How do we teach children to read?

Reading is now high on most schools agenda, the belief being: if a child learns how to read and (more importantly) loves to read, then they will be successful and become lifelong learners. This is resoundedly backed by evidence. Take for example the OECD report in 2002:

‘ Reading for Pleasure is the single most important indicator of a child’s future success’

As practitioners, we understand that reading happens every day for the children in our classrooms.Whether children are reading the lunch menu, their maths problem, or the prayer before they go home. But the key question for subject leads and practitioners is: how do I teach a child to read?

I’m not just talking phonics. Phonics, we know, is the bedrock to any child loving reading independently. Neither am I just talking about the content domains which test comprehension. I’m talking about the skills we as adults use when we are reading to comprehend. The skills, that if our brilliant year 6 children did without thinking, then those SATS would be a doddle. When do we teach a child to become an independent reader and embed the skills of: Predicting, clarifiying, summarizing, questioning and activating their prior/background knowledge that Wayne Tennant talks about in ‘Guided reading layers of meaning’?

There are two main taught sessions of reading which happen at our school.

Whole class reading

Whole class reading or shared reading, is the opportunity to teach reading using a age-related passage or book. Through shared reading, you can teach the explicit skills of reading which are: predicting, clarifying, summarizing, and questioning. These four skills are needed if a child is to understand as they read.(I’ll post another blog to summarise his work). Through shared reading we can also do a ‘close read’ of a passage – something which Doug Lemov delves into in his ‘Reading Reconsidered.

In our school, shared reading happens from EYFS to Year 6 and it’s a time for us to delve into and analyse a passage; a passage which holds meaning, has challenging tier 2 vocabulary and has something in it which develops, e.g. a theme that runs throughout, or the developement of a character, the changing of the atmosphere. In order for a child to be a successful independent reader, they need to be able to analyse and understand as they read and that is the aim of shared reading: to teach them how to do those skills.

Guided Reading

Guided reading is then another layer of how we teach children to read and is ,in my eyes, one of the most precious times of the day.


No. It’s not a merry go round where children vomit and get light headed. Guided reading with one group, whilst the other children are engaged in purposeful, structured and most importantly, taught independent activities is not something to fear. For us teachers, working with a smaller group, with a text that is accessible for their reading age (with scope for challenge), is such a beautiful, sacred time. You work on unpicking key vocabulary at word and sentence level whilst also focusing on a content domain e.g. Vocabulary, Retrieval, Prediction etc or a key skill . If you lead on Reading, then how you rotate the learning to ensure coverage is completely up to you.

In order for a child to be successful in reading and want to read, these two approaches work best hand-in-hand.

Published by readingteacher

Year 6 Teacher Assistant Head English Lead ELE

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much for the confidence boost to persevere with Guided Reading – I agree that when managed effectively and with pedogeological understanding, it has huge impact on the children. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the 4 specific reading skills mentioned.
    From one ReadingTeacher to another!


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