Saturday 3 June 2017

Whole-Class Reading - A New Method

Why a new method? 
After three years of teaching reading without using the guided reading carousel, we decided we needed to change the structure of whole-class reading lessons to get more out of the class texts.  This change was inspired by three things: the rigour of the 2016 reading KS2 test and the heavy focus on vocabulary for understanding, Reading Reconsidered by Doug Lemov, Colleen Driggs and Erica Woolway, and this blog post by Nick Hart.  

I met with Jess, our Y5 leader who is in charge of reading, to discuss how to move forward with whole-class reading in our school.  Jess had completed some observations across the school so had an idea what was happening in different year groups. I had recently read Nick Hart's blog post and Reading Reconsidered so these drove our discussion.  We talked through some options and put our plan into action.  We've been teaching using this new method since January in Y4 and Y5.  The other KS2 classes took it on after Easter.  

How does the new method work?
The aim of this new method is to expand pupils' vocabulary and deepen their understanding of the texts they are reading.  We do this through explicit teaching of vocabulary before reading the text and re-reading sections looking closely at the elements which require further understanding, keeping in mind that children must learn to retrieve information (R), interpret meaning (I) and comment on the author's choice of vocabulary or style (C).  Questions check pupils' understanding of previous extracts as well as the current text in order to enhance their memory. 

There are three main elements to this. 
Explore - pupils spend time decoding the words, finding definitions in dictionaries, writing sentences using the new words. 
Teach - teachers clarify the meaning of words which will be encountered in the text using images, drama, actions and sentences of varying contexts. We explore links between words children already know and try to include the new vocabulary with prefixes, suffixes, synonyms and antonyms.
Vocabulary Teach Slide
Practice - teachers use various methods to revise the words previously learned: matching words definitions, providing definitions, images, missing letters, sentences from books with the word missing.
Vocabulary Practice Slide

Often, different words are used for explore and teach.  Some words are displayed in class to be referred to across the curriculum.  A huge array of activities are used to teach, explore and practise vocabulary; it really is so important to pupils' understanding of the texts they encounter in their own reading.  

Text Selection
The choice of texts is absolutely key in this.  Previously, we had chosen some texts because they linked perfectly with our themes and topics.  We had to be really honest with ourselves about some of the texts we use and we decided some simply weren't challenging enough and others were easily understood.  For these texts, the lessons we were teaching were superficial and not really teaching the pupils much.  

The Y3/4 and Y5/6 word lists form the basis of how we choose texts and the Amazon "Look Inside" feature is really useful for checking multiple texts quickly.  We aim for a text to be challenging and accessible for all so we are not looking for something pupils can easily read and understand already.  This is something we will continue to improve and check as we consider the books used throughout the year in each year group.  We may have to replace and rethink further text and topics.  

Lesson structures
Similar to our old method, this is based around 2 one-hour-long lessons each week.  These are structured as follows:
Lesson 1
Vocabulary - Teachers explicitly teach the vocabulary which pupils will encounter in this week's text. 
Reading - Teachers read aloud the text with pupils following along in their copy.  The text is often a whole chapter (or two) of the chosen book. Mostly, this is done without stopping so children experience the text as a whole.  Often, they spot the words mentioned in the vocabulary teaching earlier in the lesson. 
Summarising - Pupils write a summary of what they have heard.  This will be a personalised task.  Some children have prompts to help, some summarise orally or reread the text with the teacher, some use bullet points, some use full sentences, some include quotations, some challenge themselves to summarise without looking in the book, some are given summary sentences and they must fill in the gaps.

Lesson 2
Close Reading and Discussion (Notes) - The pupils take turns reading aloud and the teacher enables analysis to take place through questioning.  For this part, the section to be read aloud is an extract from the chapter(s) read in lesson one; generally, the extract which is most difficult to understand or has the most to be gained from discussion.  Pupils make notes on the text to help them understand further and answer questions later.  At first, teachers must model note-taking slowly and carefully, explaining how and why we take notes.  
Reading Aloud - Pupils read the extract aloud independently or in pairs.  Some children can read with the teacher or, if you have one, a TA.  This is where we encourage children to use expression and perform the extract, especially if it is a poem.  They really enjoy this part and the room is buzzing with excited voices as they read to their partner or group. 
Questions - Children use the notes they've taken on the extract to answer questions about the text.  These questions tackle all of the written curriculum objectives across a text but may focus on one objective for an extract.  Again, some children can start working on this with the teacher to support their understanding before working independently.  

Occasionally, we still use RIC activities when they are appropriate; for example, to explore a front cover of a new text or to gain some knowledge which will help with understanding the text.  Quizzes are used regularly for retrieval practice, to remind children of what they have previously learned about words and the text.  Also, we have sessions which are based on non-fiction texts and poems which complement pupils' understanding of the text; these are mostly structured like our old whole-class reading lessons.   We are continuing to have 30 minutes of quiet reading twice a week and are monitoring the books that pupils read.  In order to finish a book in 6-8 weeks, we read alternating chapters for pleasure between these lessons.  

You can view a sample plan for Y4, based on the book Romans on the Rampage by Jeremy Strong, by clicking here.  The slideshow below goes through one week's worth of lessons based on Chapter 6 of the book.  It has some practice, vocabulary and question slides. 

What has been the impact so far? 
The biggest impact has been on children's vocabulary.  Pupils have remember a vast majority of words taught, are quick to recognise them in other contexts and use them orally and in their writing.  This was one of the main reasons for changing methods so we are really pleased with this.  We were worried about how children would respond to the close reading part of this method and writing notes on an extract.  This was something we didn't experience until we were at secondary schools.  However, after some slow modelling of this over the first few weeks, children are now confident in making notes to enhance their understanding.  Our next step is to look further at the structure of the second lesson and see if there are some changes to be made to further improve our teaching of reading.

If you are interested in tweaking your teaching of reading to include any of these strategies, I'd highly recommend you start with Nick Hart's blog post and Reading Reconsidered.  They are must-reads for anyone interested in the teaching of reading. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jo. I'm reading 'Reading Reconsidered' at the moment and am a fan of the close reading approach. Will give this approach a go with my year 6s in the next few weeks.

    Just a couple of questions:

    Do you look at all possible unknown words prior to reading a chapter or are some saved for word meaning/inference tasks in the second lesson?
    Has anything been lost by reducing the amount of visual literacy RIC starters?


    1. Hi Matt,
      Thanks for your questions.
      We don't look at every word. If you look at the plans, you'll see we started with 20+ words per chapter but this became around 10 as we started teaching with the new approach. We don't feel we've lost anything by reducing how many RICs we do. Children have been doing them for years and so now we only use them when there is meaty content to be discussed.
      I hope this helps.

  2. Could I ask if you start this in year 2 or eyes? Year 2 are struggling with whole class reading and I am trying to support the teacher as best I can. Can it be done well in year 1?
    Thank you for your time.
    Kind regards
    Ceri green

    1. Y1/2 use some elements of this - particularly the vocabulary introduction first - but it is mainly a KS2 approach. Have you seen my post on whole-class reading in KS1?

  3. Can I ask, do you link your reading text to your writing?

  4. Hi, I haven't yet started whole class reading sessions but I am keen to give it a go. Do you think I should start with this approach or go back to the ric method to start with to get them into it? Thanks, Jo

  5. Intriguing ☺ As we're now reviewing our curriculum at KS3 this is invaluable. Thank you ☺

  6. Hi,
    This looks great. Do you have a list of the books you have used throughout the year for KS2 under the new system?

  7. Thanks for sharing how this is evolving in your school, Jo. Is there a blank copy of the adapted planning template available to download anywhere?
    Thanks, Hannah

  8. This looks fantastic and was very helpful. Unfortunately, two hour-long sessions would prove very difficult with our current timetable, as only some year groups are making the transition to whole class guided reading. How do you think (if at all) this could work over 4/5 30 minute sessions over the course of the week?

  9. I am very interested to try whole class guided reading with a Year 3 class. Do you have any particular texts that you would recommend ?

  10. Thank you very much for this format - I'm going to trial using this.

  11. I was wondering the same?!
    We have 30 minute sessions
    1- word introduction and discussion
    2- teacher read for 30 mins
    3- children reread and discuss
    4- children answer questions


    Would that work???

  12. I'm looking at improving my whole class reading and start with book 1 Harry Potter. I was wondering if you have more planning examples I could look at. Thanks.

  13. I'm looking at introducing whole class reading in the school. I was wondering if you have more planning examples I could look at. Have you any relating to Street Child by Berlie Doherty? Thanks

  14. Thanks for the ideas and planning for Romans on the Rampage. Do you have any resources available? Kind regards Helen

  15. please can u recommend some extracts for y5 to start me off?

  16. Hi Jo, silly question but it sounds like all children have the book you are reading. Is this always the case? If so, how have you financed this? Our budgets are limited so I am interested in a way to do this economically for the school. Many thanks

  17. Hi Jo, I really want to start this approach in my school (we have huge classes, so carousel is impossible!) - I don't suppose you have any Year 3 samples of planning and children's work to look at?
    Also, are there any further developments in using this in KS1?
    Thanks, very informative as always :)

  18. Can I just ask how you fit these 2 hour slots into your timetable? I'm currently overwhelmed with subject pressures! Do you replace English lessons with these lessons? Currently do 5 hourly English lessons and a comprehension lesson each week.

  19. Can I just ask how you fit English and reading into your timetable? Currently we do 5 'English lessons' and 1 comprehension lesson. We need to get more reading in but there are pressures to fit in handwriting, grammar and spelling and accelerated reader ! Any tips?

  20. Hi Jo. I am currently teaching in LKS2 and would love to know more about your whole class guided reading. I’ve read your blog on using RIC, but have you now moved away from this approach towards what you’ve entitled: ‘ A new method?’ Do you have any year 4 plans available to help me understand/ get started?
    Many thanks.

  21. Hi
    I work in F2. how could i do this with my class

  22. Hello from Canada! I've recently found you and I'm so encouraged by your work with looking at reading instruction so differently. I've been teaching for 31 years and have always tried to find ways to make "guided reading" work, and I've felt that I'm not reaching my students often enough with this method. I'm looking forward to implementing some of your strategies! I was wondering if you have a sample time table that could be shared? Do you used the "Daily 5" Method at all?


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