Guided Reading and The Reading Process: Step 1 Pre-Reading

by Hollie Griffith

on January 13, 2021

Sixteen years ago… I was a first year teacher… I had NO IDEA what I was doing when it came to guided reading groups! I DREADED that small group time! I taught a 1/2 split and my kids were on so many different levels. I couldn’t figure out how to organize my groups. I did a terrible job managing the students who weren’t in my group. And… I WAS NOT the best reading teacher. Honestly, I’m just thankful that I survived that first year. And somehow my students survived… And… somehow they still learned! I just wish I knew then what I do now!

A year later I started my masters at an online university. Of course… I was not getting my masters in reading. I was going for math… but during that first semester I took a course on fluency. I LEARNED SO MUCH! So much that I was able to apply to my classroom right away! I was a completely different reading teacher… So, I decided to get my masters in math and reading… and during that process I read everything I could find about teaching students to read. I went on to get my National Boards in Literacy… And to this day.. I haven’t stopped learning. Those first few years of learning are SO IMPORTANT to our students and I’m determined to learn everything I can to be a better teacher… AND to create literacy resources that will help other teachers because I will NEVER forget how I felt that first year.

SO…. I have a series of blog posts coming your way this year! I want to share, what I think, is critical in guiding and developing life long learners and readers.

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The Reading Process

I think it’s interesting that we are familiar with the writing process, but often times we don’t think of teaching reading as a process… but IT IS a process! It is SO important that we teach our students HOW to make meaning… HOW to comprehend… HOW to respond to what they have read… HOW to change their reading strategies based on their PURPOSE for reading.

The reading process involves five stages: pre-reading, reading, responding to reading, exploring, and applying

Today, I’m going to share with you all of the strategies that I use during the pre-reading stage.

I’m going to use the book The Emperor’s Egg as an example.

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First, I want my students to PLAN to read. To do that, I need to activate their background knowledge. I need them to make those personal connections. Here are some questions that I might pose while introducing this story with my entire class or with a guided reading group.

  1. This story is called The Emperor’s Egg… Do you know anything about Emperor Penguins?
  2. Think about the story Tacky the Penguin that I read to you this morning… that story was fiction, but we did learn some real facts about penguins. Can you think of any of those facts?  (penguins live where it is cold, penguins can swim, penguins can’t fly)
  3. Have you ever seen a live penguin? I want to show you a photograph that I found of a group of penguins. Do you have any questions about this photograph? Do you notice that the egg is sitting on the penguin’s feet? Why do you think the egg is on its feet? Do you think these penguins are a group of mothers or fathers? Why?
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NEXT, during this prereading stage I would have my students preview the text. Look at the photographs… look for words in bold.

Last but not least, I introduce any vocabulary words that I think might need to be introduced before reading. When reading, I ask my students to look for the words in the text. Sometimes I put the vocabulary words in the center of the small group table, and the first student to find/read the word in the text flips it over.


Then, we would SET A PURPOSE for reading. Are we reading to learn something? Are we reading for entertainment or pleasure? Why are we reading this story? All of us, students and adults alike, read differently depending on our purpose for reading. My own reading strategies are very different depending on if I am reading for pleasure or to learn information. Personally, when I’m reading for pleasure I do not preview the text. I take recommendations from friends and I am easily carried into the world of the text. When I read to learn something (usually related to teaching students to read and write) I preview the text, look at the chapters, a lot of times I sit at my desk with my highlighter and notepad, I decide how and where I want to take notes, I use post-its like they’re going out of style. As you can see… Our purpose for reading guides our reading process.

As I teach my students to set a purpose, many times I provide the purpose for them… I call it “purpose questions”. By giving my students a purpose, they are reading to find out something specific. The purpose guides their reading process and ensures that they’re monitoring for understanding. Sometimes my “purpose question” focus on the specific reading strategy that we are learning… do I want them to focus on analyzing a character? Do I want them to infer? Are we learning to summarize?

For this nonfiction text, here are a few examples of a “purpose question” that I might use…

  1. As you read this story, I want you to find the answer to these questions. How long does it take for a baby penguin to hatch? And… Who watches the egg? The mother or father?
  2. As we read this story, I want you to find the answer to this question. What does a mother penguin do after she lays the egg?
  3. While reading this story, I want you to look for the answer to this question. What does a baby penguin eat? Who feeds the baby penguin?

Many times I let my students work in groups to come up with their own questions. After surveying the book, they come up with three questions to guide their reading. They write their questions in a journal, and they read to discover the answers to those questions. If their questions aren’t answered… well, that’s when they get really excited! Of course, they want to find the answers… so that just inspires more searching and reading for a purpose.


After activating backgrounding knowledge and setting a purpose for reading, my students need a PLAN! If we’re reading fiction we will share our predictions about the characters and events. If we’re completing an author study we might make predictions on a common theme or common characters. When my students are planning to read informational books we will revisit the headings, table of contents, diagrams. Writing our questions that will guide our reading is part of that PLAN….


Last but not least, teaching my students to make meaning requires direction instruction and modeling of applying reading strategies and comprehension skills. I ALWAYS ask my students to apply the strategy that we’re learning as they read. This instruction takes place during the prereading time! Sometimes the reading skill or strategy is taught during whole group instruction and applied during our small group time.

I’ll be moving on to STEP 2 – READING next week!



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