How to Assign Leveled Readers During Guided Reading Small Groups

Leveled Books for Guided Reading Instruction

Leveled books are the key to your success when it comes to teaching Guided Reading lessons. It’s important to ensure the students in your classroom are reading books at the appropriate reading levels. So how do you accurately and effectively assign reading levels AND choose the correct Guided Reading level books? Let’s take a look.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk, or Confusing Reading Levels

OK teacher peeps, it’s true confession time. Are you ready? I cry at sad movies. OK, I’ll admit that’s not an earth-shattering newsflash, but it’s true. In fact, I’ll bet you’d have to admit you’ve shed a few tears over a bucket of popcorn, too. (I mean over a movie, although the cost of a bucket of popcorn is distressingly high!)

Come on, admit it—remember Marley and Me?

As humans, we’re hard-wired to experience a huge gamut of emotions, and some of those emotions may elicit a tear or two. (Or twenty). Tears aren’t all bad—they can sometimes come from good places, too: happiness…joy…gratitude. Whatever the source, let’s just admit this universal truth: sometimes we just feel better after we’ve had a good cry!

Assign Guided Reading Level Books Appropriately for Tearless and Fearless Reading Instruction!

With that said, however; if there is ever an area in which we do NOT want to see tears, it’s this: Guided Reading! Learning to read is hard, but the care we take to accurately assign Guided Reading leveled texts should prevent new readers from crying tears of frustration. They are learning an essential lifelong skill, and while learning involves work, we can help make it enjoyable.

Here’s an important point: Direct teaching in small groups should occur as students read texts at their instructional level. The reason for this is that an independent-level text won’t provide enough challenge; whereas a frustration-level text may lead to just that: tears of frustration.

In light of this information, let’s take a look at how to appropriately assign leveled texts for Guided Reading students. Although it takes some practice, understanding these levels will help you avoid the dreaded “F-Word”: Frustration!

Stages of Reading Development

Organize your Guided Reading groups around these four basic stages of reading development.

Emergent: Levels A – C

Children at the Emergent level are beginning to understand concepts of print. They are developing early reading behaviors such as an understanding of how print is arranged on a page and that text is read left-to right, top to bottom. They understand aspects of print such as first letters of words and the sounds that letters make. Emergent readers focus mainly on the meaning cueing structure, since they rely heavily on pictures to help understand a text. These readers point to each word in the text to help guide them as they read.

Early: D – I

Early readers are beginning to master phoneme segmentation and manipulation (breaking words into individual sounds and modifying or moving individual sounds within words). They’re learning basic sight words and high frequency words and are beginning to learn basic decoding strategies. Early Readers are able to use letter-sound relationships to help them decode simple words. These readers use meaning cues to understand text, making sure the words they read match the illustrations on the page; however, they’re also learning to monitor and attend to the visual and structural cues they encounter.

Transitional: J – P

Having mastered basic early reading behaviors such as concepts of print and phonological awareness, Transitional readers have progressed to reading texts with multiple lines of print. These readers possess a large number of sight words and high-frequency words. This means they can focus their energy on solving more difficult words through use of new decoding and word-attack skills. Though they still notice and enjoy pictures, Transitional readers don’t rely solely on illustrations to help them decode.

Fluent – N and Higher

Fluent readers have progressed through the early stages of learning to read. They have begun to tackle more complex texts in a variety of genres, including fiction and non-fiction. They ‘ve built a full vocabulary of sight words and high frequency words, as well as a number of other words they can read with automaticity. These readers have a good grasp of reading strategies and make use of Meaning, Structure and Visual cueing systems. They continue to build their vocabulary and continue to learn more complex word-solving skills and strategies. These readers are going deeper into text comprehension and understanding the meaning behind the text.

Reading by the Numbers
How to Determine Which Guided Reading Leveled Books to Assign

The Guided Reading framework incorporates leveled books to provide the appropriate amount of challenge for readers in Guided Reading groups. This is key to your ability to provide the targeted, differentiated instruction your students need.

Choose appropriate Guided Reading texts for small group instruction: books that are at the students’ instructional level–a level that’s slightly more difficult than their independent level.

A running record and overall reading inventory that assesses fluency, comprehension, and reading behaviors, will help you to evaluate a students’ reading behaviors and determine their instructional reading level, which in turn will allow you to group your students appropriately. Administer a baseline running record within the first two weeks of the school year to determine each student’s baseline level. Then follow-up with subsequent assessments for progress monitoring. Use the data to guide you in moving students ahead as they advance to higher-level groups. In addition, use it to reveal when intervention or strategy groups are needed to address trouble spots.

Independent Level Text

A text that a child can read with an accuracy rate of 95% is considered to be at his or her independent reading level. The student can independently read texts at this level with little or no prompting or assistance. For independent reading time and reading at literacy stations, this is the level where the child will enjoy success and gain additional fluency practice.

Within the Guided Readers Reading Program, the Digital Interactive Reader allows you, the teacher, to ASSIGN your students a range of leveled texts on their Independent reading levels so that they can practice reading fluently, record themselves reading and listen back to their recordings, and check their comprehension using the online quiz assessments.

When it comes to Guided Reading, celebrate independence, but differentiate instruction!

Instructional Level Text

Determining a student’s independent reading level is important; but more importantly, your job as an educator is to determine his or her instructional level. When a student reads a text with at least 90% word accuracy, the text is considered to be at the instructional reading level for that student. Although it may be a challenging text, the student can tackle and read it with occasional prompting or coaching. This is the sweet spot that governs your Guided Reading instruction in small groups! It’s the level at which true learning occurs for the individual children you are teaching to read.

The Digital Interactive Reader also allows you to ASSIGN your students a an Instructional Leveled text that you can use DURING your guided reading small group instruction. If you have the technology available, using the digital reader during your small group instruction will save you time because you don’t have to print out the leveled readers.

Within the Teacher Portal of Guided Readers, you will have the ability to assign each student a 2-picture password login (so that it is SUPER EASY for students to log on) and have the ability to assign independent reading levels to your students using either Fountas & Pinnell reading levels or Lexile levels.

Frustration Level Text

An accuracy rate of 89% or below indicates a text that is at a student’s frustration level. This is the too-hard, tear-inducing level that does not produce meaningful learning. You goal should be to advance the reader to a level at which they can eventually read that text with accuracy and fluency. However, the reality is, it is not the text you should be using at this point in that student’s reading instruction.

Although it may be the perfect text at a later stage, for this student, it’s a big “N.O.” for now. While your strategic instruction might advance them rapidly toward that goal, for the present, it would simply result in frustration. In Guided Reading, We. Do. Not. Want. Tears. That is all.

Flexibility is Key!

Finally, the beauty of small group Guided Reading is their flexibility and fluidity. As you model, teach, coach and scaffold your students, their reading skills will improve. The result will be higher reading levels as well as the ability to take on more difficult and challenging texts. Most importantly, you’ll continue to monitor and assess their progress to ensure you are grouping them appropriately and are assigning appropriate Guided Reading level texts.

Additional Note About Guided Reading Leveled Books

I make it a point never to forbid a student to read a book because it is at a “too hard” or “too easy” level. I want my students to develop a love of reading and an appreciation for books of all kinds. While an “easy” level book may not provide much of a challenge to a child, it can provide an enjoyable reading experience. It can help them build confidence, automaticity, word recognition and fluency. As long as they’re being challenged and taught using instructional level books during Guided Reading small groups, there is no reason why a student shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy an easier book every once in a while.

On the other hand, I also believe a child can benefit from tackling a difficult book that may be too challenging for their current daily instructional level. Athough these books may be harder to get through, allow your students to investigate them. It builds interest and gives them something to aspire to in their reading journey.

May all your Guided Reading stories have happy endings…

If you’re new to teaching Guided Reading, I hope this has helped to clear up a few questions about how to assign Guided Reading leveled books to your students. And if you’re a Guided Reading veteran, I hope it serves as a reminder about why we do all those baseline assessments and periodic running records!

Regardless of where you are in your teaching journey, I have you covered with Guided Readers! Guided Readers is my new comprehensive online Guided Reading program that provides hundreds of leveled guided reading texts, rigorous lesson plans, and word work instruction, based on best practices in literacy instruction. The Digital Interactive Reader will also provide your students with oral comprehension, decoding, and fluency practice.

Guided Readers will give you access to amazing lesson plans along with professionally illustrated printable & digital books and instructional materials. The Digital Interactive Reader means students can read the text independently, listen to the text while words are highlighted, record themselves reading, listen back to the recording, and and take quizzes based on the stories they read. Teachers can view quiz scores and listen to students’ recorded readings in the teacher portal. You can give your students access to books on their level, or on a range of levels you want them to have access to.

There are already hundreds of leveled readers already on the Guided Readers site, with 20-30 books being added reach week! Books ranging from levels A- P are currently on the site, and levels Q-Z will be added in the upcoming months. All Guided Readers leveled books are published by Laprea Publishing and are professionally leveled through our partnership with Fountas & Pinnell and

There are 3 affordable program plans for Guided Readers, and right now there are special introductory prices. Guided Readers is your secret to tearless and fearless reading instruction! Click here for Guided Readers!

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