The Importance of Running Records

Hello my friends!  My name is Jennie from JD's Rockin' Readers.  I am very HONORED to be a part of this amazing group of literacy gurus!  We have been working and collaborating "behind the scenes" for a few months now and they are all truly amazing.  

A quick little bit about me.  This is my 14th year teaching.  I have taught 3rd grade reading, 2nd grade classroom, Reading Recovery, Title I Reading (1st grade), and 1st grade classroom.  I have also been trained in Literacy Collaborative.  Currently, I am working in a regular 1st grade classroom.  After teaching Reading Recovery/Title I Reading for the past 10 years, I was ready for a "change".  So, I chose to go back to the daily bump and grind of 20 six and seven year olds at one time.  I LOVE it, but I really feel like a first year teacher all over again!

I wanted to talk a little bit about Running Records today.  This is something that we all should be doing with our students regularly if you want to truly get to know each child as a reader.  Running Records were first created by Marie Clay (founder of Reading Recovery) as a way to analyze student reading behaviors while reading actual text.

The BEST person to do the running records on their students is the classroom teacher.  I know it is time consuming and can be difficult to keep the others working on something productive.  But, running records are the best way to analyze a child's reading behaviors.  We need to remember that running records capture a child's thinking.  We can then analyze the students behaviors and plan for appropriate instruction.  They also help teachers to find appropriate text to group (and regroup) students for guided reading.  Benchmark assessments (using running records) also help document a student's growth over time.

(Button credits:  3am Teacher, Scrappin' Doodles, Dancing Crayon Designs, Kevin and Amanda)

Some things to remember:
  • You want to observe the child and record what he/she is doing INDEPENDENTLY as a reader. There is no helping them to solve words- only recording the behaviors.
  • Try to make the atmosphere as relaxed as possible with no interruptions.  
  • Record everything that the child does.  This should not only include the reading errors, but also other behaviors such as body language, attitude, and attention.
  • After the reading, have a natural conversation about the book rather than just asking questions.  This will allow for deeper thinking about the text.

There are pretty universal "markings" to record reading behaviors.  When Marie Clay first started recording students' reading, there were no "assessments/papers" that already had the words for the teacher to use and record on the students' reading.  She used a blank page.  This is why she chose to make checkmarks when the student read a word correctly.  Today, it is a little different.  IF you have the words to the text in front of you, you do not HAVE to put the checks above each word.  Ultimately, it doesn't make a difference IF the words are already there.  Something I like to do instead is make a line under the words as they read them.  I make a continuous line if the child is reading in a phrase.  For example:

The big dog  ate his bone.  (This tells me the student is reading in three word phrases.)
The  big  dog  ate  his  bone.  (This tells me the student is reading word by word.)

If you are doing a running record on a book that is not a benchmark and there are no words.  I would suggest using the checkmark system.  This way, you can go back into the text and analyze the errors that the student has made.  

If you are doing running records in your classroom, make sure that you understand the difference between Errors and Self-Corrections and the general rules of Running Records.   These can be found in your assessment kits or on many sites online.

Some common questions that I hear from other teachers about how to record and score running records include:

1.  Do names count as an error?   Proper names count as one error.  If a child says Pat for Pam several times while reading the same text, it only counts as one error.  Even if this child says Pat and then Pete and then Phil for the name Pam, it still only counts as one error.

2.  How do I count contractions?  If a child reads "do not" for don't, it counts as one error and visa versa.

3.  Self-corrections are NOT also counted as errors.

4.  What if a child appeals to me for the word?  If a child appeals to the teacher for help, you may say "You try it".  This does not count as an error (unless they then say the wrong word or need to be told), but you should record an "A" above the word so that you know they are appealing for help.  If the student still appeals, tell him the word and move on.

This is probably the most important part of running records.  I like to take a minute or two immediately following the students reading to write down my immediate thoughts.  This may include how fluently (or not so fluently) they read, what strategies the child is using at difficulty, or if the child is appealing for help way too often. 

 I always ask myself, "What can I praise this child for with his reading AND what can I teach him right now?"

In our District, we do Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessments 3 times a year (unless the students need more intense intervention).  We are on trimesters rather than quarters.  We use Benchmark data from the end of the previous year to help form our reading groups in the fall.  I know many students may regress and others will progress over the summer but this information gives us a general idea of where they are as readers.  We quickly learn if they need to be moved to another reading group as we work with them.  We do not do benchmarks at the beginning of the year because it is just too difficult to spend the time when we are trying to teach rules and routines.  **I am not saying that you shouldn't do them at the beginning of the year- that is a personal and district preference.  This is just what works best for us.  Formal benchmarks should only be done 3 to 4 times a year.

Running Records should be taken on a regular basis during your guided reading groups.  This can be done at the beginning of the guided reading lesson.  Listen to one student in each group each day.  They can read the book that was introduced the last time you met (so it will be their second read).  Use a blank running record sheet if you don't have one with the words from the book you used.  You can download one that I made by clicking on the picture.
I keep all of my Running Records in a binder divided by students.  I keep the newest record on top.  I also record all benchmark assessments on a chart, and then this information is passed on to the next year's teacher.  This allows the teacher to see what areas the student has struggled with in the past and a quick overview of their reading progress from previous years.  This chart follows them from K-4th grade.

Here are a couple of pictures from my binder.

This is the graph we use.  It has all of the Fountas and Pinnell benchmark books.  The shaded areas (or above) are where we would like them to be reading.  We record these three times a year (first, second, and third trimester).  

This is on the back of the graph.  I record all of the BENCHMARK assessments that I give onto this paper even if they don't pass.  This allows me to quickly see what the last assessment I gave was and why a student didn't go up to the next level.  This is the paper that gets passed on to the next year's teacher and will follow them from K-4th grade.

I then keep all of that student's running records behind their graph with the most recent one on top, including any running records from guided reading groups.

If you are interested in seeing how I set up my Guided Reading Binder (which is a freebie).  Come and check out this blog post.

What is the hardest part about running records for you?  What other questions do you have about running records?


  1. Running records have always been something that I have struggled with. It is not something that we are trained on in my school district and it is not something that we are required to do. So, although I believe it is important, it is not something I feel comfortable with. How long should the reading selection be for the students? Should they be reading something completely new or something that they are familiar with? Do you time the students? How long is appropriate for first grade students?

    1. Hi Jessica! These are great questions. Typically, if you are doing a Reading Benchmark, it is a first read for the student. It is good if you can use some sort of Benchmark Assessment tool so that it is accurate. Some good assessments include Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessments, DRA Benchmarks, Rigby, or Reading A-Z also has some online. If you are doing a running record on a student during a Guided Reading lesson, it is usually done on the second read of the book. This is a good way to see what strategies the student is picking up from the lesson before. If you are taking a running record on a book from Guided Reading, you want to record their reading for at least the first 100 words but not usually anymore than 200. The student can finish reading the book to themselves if it is longer and then you can discuss the story. You should start timing students around a Level J (16)- according to Fountas and Pinnell. I also try to listen for grouping of words, intonation, and expression.
      I hope this helps you! If you have any other specific questions, feel free to e-mail me at

  2. Jennie-
    This was a great post. So explicit. You made it look so easy :) I did not know you were trained in Literacy Collaborative. My team was too! This is our second year using what we learned at the training.
    Thanks again!
    Curious Firsties

    1. Emily,
      I was trained for four years in Literacy Collaborative and then I switched schools. I wish we had it at the school I am in now. I think it is wonderful!

  3. Great tips! I wish this post was around when I first started going running records.

    The Math Maniac

  4. Thank you SO much for posting about this! We started F&P at our school last year (I know, a little behind the times), and so many teachers struggle with administering running records. I'm tagging this as a resource to help clear things up!

    Oh, and I'd never thought to underline words/phrases to see how they are reading. Great tip!

    Don't Let the Teacher Stay Up Late
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    1. Melissa,
      Great! I hope it helps! I feel the same way. We have all been trained but it seems there are always questions.

  5. Great post. This was very informative. We test fluency not reading records, but I can see the benefit:)


  6. Hi ! I really love this refresher on Running Records. I was trained in Reading Recovery in Texas as well. I do running records on students and then share a copy with the classroom teacher with my comments as well as the traditional information. Therefore, I have a copy in the child's folder and one with a teacher. I find it is easier to reference that way in team meetings or a parent conference rather than a large binder.

    Thanks so much !

    Ms. D's Literacy Lab

    1. Wendy,
      My "system" was definitely different when I was teaching Title I reading. I had to have so much more documentation on those kiddos! I love that you make copies for your teachers- we all need to be on the page, especially with parents:)

  7. Great information!! So glad you did not say it was for a "grade" - lots of misconceptions out there!!

    1. No, Angela… we definitely don't do them for grades but we do want them to be at a certain level each trimester to be considered reading at grade level and we do report that information back to parents. The important part of it all is that we can meet each student at their instructional reading level to help them improve.

  8. Great post Jennie - I have pinned it for my pre-service teachers. We use NZ Prose or PROBE in our middle/upper primary years for running records and miscue analysis. I would love to learn more about the Literacy Collaborative you mentioned you were trained in as I haven't heard of that before.

    Many thanks
    Ripper Reading Resources

  9. Our teachers are required to do reading assessments three times a year, but they find it hard to do them throughout the year. Even I have a hard time getting them in throughout the year. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of running records. They really don't take long to do them either!

    Reading Toward the Stars

  10. Thanks for the great post on running records. I went back to the first grade classroom this year after a few years as a reading specialist. I agree it is like starting over, but I love putting my RS experience to use!

    An Adventure in Literacy

  11. I had no idea you had been a Reading Recovery teacher! I absolutely LOVED that program when I taught in it! Thank you for such a clear, concise blog post! I have coworkers who are pretty clueless about how to do running records, and I feel like I've never done a great job of explaining it. This will help! Thank you!!

  12. Hi HoJo! I didn't know you were either! I think when you teach Reading Recovery you do it so often that it becomes second nature. For others, when you may only do it a few times a year, it is easy to forget. I hope it helps!

  13. Than you for the great post on running records! I am currently a new first grade teacher and I am wanting to start running records. Your post lays it out very nicely. At our school we are encouraged to monitor fluency, do you time the running record? I just didn't know if there was a way to combine a running record and to time/ check fluency. Thanks again!

  14. When I am doing running records, I do use a fluency score sheet. I follow the Fountas and Pinnell fluency ratings of 0-3. You may be able to google it and find a chart?? It is geared more toward phrasing and intonation more than time. I do start timing for formal benchmarks when students have gotten to a level J. I hope this helps! If you have any more questions- just let me know, I would be happy to explain further.

  15. I'm working on getting my school to agree to literacy collaborative training but the school board is very reluctant. Can you give me some insight to how the training improved teaching and student performance?