Saturday 20 March 2021

How to plan reading lessons

I love planning reading lessons.  In my role, I'm lucky enough to sit down with colleagues across the school and plan with them.  Each time this happens, it makes me reflect on the process of planning an entire reading unit.  I touch on this during my reading training sessions (in person and online!) but have never put it down on the blog goes!  This post is aiming towards a set of lessons in the four-part structure explained in Part 2 of these CPD videos. It might be worth watching before reading this post if you're not familiar.

Read the book...twice.

The first thing I do with a new reading unit is to read the book.  This seems really simple but it's surprising how often teachers start planning a unit before they've read the whole book.  It's important for this first time that I just read and enjoy the book, taking in any main themes or potential trigger areas.  Of course, I will start to get ideas as I read but generally I won't write these down yet.  Really, I'm reading the book to check its appropriateness: are the themes appropriate for the age (remember some book covers are deceptive)? Are the themes appropriate for my class/cohort? Am I enjoying reading the book? Would my class/cohort enjoy the book? How easy is it to follow the narrative and get lost in the book? Are there any issues in the book which may trigger certain reactions from children due to their lived experiences?  With that last question, if the answer is 'yes', that's not necessarily a reason to not use the book; it's a reason to consider communicating with that child and the family about the potential triggers before introducing the lessons. 

Once I'm happy the book is wholly appropriate and of a high-quality, I will read the book again.  This time, I'll read with a notebook next to me, scribbling down a variety of things: 

  • Key vocabulary which comes up time and time again (e.g. in There's A Boy In The Girls' Bathroom there are a lot of American words) 
  • Any general knowledge references which children may not know about or know enough about to fully comprehend the story (e.g. in Number The Stars, the Danish Resistance is quite key to many elements of the story)
  • Key moments which would be good points to stop and summarise - perhaps before or after a complicated part of the plot - or to predict. 
  • Extracts which lend themselves to a specific skill

These notebooks are fairly messy and rarely are all the ideas used, but it makes a very good starting point for planning.

Map out the book over the time

The next job is to ensure that we will finish reading the book in the time given.  You might have a half term, a term or a fortnight in which to complete your reading unit.  In this time, it's so important to finish the book with the children so that they get closure on the story and so that you can guide them through their comprehension right to the end.  I start this with the halfway point: if we're reading for a term, then by half term I need to be halfway through.  I create a rough guide to where I need to get to each week using page numbers or chapters.  This is something I started doing after making the mistake of not getting far enough and having too many pages to read in the last week of a term! 

Identify the chapters to 'just read' and link to skills

These chapters will be the ones you focus in on for teaching the reading skills to pupils.  They need to be at an appropriate point in the book each week to ensure you'll get through the text and also have enough quality text in them for the skill you want to achieve.  I often start with a retrieve or authorial intent (choice) activity linked to characters so the first 'just read' chapter could be one which introduces the main characters.  Once you're well into the book and before a big twist occurs, there may be a chapter which requires children to really understand what has happened - that could be a point at which you teach the summarising objectives.  I sit with the skills in front of me and match them to chapters/extracts, ensuring all the main comprehension skills are covered within a unit (unless it's a short unit).

By now you should have a skeleton overview with the key chapter/extract and the focus skill for each week. 

Vocabulary / General Knowledge

Each 'just read' lesson has a session before in which we front load (or pre-teach) some key vocabulary or general knowledge.  If my notes from the second read through are detailed enough, I should know whether each week's extract lends itself to a vocabulary focus or a knowledge focus.  These are added to the overview.  If it's a vocabulary week, it's important that the activity allows children to learn and understand the new words which they will encounter during the week.  Occasionally, this could be a dictionary task but I'd recommend the Vocabulary Ninja book and Closing the Vocabulary Gap for ideas for other vocabulary activities and some sound theory on vocabulary teaching.  A general knowledge week is a good chance to practise reading comprehension test skills with an unseen text.  Alternatively, children could complete a comprehension activity based on a text (or video, infographic, cartoon etc!) which helps them learn the appropriate information. 

Comprehension Activities

By now, the skills for each extract each week are mapped out.  It's time to decide how children are going to practise and improve the skill you are teaching.  More often than not, this means a focused comprehension activity rather than multiple comprehension questions as per CGP books or reading tests.  Will children need to respond to a question with prose? Do they need to match elements together? Are they making a judgment on something and how could they show their response? Do they need to justify their response with quotations?  I always have a go at completing the activity to consider what children will find difficult and what they will need during the input in order to be successful. This is sometimes the hardest part but by keeping these simple and focusing on the reading skill we can build children's understanding.  The more you talk to teachers, look in other teachers' reading books, have a look over Twitter (there are some brilliant ideas there!) and search, the greater your bank of potential comprehension activities will become. 

By this point, the weekly overview should be complete and you're ready to look at individual lessons.  I end up with something like the grid below.

When We Were Warriors by Emma Carroll


It's important that all children can access the learning and the activity.  Take time to consider how the children who struggle the most with comprehension or decoding will be successful with the skill you're teaching. Children who struggle with comprehension will often require different support to children who struggle with decoding.  Scaffolding for comprehension can include sentence starters or structures, more guided adult support, steps towards a final product or to focus on one element of the activity/story.  Scaffolding for decoding can include highlighted words or phrases to focus on for the reading, shorter extracts, a simplified version of the text or an audio book to support.  These children will require decoding intervention in addition to the reading lessons - we do this during the fifth independent reading session.  Make sure the scaffolding for pupils is clear on the plan, and that you've considered how all children can be successful.  Also remember, scaffolding should be withheld at first to give children the chance to smash your expectations of them, and any support should be temporary - but that's a whole other blog post!

Plan and resource

This final step is the one teachers are very familiar with and good at! Once the bare bones of the unit are in place and well-planned, it's easy to meat out the plans with clear explanations, modelling of the reading skill (including use of Teacher Fool), any questions which will be asked, key misconceptions to go over and the role of any adults within the lesson.  I tend to add detail to the plan as I resource each session: as I prepare any slides, resources or support materials, I ensure the plan is clear how and when they should all be used. 

I hope this has been useful, particularly if you're new to teaching or new to teaching reading in this way.  Please do get in touch on Twitter, via email or on the contact form on this blog if you have any questions.  There are tonnes more blog posts about reading here. Happy planning!