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Guided Reading

Copyright © Adam Waxler

In guided reading, students are placed in small groups with similar reading levels. Children read either silently or aloud to themselves, but they do not read in unison.  In early guided reading groups books are chosen based on a 90% accuracy level.  Books should also match a child’s interests and knowledge base.  Of course, to do all these can be quite challenging and maybe even impossible since kids with similar reading levels do not necessarily have similar interests or knowledge bases.  Therefore, a three to five minute book introduction is an essential scaffold for the first reading of a text.

Eve Bunting’s book, So Far From the Sea, is a beautiful story about the Iwasakis, a Japanese-American family that goes back to visit the “relocation” camp where the father was interned for three and a half years during World War II.  While the content is serious, the book is actually a picture book written on a second grade level.  Nevertheless, an introduction to the book is necessary to scaffold learning and clear up any comprehension concerns.  I would start with the cover, both the title and the illustration.  I would point out the mountains in the background and explain that the family is clearly very far from the sea.  I would then ask a series of questions: Is the family happy or sad? Why are they standing next to a monument? What are monuments for? Why is the mother holding flowers?  By answering these questions, the students conclude that the Iwasaki family has brought flowers to some solemn place, and at least one reason they are sad is that they are so far from the sea.  Students can then predict where they think the Iwasaki family is on the cover and the goal of reading can be to discover if their prediction is correct.

I would then take the students on a “picture walk” through the book.  The pictures in a book can go along way towards increasing comprehension.  In this particular book, the father often reflects back to his youth when he and his father were interned in the prison camp.  This reflecting, however, can create problems for some readers.  Fortunately, the illustrator, Chris K. Soentpiet, has drawn pictures in both color and black and white.  The color pictures are present day (1972) at the abandoned prison camp.  The black and white pictures are during World War II when 10,000 Japanese-Americans were interned at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in eastern California.  The “picture walk” also provides a great opportunity to point out any words that the students may have trouble with.  For example, I would certainly point out “Manzanar War Relocation Center” written on a sign in an early illustration in the book.  These words come up often and the pictures provide a great opportunity to explain their meaning.

By “walking” through the pictures to introduce the book, a teacher can tap into students’ prior knowledge and also have students predict what the text is about.  Furthermore, teachers can clear up any comprehension concerns they may have about the book, such as “jumping” back and forth between 1943 to 1972.  The “picture walk” will, in turn, increase students’ interest in the book and therefore increase students’ motivation to learn.

Adam Waxler is a middle school social studies teacher, teacher mentor, and the author of eTeach: A Teacher Resource for Learning the Strategies of Master Teachers. Adam is also the editor and publisher of The Teaching Teacher’s Newsletter. For more information about his ebook or to sign up for your free monthly newsletter log onto: