Starting Points for Readers

Hi ! This is Wendy from Ms. D's Literacy Lab joining you in a discussion on grouping students for Daily 5 and Guided Reading Groups at the beginning of the year.

When I first began teaching reading around 2000, I used to group students simply by DRA levels for Guided Reading groups. As the years have gone on, and I have learned from others and observing students within my groups, I realize that the data is just the tip of the iceberg.

In this data-driven atmosphere, administrators might put a heavy emphasis on just the data. The reality is that the skills a child needs and uses to become a successful reader goes way beyond that basic information.

Rodney is a first grade student. He is from Haiti and speaks French Creole at home. His mother works hard to provide for him. His older brothers help Rodney play alphabet games and more to make up for his lack of preschool skills. He has a lively, happy spirit but gets frustrated easily when he doesn't feel successful from a task. He loves music and rhythms. He had reading services 4 days a week for a half an hour during Kindergarten. He entered Kindergarten in late fall when most of his peers had already mastered the alphabet. His DRA shows a score of O which tells us that he has little awareness of books or print. In addition, his DIBELS scores show that he is still mastering the alphabet, continuing to learn phonemic segmentation, and has no understanding of nonsense words.

To start off:
  • Observation Survey-- I would choose Concepts of Print by Marie Clay (part of the observation survey), Letter ID, and see what words he can write within 5 minutes.
  • Administer an informal assessment on Phonemic and Phonological Awareness
  • Review and Reinforce on Kindergarten skills like : Letter Fluency, Rhyming, Phoneme Blending and Segmentation eventually leading to practice with nonsense words.
  • Love of Music and Rhythm-- Rodney is a student that will enjoy sing-along books (include a copy he can read and take home), nursery rhymes, and spelling words using tapping (neurological impress method).  Music may strengthen his memory as well as using a reading program with consistent repetitive tasks such as Wilson Fundations.
  • New skills... the reading teacher should be reinforcing that skill during his/her time.
  • Kinesthetic games for Rodney will help his need to move and learn. As he manipulates alphabet letters and tiles, makes letters using snap cubes, and uses playdoh to write CVC words, his brain is using novelty (new ways of learning) to help him retain the skills.
  • Superhero weave those Superheroes into the most mundane of tasks. Learning to blend nonsense words may be fun with Iron Man or Thor !
  • Book bag to take home easy books to read and it also acts as a resource for reading during Daily 5 and Literacy Center time.

Nathan is a third grade student. His family is a gypsy family from Eastern Europe. He entered Kindergarten in the middle of the year with no previous preschool or daycare experience. He struggled through Kindergarten to learn his letters. In first and second grade, he was placed with 2 experienced teachers that gave him as many 1-1 experiences in reading as possible. His reading intervention was daily and his classroom teacher did reading with him 4-5 times a week. Nathan's personal motivation to learn to read was high even though there were no books in his home. In addition, both the classroom teachers and I were aware that Nathan forgets things quickly. He is reading at a level I-J in the fall. His Primary Spelling Inventory reflects where he is in his phonics instruction as well.

To start off:
  • Easy Reader Series- Make sure there are extra copies of books in the classroom, school library, or reading teacher's library that he can borrow.
  • Kinesthetic Word Work Activities-- Consider using the Quick Phonics Screener from Read Naturally to start and see where his strengths and areas of support are. He may need reinforcement on r-controlled words, vowel teams, other long vowel patterns and more.
  • Guided Reading Books which are age and grade appropriate with minimal words, vocabulary, and familiar events with straightforward plot lines. Focus on keeping books in the 93-95% accuracy level so he will make rapid progress. 
  • Graphic organizers should be simple, easy to use, and use the same ones in multiple settings (classroom, special education, reading, homework, specials)
  • Reader's Theater, Buddy Reading, and Rereading Texts several times should increase Nathan;s fluency and confidence.

Charise is a fifth grade student. Her family consists of a single mother and older siblings. She had significant behavior issues in Kindergarten and Grade 1. She came to her current school at Grade 2. She has been making significant success each year and is know at a Guided Reading Level M entering 5th grade. There are no books in her home, yet her mother and siblings will listen to her read if books are sent home. The mother is hesitant to attend teacher conferences. She will be receiving reading, learning center support, and classroom support this year.
To start off:
  • Age Appropriate Books- Anything that looks "babyish" will get abandoned and then she will pick up harder texts which will reduce her progress. Choose books in multiple areas that will appeal to her. Take time to find out her interests using a book or interest inventory. Consider purchasing high interest-low readability books from a publisher using grant, PTO, or other teacher funds.
  • Phonics/Decoding Support- she needs support with vowel teams, long vowel patterns, r controlled vowels, and other patterns which eventually lead to prefixes, suffixes, and root words.  Word sorts, sorting syllables, and other kinesthetic games are important to aid in her instruction.
  • Social Studies and Science textbooks-purchase a set of CDs for the classroom teacher. This way she can follow along, hear the text and learn the information for classroom projects, discussions and more. She may be able to be an expert in one area of the chapter and fill in a simple graphic organizer as she reads and listens to the text.
  • Graphic organizers for comprehension and writing are important. The classroom teacher, special education teacher, and reading specialist should have the same ones for her. This way, when she encounters standardized tests or homework, she can easily begin it on her own.
  • Guided Reading Texts in Science and Social Studies --will expand her understanding at the independent reading level.
  • Teamwork--Monitor her decoding, comprehension, and oral reading skills frequently and share with the team. For a student who needs extra support, the communication between team members is very important and keeps the learning goals synthesized.


  1. I love these case studies! They remind me of many of my own students. This really helps me put their needs into perspective. Thanks for sharing!

    Reading Toward the Stars

  2. Hi Andrea,

    I took these "students" from my own personal students who I know very well. I know sometimes I tend to just look at small pieces of information but when I look at the bigger picture, I can support them thoroughly. Please feel free to add a "Case Study" of your own so we can support each other.

    Hope you have a great start to the year !


    Ms. D's Literacy Lab

  3. What a great way to set up this post! It really looks at the child. Thanks so much for this! :)
    Curious Firsties

  4. Thanks Em ! For the kind comments, it is a broader way of looking at a student.

    Wendy D.