our school, we have trained four instructors, so we can accommodate up to 16 students in four groups of four that rotate between stations. With RISE remote, we have found it best to have one instructor who will teach all four stations with 4 students at a time. It is too difficult for us to switch between stations without breakout rooms; however, if your virtual platform has breakout rooms, you could put each RISE small group in a different breakout room and have the RISE instructors float between the groups. Your RISE instructors need to be trained. The RISE kit includes a training webinar to train instructors on the procedures for each station. They have recently added a comprehensive RISE Remote training manual to the RISE website.


Step 3: Schedule a virtual meeting with the RISE families. You need to explain how the intervention works and what is expected from the families. If possible, designate a specific time for the RISE lesson so parents can plan their schedules accordingly.  


Step 4: Organize and distribute RISE materials. At our school, we created baskets of materials which the parents  picked up. We included a letter tray, white board, dry erase marker,

eraser, notebook, and computer. If you don’t have a letter tray to send home, there is a

digital letter tray on the RISE website that students can use for word work. You can send

home printed texts or use digital texts. We chose to use the RISE digital texts from the RISE

online website.


RISE instructors will need the same materials as the students. They will also need access to

digital texts so they can project the text on their computer screen. Having a letter tray is

essential for modeling word study activities. Don’t forget to have your observation form next to

you so you can take notes to help guide instruction! The RISE Remote manual has a more

detailed list of materials and resources for both teachers and students. 

Step 5: Teach RISE. Once you begin to teach the lessons, the instruction flows just like face-to-face! One important adjustment to RISE remote is to have students mute themselves while you are listening to another student read. Remember: NO ROUND ROBIN READING! While you are conferring with one student, the others are reading the text and (in RISE Up) writing short responses to the comprehension focus. When you are ready to work with the next child, use name cards to get the student’s attention. During the discussion, you will need to call on children one at a time so you can hear the students' responses. Other than that, the children adapt beautifully!


Step 6: Communicate! Finally, don’t forget to communicate with the teachers and parents on a weekly basis. Let them know what you are doing, how the students are progressing

and what your next steps will be. Also, continue your RISE roundtable discussions

so the team can support each other in troubleshooting, problem solving, and

lesson planning. 


RISE is a flexible intervention that can work in any school under any circumstances.

Watch this 6 minute video to see RISE Remote in action. You can RISE to any challenge

to help your students reach their full potential. You can do it!


Literacy Tip of the Week: October 12, 2020


Time for a “Selah Break” - by Jan Richardson

The Book of Psalms, loved and appreciated by all major world religions, contains repeated and encouraging messages of hope. The word “selah” appears 71 times in the Psalms. In Islam and Arabic, Selah means prayer or connection. In the Hebrew scriptures, the word was used as a breathing mark for the choirs who sang the psalms.  For most of us, perhaps all of us, it is time for a Selah break in our lives. It’s time to breathe deeply, pray and connect. Teachers, administrators, parents and children have been on overdrive since schools reopened. Many of our students are suffering from “Zoom fatigue,” and parents are stressed from working at home while supervising their children’s education at the same time. Most of the teachers I’ve been in touch with are just plain exhausted. Why not make time for a Selah break? Take some time off to appreciate the change of the seasons, hug your family, and pray. Following your “Selah,” you’ll be refreshed and even more ready to take the next step forward for our precious children. 


Literacy Tip of the Week: October 5, 2020

Helpful Tips for Teaching Pre-A Virtually - by Julie A. Taylor, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant,


I don’t think anyone can deny that virtual teaching has been quite a challenge for teachers and students alike. Yet, during these difficult times, we have to make lemonade out of lemons… and that means continuing to do our best to teach all children to read. Starting students out with successful pre-reading skills such as letter and sound knowledge, proper letter formation, and concepts of print will help get Pre-A students off to a great start!

Probably the most challenging guided reading lessons to teach virtually are Pre-A lessons because in person, those lessons are very hands-on. Below are some pointers and recommendations to help you get started with successful virtual Pre-A lessons:

  1. Create a “To-Go” bag for each Pre-A student. Ask a parent to pick up the bag at the school or enlist the help of a volunteer to deliver it to students. Include an ABC chart in a plastic sleeve, a dry erase marker, a try of magnetic letters or cardstock letter tiles, a name template for rainbow writing, and an ABC book for tracing. You can download and print an ABC book here. Giving students these manipulatives will make the learning more engaging and effective. 

  2. Utilize your document camera. Younger students are more engaged when they see you physically manipulate the materials. By placing the ABC chart or tracing book under your document camera, you can model procedures. 

  3. Tilt their screens. Teach students how to place their materials on the surface just below their keyboards and tilt the screen down so you can see their work. This will help you monitor students during lessons.

  4. Follow your finger. When you put your materials under your document camera and use your pointer finger to model a procedure, ask students to follow your finger on their computer screen. This is helpful for practicing letter formation, 1-to-1 matching, teaching concepts of print, and more. (If their screen is touch sensitive, they will have to place their finger close to the screen but not touch it.)

I’ve developed an alphabet book that will help students complete the tracing routine remotely. I’ve placed a green dot on each letter to guide the letter formation. Students should put their finger on the green dot when they trace each letter. You should still follow the procedures on pages 29-31 in Jan’s Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (Scholastic, 2016). Follow these simple steps to adapt this process for remote instruction:

  1. Place your ABC book under your document camera and share your screen. Tell the student to put a pointer finger on (or slightly above) the green dot on his or her computer screen.

  2. Trace the letter in the ABC book and tell students to follow your finger. 

  3. Invite the parent to trace the ABC book with their child every day. The parent or caregiver should watch you do the process first. Be sure to include the ABC tracing book in the “To-Go” bag.

  4. If you are printing from a PC, go to “Page Sizing and Handling” and print the ABC book as a booklet. The book will print out on half pages so you can fold it in half and staple it.

These tips will help you teach letter names and formation to your Pre-A student. Don’t delay. Start the tracing immediately so students can begin learning the alphabetic principle. I’ll be sharing more tips on teaching guided reading lessons remotely. Check back soon. Teach on, guided reading warriors!

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 28, 2020

Interview about Teaching Guided Reading Remotely - by Jan Richardson and Monica Rodriguez

Reading can be a particularly challenging subject to tackle during school closures, especially since younger students tend to struggle more with online learning. I was recently interviewed by Monica Rodriguez from NWEA. She considers guided reading a valuable technique for teaching readers and wanted me to explain how to teach it remotely. The following are the questions and answers.

Q: Tell me about guided reading instruction. What is it and why is it such an important pedagogical approach?

A: Guided reading is a small-group reading instruction method that provides differentiated teaching to support students in developing reading proficiency. The small-group model accelerates progress by making it easier to focus on each student’s individual needs. 

Guided reading is important because it works—as part of a balanced approach to literacy instruction—and it has made a profound, life-changing difference for countless thousands of striving readers.


Q: What are some of your favorite books for guided reading and why?

A: You would think my favorite professional book would be my own, but I have to give honor to Dr. Marie Clay, the founder of Reading Recovery. Her books laid the reading instructional foundation I stand upon today. 

My second favorite professional books are my own, The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading

series. They’re my go-to books for teaching reading.

My favorite guided reading books to use with children are the RISE kit and Literacy Footprints. They have wonderful, engaging texts that embrace diversity and address themes that matter to kids. I wrote the accompanying guided reading lesson plans that follow my Next Step framework. 

Q: Can teachers prerecord guided reading lessons to send their students? Could you provide some tips on how teachers can go about creating some? 

A: Prerecorded lessons are not the best approach for virtual reading instruction. Live remote lessons are much better because the teacher can confer with each student. Good instruction requires feedback, something a recorded lesson can’t provide. 

That said, if teachers have to provide asynchronous instruction, a recorded guided reading lesson that matches kids’ needs is better than a one-size-fits-all reading lesson. There are three important components to a recorded guided reading lesson: reading, word study, and writing. These are the three parts of my Next Steps Guided Reading lesson.  Each component should be recorded as a separate lesson to keep students engaged and allow time for an in-person check-in after each portion.

  1. Reading. (10–15 minutes) Introduce the book by providing a short synopsis to set the purpose for reading and generate enthusiasm. Then teach new vocabulary that the children probably wouldn’t be able to decode. During the introduction, upload the text and share the screen or hold the book so that it’s easy to see on camera. Point out important text features and new vocabulary words as you discuss them.


       After the introduction, tell students to read the book on their own. You can send home hard copies          of the books or use a digital reader. Follow up with a short phone call to each student or schedule          a video meeting. Have the student read a few pages to you so you can prompt for strategic                      processing.


  2.  Word study. (5 minutes) Teach a developmentally appropriate word study lesson using          

       manipulatives such as magnetic letters, dry erase boards, or picture sorting cards. Afterwards,

       have a short video or phone conference about the word study lesson. You might even have the

       student do a similar word study task while you observe through the camera.


  3.  Writing. (10­–15 minutes) State the writing prompt and guide students in developing a writing

       plan. Students should then write independently. When they finish, they can take a photo of their

       writing and email it to you. Have a phone or video conference to discuss the student’s writing and

       teach the skills the student needs to learn next.

Q: Can you please share some tips for what a live remote lesson should look like?

A: A live lesson should look a lot like a face-to-face guided reading lesson. Since you’ll be on camera, remember to hold the book in an accessible way, or display a digital copy of the text.

After you introduce the book to the group, students can read the text independently while you confer with individuals. When students are not conferring with you, they should mute their volume so they aren’t distracted. After you have conferred with each student, gather the kids back on screen and discuss the text. Teachers could then teach a short word study lesson with the group.  On the following day, students would reread the book while the teacher confers with individuals and then do guided writing. Teachers can use the lesson plans outlined in my book The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading for live, remote or recorded lessons.

Q: Do you have any other suggestions for teaching guided reading that are not covered by the previous two questions?

A: It is important to assess your students before you begin teaching guided reading. My assessment kit has a digital platform so teachers can assess students remotely. Many students will have regressed in their reading skills due to school closures and summer learning loss, so teachers need to know where to begin guided reading and what to teach next.

Q: Do you have concerns for young readers as they return to school? If so, do you have any ideas on how to begin addressing them now? 

  • I am deeply concerned about our young readers. Data show that younger readers will be more affected by school closures than older readers. There will likely be a greater achievement gap than in previous years. More than ever teachers will need to provide differentiated instruction that includes small group and individual lessons.

Q: Do you have any tips for how families can help with reading?

A: Read. A lot! Have kids get together for a book club, even if only via Zoom. I led several book clubs this summer with my grandkids and neighborhood children. My husband did a book club with our older grandsons. It was an uplifting and rewarding experience. Invite relatives and friends to join in the fun!

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 21, 2020

When are students ready to learn the silent e? - by Jan Richardson

I recently received a question from a first grade teacher who has been using the analogy chart to teach the silent e skill. Although she was doing the procedures correctly, her students weren’t applying the skill to writing without teacher prompting. This teacher is so passionate about helping her students; she even sent me a video! Here is what I noticed:


1. The students were reading at text level F. Most children aren’t ready to learn the silent e rule until they are reading at text level G or H. Page 135 of The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading says, “They need to have a bank of known words that follow the rule.” Don’t rush into the silent e skill.

2. The teacher used sick and like for the word study lesson. Although they are appropriate key words to use, not all of the children were able to spell them correctly. This was another indicator that they weren’t ready to learn the skill. 

3. As the lesson progressed, the teacher dictated a few words that had either a short vowel sound or the long vowel sound. Some of the students were confused. They were having trouble hearing rhyming words--an essential spelling skill. When you see this occurring in your word study lessons, teach the students to orally break the word at the onset and rime before they write it on the chart. For example, if you say the word quick, the students would say /qu/  /ick/. This technique helps them hear the rime (the part of the syllable that begins with the vowel) so they know what key word pattern to use.

4. As the lesson progressed, the teacher dictated a few one-syllable words with initial blends (stick, brake). This follows the procedures on page 137 of NSFGR. However, some of the students left out the second letter of the consonant blend. It is important that students hear initial blends before you move into the silent e skill. Have students sort pictures that begin with st and str or cl and cr. Making Words (e.g. sick-stick-slick-click-clack) and Sound Boxes (e.g. track, brick, strand, squint, etc.) are other word study activities that teach blends.

5. Once students have a solid foundation in short vowels and consonant blends, you can introduce the silent e skill. However, this skill often takes several weeks or even months before students automatically transfer it to writing. That is because there are different ways in English to represent a long vowel sound. For example, the following words all have the long a sound but are spelled with different patterns: stay, pain, weigh, paper, bouquet, break, grape.  I look for spelling approximations that include the silent e. They might spell stane for stain or wate for wait. Consider these attempts as signs the students are beginning to internalize the silent e rule.

6. Continue to prompt students to use analogies during writing. For example, if they want to write the word hike, you might say, “Do you know another word that rhymes with hike? If the student hesitates, say a known word (like), and have the student write it on the practice page. Then have them write the word hike under like. Sometimes I have students underline the spelling pattern (ike) in each word so they can see the similarities.

7. The silent e rule is a great spelling skill to teach. Just remember it will take multiple word study lessons, and exposure to higher-level books (H, I, J, and possibly K) before you’ll see students transfer the skill in writing without prompting.


Literacy Tip of the Week: September 14, 2020


Guided Reading Works! - by Dr. Jamieson

This week’s tip is from Dr. Jamieson, an elementary school principal in Maine who has been implementing guided reading for several years. In this tip he shares how guided reading has impacted the teachers, the students, and the test scores.

“Teachers have learned additional strategies to support differentiated instruction, which in turn has supported individual student learning. In my opinion, teachers now feel empowered to make a difference and support student growth through the small groups created with the guided reading process. We know we live in an economically depressed area but we can no longer use that as an excuse for poor reading scores. Access to good books and reading strategies are pushing our students out of the stigma that poor communities produce low achievers.

As a school leader, I am excited to see my teachers engaged in an authentic process where they can see gains in their student learning. Hence, they are becoming more effective teachers. The teachers are also growing as leaders as they share their classrooms with colleagues. As an administrator, I have learned to give teachers the power to make changes in their curriculum to expand learning through reading. This support includes new novels as well as technology to support building student vocabulary. I am very proud of my teachers. There is power in sharing what we know.”


Click here to see Dr. Jamieson's results.

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 7, 2020

Bring Back the Joy in Teaching Kindergarten

I was recently interviewed by Jennifer Burns, a Reading Recovery® Teacher Leader who taught kindergarten last year. She asked me to share the essential elements of a kindergarten literacy program that will bring joy to both teachers and children. Click here to watch the interview. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: August 31, 2020
An Opportunity to Personalize your Professional Developmentby Jan Richardson

I have partnered with CESA 6 in Oshkosh, WI to deliver a series of eleven 75-minute webinars that will guide teachers through the RISE and RISE Up reading intervention frameworks (Scholastic, 2020). RISE (levels C-N) and RISE UP (levels O-C) provide small-group instruction that quickly accelerates struggling readers. The lessons are based on my Next Step framework and include instruction in decoding, fluency, comprehension, word study and phonics, vocabulary, and guided writing. There are several implementation options, ranging from using 1-4 instructors and teaching RISE for 30 – 60 minutes a day. Students gain the confidence, proficiency, and skills they need to excel as readers and meet grade-level benchmarks. Click here to get more information about RISE.

All of the webinars will be recorded and can be viewed at your convenience-- at home or with colleagues at your school. You can purchase the entire PD package or select individual modules to take you deeper into one of the RISE components. Here is a list of modules you can choose from:

Module 1: Introduction to RISE

Module 2: Introduction to RISE Up

Module 3: Using Assessments to select groups and make instructional decisions

Module 4: RISE Station 1 – Read a New Book

Module 5: RISE Station 2 – Word Study and Phonics

Module 6: RISE Station 3 – Reread and Discuss Yesterday’s New Book

Module 7: RISE Station 4 – Guided Writing

Module 8: RISE UP Station 1 – Read a New Text for Literal Comprehension

Module 9: RISE Up Station 2 – Reread a Familiar Text for Deeper comprehension

Module 10: RISE Up Station 3 – Guided Writing

Module 11: An Overview of The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics with a focus on teaching appropriate and effective word study lessons for Pre-A through Fluent readers.


Click here for more information about this unique professional learning opportunity.

Literacy Tip of the Week: August 24, 2020

Going Back To School Special: Teaching Guided Reading Face to face or Remotely - by Jan Richardson

No one could have predicted the effect COVID19 would have on our education system and children. Because most teachers are now being asked to teach remotely, I’ve received numerous questions about how to teach guided reading using social platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom. Since the first of April I’ve taught over 150 remote guided reading lessons, Pre-A through Fluent. 


I recently did a “Teaching Guided Reading Remotely” webinar for Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. You can view it here. These are the key points from the webinar (along with free resources for teaching remote guided reading lessons):


Assess – Now more than ever, it is critical that you know your readers. Have they made progress since schools closed, or have they fallen behind? Use a leveled reading assessment such as The Next Step Forward Guided Reading Assessment (Richardson and Walther, 2014) to assess a student’s reading interests and motivation, word study and phonics, comprehension, and instructional text level and reading skills. You can easily assess a student remotely. Just display a leveled text for the student to read aloud while you take a running record. Find the range at which the student reads with 90-94% accuracy. This will give you a starting point for guided reading instruction. To assess a fluent reader’s comprehension strengths and needs, use the comprehension interview.


Decide – What will you teach? Use the assessment summary charts from The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading to summarize your assessments for each student. This will help you form flexible groups based on your students’ needs. 


Guide - How will you teach guided reading during the pandemic? There are basically three options: face-to-face instruction with smaller group sizes and health safety guidelines, live remote instruction using a virtual platform, or recorded lessons for asynchronous learning.


Option 1: Face-to-Face Guided Reading Instruction

Teach students at the reading table or at their desks. Arrange students so they are positioned 6 feet apart, or position plastic table shields between students. Students should have their own word study materials (dry erase board and marker, Sound Box/Analogy Chart inserted in a plastic sleeve, and magnetic letters). These materials can be stored in a gallon-sized plastic bag with the student’s name written on it. Follow the Next Step Forward (Richardson, 2016) lesson plans. If you only see your students twice a week, consider doing two 20-minute lessons each day. Day 1 could be taught in the morning and Day 2 in the afternoon. That way, students complete two books each week.


Option 2: Remote Guided Reading Instruction

Teach students in the classroom or at home using a remote platform. You can follow the same lesson format from Next Step Forward in Guided Reading with a few modifications.

  • Each student in the guided reading group would need a computer and headphones along with their own word study materials. If you don’t have enough magnetic letters for each student, you can make a digital letter tray on a google slide. Julie Taylor, one of my consultants, has created virtual materials for remote guided reading lessons. Download the materials here


  • If students have their own computers at school, they could remain at their desks while you teach their guided reading lesson. Other students who are not in the guided reading group would do independent reading or other classroom assignments at their desks.

  • Students could read a hard copy of the book or access the book online. You could still confer with individual students by muting the other students and having them mute the volume on their computer. 

  • For the guided writing portion of the lesson, students could write in a small journal and tilt their screen so you can observe their work. Another option is to use an interactive white board on which you could model and guide students as they either write their responses in a journal or type them on a word document.

  • If you have an interventionist or teaching assistant in the classroom, you could each teach a guided reading lesson simultaneously.


Option 3: Recorded Guided Reading Lessons

The teacher could record a guided reading lesson and send the file to students to read in school or at home. Students would play the recorded book introduction and then read the book independently. Be sure to follow up with students so you can listen to them read a portion of the text and have a short conversation about the book.


Here are some examples of recorded guided reading lessons using the Pioneer Valley Literacy Footprints Kit I created with Michele Dufresne.


Although experts are predicting there will be increased variability in student reading performance, you CAN continue to teach guided reading. The best way to close the reading gap is guided reading. Despite the obstacles, take the Next Step to help your students become better readers. 

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Literacy Tip of the Week: June 8, 2020


Dear Literacy Friends,
The long-awaited RISE and RISE Up kits, in conjunction with The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (Richardson, 2016) and The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention (Richardson & Lewis, 2018), are now available for purchase! Thank you to Jan and Ellen, in collaboration with the Scholastic team, for leading the way in providing struggling learners an opportunity to excel as readers, writers and thinkers, due to engagement with this blue-ribbon, literacy intensive intervention. 

In my roles as author of selections in the RISE kit (levels C-N) and lesson designer for the RISE Up kit (levels O-Z), I witnessed first-hand a commitment to respond to the globally expressed need for meaningful literacy learning opportunities for striving readers. According to some 2,000 literacy professionals from 91 countries, as noted in the What’s Hot in Literacy: 2020 Report (International Literacy Association, 2020), topics of significance include “determining effective instructional strategies for struggling readers” and “increasing equity and opportunity for all learners” (reference). RISE and RISE Up are attentive to these aspects and those associated with them; they provide opportunities for learners to strengthen word-problem solving and writing skills, as well as fluency and comprehension. 

Instructors appreciate the lesson guides and instructional cards, featured in the station handbooks. Added resources, to include picture sorting cards, comprehension card set, and a teacher portal with videos and more, make this highly effective intervention instructor friendly. 

Students are captivated by the passages in the kits. Some texts encourage learners to consider how MAX (E. Lewis) changes as a character across time; others challenge readers to ponder interesting careers as in High Flyers (C. Gwinn). Some students will busily make slime in their kitchens, in response to Let’s Make Slime (R. Coutu), while others will expand their understanding of poetry as they enjoy First Men on the Moon (J.P. Lewis).

As I deliver RISE and RISE Up specific professional development nationwide, I am witnessing an excitement for this intervention -- and for good reason! Student data reveal on average, RISE learners, who received an average of 33 lessons delivered over 6 to 8 weeks, gained 6.3 months. RISE Up students, who received an average of 33 lessons over 6 to 8 weeks, progressed 5.7 months (Richardson & Lewis, 2018). Thankfully, Jan, Ellen, and the Scholastic team have worked feverishly to make RISE and RISE Up kits available for all. I am confident that instructors and their students will thank them for years to come!

Warm wishes,
Submitted by Carolyn Gwinn, PhD
Educational Consultant and Author

RISE and RISE Up Action Research Study: The Next Step Forward in Reading Intervention by Jan Richardson and Ellen Lewis. Copyright © 2018 by Jan Richardson and Ellen Lewis. Published by Scholastic Inc.


Literacy Tip of the Week: June 1, 2020


Can You Teach Pre A lessons Remotely? Many of you have been teaching guided reading remotely and have asked if it is possible to teach the Pre-A lesson this way. Michele Dufresne has written a blog about it. Click here to read her suggestions.


Literacy Tip of the Week: May 24, 2020


What is Literacy Footprints?

I recently wrote a blog for Pioneer Valley Books on the power of the Literacy Footprints Guided Reading Program. Click here to read more about Literacy Footprints and why it is such a popular guided reading program.


Literacy Tip of the Week: May 17, 2020


Are you interested in receiving virtual guided reading training? If so, read about how Julie Taylor, one of my guided reading consultants, is providing remote professional learning.

Virtual Professional Development on Guided Reading 

by Julie Taylor 

Yes, during these uncertain times, I have adapted initial guided reading training to be delivered virtually over the summer months. With a doc cam, I will work with teachers to analyze running records, group students with data on Assessment Summary Charts, score sight word assessments and complete sight word checklists, analyze word knowledge inventories, plan lesson components based on running record data, and plan for guided writing using student writing samples.

I have developed Google slides so that teachers can follow along and practice each of the word study activities, right at their own fingertips! After the training, the teachers have access to the Google slides so they can use them with their students if teaching guided reading remotely. 

Thanks to the flexibility of Zoom, teachers will be able to practice prompting and delivering teaching points in virtual breakout rooms using actual texts and student guided reading video clips.

The trainings are as close to what we normally deliver in person, and even use hands-on virtual manipulatives. Up to 100 teachers can attend each training. This is a great way for schools and districts to train new teachers so they’re prepared to begin guided reading when schools reopen. The flyers, training dates and descriptions can be found on my website: click here.

Literacy Tip of the Week: May 10, 2020


Reach Out and Teach

Scholastic is launching a new resource for remote learning: Reach Out and Teach. This week they feature lessons from Kylene Beers and Robert Probst -- and Jan Richardson and Michele Dufresne.
Visit the landing page and click to the author pages from there: click here.


Literacy Tip of the Week: February 9, 2020

Break it, Say it, Make it!

I recently teamed up with Jack Hartmann to produce a set of engaging videos that help students break words at the onset and rime. There are five videos. Each targets a specific phonics skill such as digraphs, blends, and silent e. Remember to subscribe to Jack's YouTube channel so you can be notified when a new video is posted. Happy breaking!

Literacy Tip of the Week: February 2, 2020

Teaching children to apply what they have learned

I encourage you to read the recent Teaching Tip from my friend and coauthor, Michele Dufresne as she talks about teaching children to apply phonics skills during reading and writing.


Literacy Tip of the Week: January 26, 2020

Learn more about Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics (Richardson and Dufresne, 2019)

I recently had the privilege of sitting down with two exceptional reading coaches from West Dubuque School District in Iowa. Listen in as we talk about my newest book coauthored with Michele Dufresne. It’s called Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics. Click here to join.

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 19, 2020

For this week's literacy tip, please join me in a podcast with Greg and Jenny from West Dubuque, Iowa. We discuss RISE, an intensive intervention program based on the "Next Steps" lesson framework. I share why so many interventions fail, what RISE is and why it works. Check out the RISE Framework book here. To listen to the podcast, click the link below.


Next week we will have a podcast to share with teachers on word study.

Literacy Tip of the Week: January 12, 2020

Can whole-class instruction take the place of guided reading?

I totally endorse and encourage whole-class reading instruction, but I don’t think it can take the place of guided reading. There is a seductive efficiency to whole-class instruction that says we can save time by giving every child the same lesson. The reality, however, is that the few children who respond appropriately may be "getting it," but the others are not. Even those who respond correctly during the read aloud may have problems transferring that strategy to a text they read independently. Guided reading is the bridge between whole-class instruction and independent processing. I recommend that teachers model a comprehension strategy with a read aloud or short text during whole-class instruction, and then thread that strategy into guided reading in which the children are doing most of the work -- not the teacher. Whole-class instruction can never achieve the differentiation and scaffolding found in a teacher-led guided reading lesson.


Literacy Tip of the Week: January 6, 2020

Don’t Be Fooled:  Accurate Word Recognition DOESN’T equal Comprehension.


Many think that comprehension is the natural by-product of accurate word recognition. Just because students can read the words, however, doesn’t mean they understand what they read. Many students are given comprehension assignments asking them to respond to questions, but these activities are void of instruction on how to comprehend using the critical strategies. Comprehension can be taught through interactive read-alouds as well as during guided reading instruction.  

Character analysis is a powerful means for teaching students to make inferences.  During training, we examine the pages in Jan’s book for techniques to support the teaching of character analysis. I model for the teachers, we do it together, then teachers apply these techniques to text they are using with students. 

Rereading is a powerful contributor to comprehension. Reading material once for the gist is parallel to writing a first draft. Rereading is the process that contributes to developing deeper understanding. Expect students to reread a guided reading text as a meaningful follow-up task. You are helping them strengthen their comprehension. 

Written by: Sophie Kowzun, page turner consulting,

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 16, 2019

Michele and I will be holding office hours for 30 minutes each month to talk about literacy. This evening at 7 p.m. EST we will be sharing suggestions and tips for teaching comprehension during guided reading. Specifically, we will focus on using the progressive steps I’ve outlined in chapter 7 of my book, Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. To order the book, click here.

After a brief introduction to the topic, we will answer questions live during the session. If you aren’t able to join us this evening, you’ll be able to watch the webinar for free once it has been uploaded. Click here for more information and our office hours.


Literacy Tip of the Week: December 8, 2019

Do Fluent Readers Need Guided Reading?

I recently had a video conference with a group of teachers in Singapore.  They are just getting started with Guided Reading, but are enthusiastic about taking this next step in their literacy instruction. One of their questions was whether fluent readers really need guided reading. Fluent readers might be good decoders, but they still benefit from explicit instruction in comprehension strategies.  When they read self-selected books, they are often reading at their independent level. Since the text is easy, they are rarely required to engage in strategic actions. When we give students a complex text during guided reading, students encounter challenging vocabulary and sentence structures. They might be reading about a topic that is not part of their background knowledge. That is when they need to employ a variety of strategic actions to construct meaning. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: December 1, 2019

Mining for Comprehension in Low-Level Books


When I select a book at any text level, I look for one that supports a comprehension conversation--both at the literal and deeper level.  It is fairly easy to find good books at level C and higher since they usually have a story; however, the books at levels A and B have patterned texts such as I can, I see, We like, etc. Still, there are discussion prompts that can work with most patterned texts. For instance:


1. Retell - What did you read? Children can always retell what they read. Although this is a low-level comprehension skill, it does build working memory.

2. Favorite part - What is your favorite page? Tell us why you like that page? This taps into personal experiences and preferences.

3. Connections - What is in this book that you like to do (or eat, or play on, etc.)? What connections can you make to this book? Does this book remind you another book we've read? Kids can make connections with a read aloud book or another guided reading book. I'll often have the other book on hand so we can flip through the pages to refresh their memory.

4. Comparisons - Find two things in this book that are different and tell how they are different. Find two things in this book that are similar and tell how they are the same.  This prompt works for a lot of low-level books, and it digs into deeper thinking.  Kids can compare two fruits, two animals, two kinds of playground equipment, etc.. Here's an example --  Tap on the "Read Online" button to view the insides of the book.  It is an awesome feature that I use in presentations.

5. Inferences - Ask a Why ... question.  I find a picture that I could ask a why question about. In this book called, Looking Out, (, I could ask, "Why does Bella like to look out the window?"


6. Text features - One of my favorite things about Pioneer Valley is the text features they add for their nonfiction books, especially Explore the World series. Here is a link to the Monarch Butterfly. Go to the "read online" link to view the insides of the book. We could discuss the diagram on pages 4-5 (How does a butterfly use its legs or antennae?), or the illustration that shows the formation of the chrysalis on pages 13-14, the emergence of the butterfly on pages 15-16, or the fold-out of the lifecycle. All of the Explore the World books have these amazing text features that can be mined for comprehension discussions.

7. Photographs - Occasionally I'll find a great discussion prompt by examining the photos.  In this Level B Pioneer Valley book, called The Walk, the text is patterned and simple. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much to discuss. However, if you examine the photos, you will notice the text is told from two perspectives -- the dog walker and the dog. 


8. Asking questions - Although typically I ask questions to stimulate discussion, I love to invite the students to find a page and ask their own questions. I often have to model and then scaffold by providing question starters, but it is an important comprehension strategy that children will use for the rest of their lives.

Literacy Tip of the Week: November 24, 2019

Be Thankful

As Thanksgiving approaches, remember to give thanks for your faith, family, friends--and the fabulous students you teach every day.

My son recently shared with me a list of “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude.” It’s taken from an article in Psychology Today magazine. 

1.     Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.

2.    Gratitude improves physical health.

3.    Gratitude improves psychological health.

4.    Gratitude improves empathy and reduces aggression.

5.    Grateful people sleep better.

6.    Gratitude improves self-esteem.

7.    Gratitude improves mental strength. (Click here). 


Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us looked for something (and someone) to be thankful for each day?


Literacy Tip of the Week: November 17, 2019

A Word of Advice to Literacy Coaches

When I work with a district, I almost always recommend on-site coaching. However, coaches need to be well trained on the purpose and procedures of each guided reading component. They need to have good interpersonal skills, and they need to understand the strengths and growth needs of their teachers. One concept I emphasize is to offer a variety of professional development opportunities so teachers can choose how they want to learn. Opportunities can be offered district-wide or among teachers in a single school. Maria Kampen writes: “Formal settings include conferences, courses, seminars, retreats and workshops. Informal opportunities for teacher professional development include independent research or investigation, peer learning initiatives or even just chatting with a colleague in the staff room." (reference).


Every time I work with teachers and students, I learn something. Never quit learning and growing!


Literacy Tip of the Week: November 10, 2019

Confessions of a Running Record Junkie

I confess. I'm addicted to running records. I can't listen to a child read without having a pencil so I can record reading behaviors and strategic actions. Why am I hooked? It's all about responsive teaching. Running records are a window to a child's processing system. Once I understand what a reader does at difficulty, I can respond to that student's needs.


But running records are time-consuming. How can we take running records without sacrificing valuable instructional time? The answer is to embed running records into our guided reading lessons. I take a short running record on each student on Day 1. It helps me know if the book is too easy or too hard. It guides my teaching point for the group. On Day 2, I often take a running record on a single student while the others are rereading the text I introduced the day before. This tells me if my teaching had an impact on the student's reading. Did the student notice an error he or she made on Day 1? What strategic actions did the student use to construct meaning? 


I don't take a running record on an entire book - just a few pages where I would expect the student to engage in strategic processing. I quickly analyze the reader so I can praise him or her for problem solving or respond to some aspect of the reading process that the student is neglecting.


So, may I cordially invite you to get hooked with me on running records?


Literacy Tip of the Week: November 3, 2019

Help! I have too many guided reading groups.


This past week a second-grade teacher in Wisconsin asked me for advice in reducing the number of her guided reading groups. Based on her students’ reading text levels, she had ten groups! Here are some tips I gave her:

1.     Use the Assessment Summary Charts found in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading to summarize the data on individual students. There is a chart for each reading stage, pre-A through fluent. You can download the free charts from here.

2.     As you form instructional groups, consider a range of instructional text levels. Students are rarely at one specific level. Look beyond the accuracy level and analyze fluency, the types of errors, and the student’s comprehension. skills. 

3.     After you’ve determined instructional ranges and analyzed your students’ strengths and needs, form groups based on your focus. For instance, you might have a group of students reading at text levels D/E who need to improve accuracy and fluency and another group at H/I who need help with comprehension. 

4.     If a student doesn’t fit well into any of your groups, teach that student individually with the 10-minute lesson plan or work with your teammates to share and exchange students.

5.     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. 


As for the second-grade teacher -- by using text level ranges and considering the processing strengths and needs of her students, we were able to form four groups, a much more manageable number. She left with a smile, eager to begin teaching guided reading. 


Always remember to Assess – Decide – Guide so that every student becomes a better reader.


Literacy Tip of the Week: October 27, 2019

Questions Teachers Ask about Implementing Guided Reading

I’ve repeatedly encountered questions from schools and school districts about implementing guided reading. These are some of the most common questions:

Question: What materials do teachers need for guided reading?   

Suggestion: Dr. Richardson’s Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016) outlines how to prepare and organize materials for each guided reading stage. Materials common to most groups include:

·      Dry erase boards and markers

·      Magnetic letters on individual trays

·      Sound box templates inserted in a plastic sleeve

·      Analogy charts inserted in a plastic sleeve

·      Comprehension cards (can be copied from Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (Richardson, 2016) or ordered from

·      Pictures for sorting sounds  These can be copied from Words Their Way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary and spelling instruction 6th edition (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton and Johnston, 2015 or ordered from

·      High-quality leveled books. If you are looking for books with lessons written by Jan, see the Literacy Footprints Guided Reading Sets for grades K-6


Question: How do I get staff trained in guided reading and what grade levels should I start with?

Suggestion: Some schools or districts roll out guided reading in phases. For example, a district this year decided to bring two schools on board initially and train their K-2 teachers in both buildings. Next year, they will be adding five additional schools and training 3-5 teachers in each building. Some individual schools bring in a consultant to train their teachers in a systematic fashion covering all guided reading stages and grade levels.

Question: Are there resources we can use to help level students based on running records? 

Suggestion: Use the Next Step Guided Reading Assessment (Richardson & Walter, 2013). Teachers should be trained on how to code and analyze running records to help target students’ needs.

Question:  How can I beat the timer and not feel rushed?

Suggestion: It will take time and practice to get through a lesson in twenty minutes. I suggest teachers use a timer for each component. When the timer goes off, they should reset it for the next component. Self-reflection is also critical. Teachers should reflect on what parts of the lesson are taking longer and why. The majority of teachers master the pacing in about six to eight weeks.

Question: How do I fit guided reading into my reading block?

Suggestion: Page 18 in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading gives a sample reading block on how group rotations can flow during reader’s workshop. I suggest that district/school leaders plan how many reading groups teachers should be able to carry out daily based on expectations and the allotted time for the reading block. 

Question: How can upper grade teachers thread comprehension strategies from whole group to small group to independent work?

Suggestion: Chapter seven in The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading is a great resource for this. It contains 29 modules with progressive steps for teaching 12 comprehension strategies. Teachers say this chapter has been especially beneficial in showing how to integrate comprehension instruction across their reading block.

There are questions and answer at the end of every chapter in Next Step Forward in Guided Reading. Each of them will be helpful to you as a guided reading teacher.


Tammy Seals, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 20, 2019


Fantasy, mystery, biography, poetry, and informational are some of the genres we use during guided reading. Often forgotten, or maybe not considered, is reading for test-taking. This genre demands different cognitive skills that need to be taught for both reading the passage and answering the questions. 

To introduce this genre to your students, first download and print copies of the Test-Taking Strategies cards from Next Step in Guided Reading author Jan Richardson’s website. These cards outline the steps for reading the passage and answering the questions. Print the cards back-to-back so each student has a card to use in the lesson.

Strategies for Reading the Passage

Step 1. Before reading a test passage, students should use their background knowledge by previewing text features—such as the title, headings, illustrations, graphs, and/or charts—to make predictions. This preview sets a purpose for reading.

Step 2. As they read the passage, students should circle or underline one or two key words in each paragraph. This helps them maintain focus and attention. When students read with a pencil in hand, the result is an amped level of accountability and understanding.

Step 3. After reading each paragraph, students should use the key words they highlighted to orally summarize it. This helps them remember what they read, which will assist them when they answer the test questions.

Step 4. Once they read the entire passage, they can use their highlighted key words to retell the entire passage.

Strategies for Answering Questions

Step 1. The first step involves understanding the question. Here, you will teach students how to identify key words in each question. (Hint: these words often include academic language, such as compare, analyze, determine, etc.)

Step 2. Now teach students to paraphrase the question using the key words they identified in step 1. This helps students focus their attention and clarify the purpose of the question. Through paraphrasing, their processing is slowed down, providing time for students to comprehend what the question is truly asking. Students who struggle with reading tests often jump to the multiple-choice answers and look for something that may have been in the passage but may not answer the question.

Step 3. The next step is to have students decide if they should look back through the text. Once students know where to look, they can utilize the comprehension strategies you have taught them in guided reading. For example, if the question is asking for a comparison, students can think of what they know about answering yellow questions. Or if a question asks which statement would be included in a summary of the text, they can quickly use the Somebody-Wanted-But-So card for the text and choose the answer that best fits.

Step 4. Finally, it is important to teach students to evaluate all the choices. Students need to toggle with the answer choices by asking, “Does this choice answer the question?” or by concluding, “I think it is right/not right because …” Once an answer choice is determined, students should reread the question and their answer to be sure they’ve selected the correct response. Sometimes all the choices are lifted from the text but only one answers the question. In some cases, the question asks the reader to identify two correct answers.

Teach these steps during your guided reading lessons. Once these strategies are internalized, they will become second nature for students.

—Karen Cangemi, Literacy Consultant, Pioneer Valley Books

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 14, 2019

I posted this literacy tip earlier this year. So many have found it useful that I've decided to post it again in case someone missed it.

ELL students often leave off the endings of words when they read. In Latin-based European languages, words tend to end with continuous or open sounds, so ending sounds blend right into the initial sounds of the next spoken word. The idea of “Romance” languages stems from this common trait among Latin-based languages. Words flow so melodically from one to the next that they’re pleasant to the ear. That is not the case with English. Many endings for English words are derived from German and Dutch, languages much more harsh sounding.  

Students whose native language is Latin-based are not used to pronouncing and stopping sounds so abruptly. They have no concept of certain “stop” sounds. Non-native English-speaking students tend to read words as they would be pronounced phonetically in their native languages. 

Just a few minutes of explicit instruction during a guided reading lesson can make such a profound difference in developing students’ reading skills. During a guided reading lesson, we can prompt students to read all the way through the words and teach them to consciously pronounce and enunciate ending sounds as they read. All it takes to establish those neural pathways for English sounds is a few minutes of laser-targeted instruction scaffolded within a few guided reading lessons.

by Julie Taylor, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant


Literacy Tip of the Week: October 6, 2019

Expanding Vocabulary

Research on vocabulary acquisition has revealed that most vocabulary is learned indirectly through everyday experiences with oral and written language, and that children benefit from direct instruction in new words and vocabulary strategies (Cunningham, 2009). Students learn vocabulary indirectly when they are read to, when they read on their own, and when they converse with others, especially adults. Although there are lots of exceptions (my husband is one), children from professional families generally have richer vocabularies because they hear more words in the home (Hart & Risley, 1995). 

This week I want to suggest some steps for teaching vocabulary during whole class lessons. Next month I’ll address teaching vocabulary and vocabulary strategies during small group guided reading.

Explicitly Teaching Vocabulary During a Read Aloud

Step 1. Select a book that supports vocabulary development. It should have some challenging words that are defined in the glossary or supported by text clues or illustrations. For older readers, look for challenging multisyllabic words that contain common affixes and roots. Write 5-7 of these challenging words on index cards.

Step 2. During the read aloud, discuss the target vocabulary words you wrote on the index cards. Children have a better chance of remembering them when they can connect them to a book. Model how to use one of the following strategies:

- Substitute a word that makes sense.  
- Reread or read on and search for clues.
- Make a connection to a word the students know. If you have English learners, use common cognates.
- Find a part they know. It could be part of a compound word or an affix or root.
- Use the glossary.

Step 3. After reading the book, distribute an index card to partners or triads and have them use the word to retell part of the book.

Step 4. Make a vocabulary word wall by posting the index cards with a copy of the book cover. Use some of these fun and engaging practice activities.

Vocabulary Review Activities

GUESS THIS WORD: Place the Vocabulary cards you have taught on the table. Give a clue about one of the words by saying, I’m thinking of a word… Students try to identify the word. You could give clues such as the definition, how many syllables, the part of speech, an antonym or synonym, the meaning of the affix, etc.

PUT TWO WORDS TOGETHER: Students create a sentence using two vocabulary words you have taught.

PICTURE THIS: Place the vocabulary cards face up on the table. One student draws or acts out one of the words while the others in the group try to guess it.

HIGH FIVE: One student writes down a word from their New Word List, and the others try to guess it by asking questions. The goal is to guess the word in less than five questions.

Jan Richardson, Ph.D.
Author and Consultant

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 29

Letter Formation with Jack Hartman

I had the privilege of pairing up with Jack Hartman to create a fun and engaging video series on teaching letter formation. Click here for an engaging set of videos that teach letter names, sounds, and formation!


Literacy Tip of the Week: September 22

Four Steps for Teaching Sight Words

I have seen several videos on Youtube that have used my four steps for teaching a sight word. Unfortunately, the videos were not accurate. Click here to see the correct steps and an explanation of each procedure.


Literacy Tip of the Week: September 15th

Word Study Literacy Tip from Carolyn Gwinn


Utilize the Assess-Decide-Guide Framework to Ensure Effective Word Study Instruction--Meet Jacob!


As a nation-wide staff developer focused on the implementation of customized guided reading, I am frequently asked how to best engage learners in effective word study. Jan and Michele have authored a timely publication intended to help us design and deliver developmentally appropriate word study and phonics instructioneven more strategically. Let me offer steps to take based on the practices featured in The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics (2019)and The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016),as well as my long-term work with students including Jacob (pseudonym).

I began to work intensively with Jacob at the close of his second-grade year. His data revealed a struggle with skills including digraphs. As suggested by Jan and Michele, I led Jacob through a series of word study activities during his guided reading lessons. Across his journey of learning, I monitored Jacob to confirm he was utilizing his newly acquired word study skills when reading and writing. 

More specifically, Jacob first engaged in picture sorting (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 34) to help him hear sounds and link them to letters. Once he accurately and confidently sorted pictures featuring digraphs, we then focused on making words, which challenged him to visually scan words to check for letter/sound accuracy (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 36). As he demonstrated proficiency with making words, he then engaged in sound boxes (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 38) with the intent of helping him hear and record sounds in sequence. The sophistication of his word study activities increased as he displayed proficiency. I repeatedly witnessed the value of strategically embedding word study into his guided reading lessons. I celebrated as he applied what he was learning about letters, sounds and words when reading and writing. 

A summary of the steps taken to help Jacob become a more proficient word-solver, which are presented by Jan and Michele in their Assess-Decide-Guide Framework (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 20), is as follows: 

·     Assess:Examine Jacob’s data to determine word study needs and strengths

·     Decide:Determine the word study activities aligned to Jacob’s need 

·     Guide:Plan and teach needs-based word study instruction.

Try Jan and Michele’s framework. The results are invigorating and rewarding for learners and teachers alike!

Author: Carolyn Gwinn, PhD; Educational Consultant (

Go hereto order your copy of Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics