Teaching Guided Reading in a Virtual Classroom

 I started this post back in July but I had to stop. I knew I wanted to help teachers plan for virtual reading groups. But, honestly, I still wasn’t sure exactly how it would all work. Now that I am teaching (both in person and virtually), I feel a little more comfortable sharing what is working for me. I am not an expert by any means but I’m hoping by sharing what I’m learning, you might take away an idea or two 🙂 Here are some tips for teaching guided reading in a virtual classroom.

Part 1: The Warm-Up

Students rolling into your virtual meeting over a couple of minutes means it’s difficult to get started on something right away and then have to catch up any late-comers. If you can, hold your small group directly after a whole group session and keep students on. This will allow you to jump into your lesson immediately.

For me, I am teaching reading intervention groups so they are leaving their homeroom teachers’ Zoom in most cases to come to mine. I have found starting with an activity that students can easily jump into even if they come in a minute or two late is helpful. With most groups, we begin with a phonological awareness warm-up. Our school does utilize Heggerty which provides all of the words and activities. Heggerty has their own YouTube channel which is super helpful!


You can easily plan your own warm-up.  I love this list of Phonological Awareness skills from Clever Classroom. 

Take 3-4 of the following activities and choose your words ahead of time. Since it’s all oral, students can typically pick up on your verbal routines.

Instead of phonological awareness, you might use letter-sound cards or sight word flash cards. The point being, the first activity should be quick and require little to know knowledge of directions to begin. I created these virtual letter-sound-keyword cards to use as a part of our warm up.

Part 2: Focus Lesson

This part of the lesson includes brief direct instruction and practice. You might focus on a phonics skill or comprehension skill depending on the group. From my experience, students tend to zone out during direct instruction on Zoom even faster than they do in person. Or maybe it’s just so hard to gauge their actual engagement? Either way, I try to keep this very direct and explicit. For example:

“We’ve been learning how to read one syllable words with short vowels. Today, we are going to read two syllable words with short vowels. When I see a longer word, I want to break it up into two smaller chunks to read it. Let’s practice.”

Then, I would model doing this with a couple examples.

Afterwards, I want students to build one and two syllable words.

How can students build the words?

Whiteboards: If you are able to send supplies home, a whiteboard and marker can be used almost daily! If you don’t have whiteboards to send or don’t want to send them home, laminate a piece of paper instead! Or, you can use sheet protectors. This makes for such a flexible instructional tool!

Virtual whiteboards/annotation tools: If you can’t send anything home (or don’t want to), there are many online whiteboards. The annotation tools built into Zoom can be utilized by all participants! Make sure you have enabled this feature and students can draw on whatever it is you are sharing. Or, you can “share screen” and select a blank whiteboard to use.

Google Slides Word Building tiles: I had each student access the same Google Slides letter tile document.  I shared with my students in the chat on Zoom (make sure your sharing settings are set to “anyone can edit”) the link to these slides. We all used THE SAME link (no force copy!) and I assigned them each a board. So, Jimmy was slide 1, Ashley was slide 2 and so on. They stayed in Zoom so they could hear my while I dictated words for them to sound out and spell. This way they could all work at the same time and I could see what they were spelling, too! I loved being able to see all of their work in real time and give them immediate feedback!

Part 3: Reading

This is probably the trickiest part to virtual small reading groups but it’s not impossible! Here’s some of the ways we have been reading texts on Zoom:

1:1 in Zoom, others read in Seesaw: Keep one student in main room, send others off to record themselves reading on Seesaw. My district utilizes Seesaw as our main learning platform. One thing I love about Seesaw is the option for teachers and students to record themselves with video or voice. I had my students all read a passage on Seesaw at the end of my small group lesson but then I thought that keeping one student back and rotating each day would be even better. I used this strategy for my older readers who are working mainly on fluency. Obviously, this isn’t the greatest option for beginning readers who need the support to decode.

Breakout Rooms: Separate students into their own breakout room, teacher rotates through rooms to listen to each student. With using this option, your students will need their own copy of the text. I have dropped a link in the chat for each student to open before I send them to a breakout room. You could even have them partner read in a breakout room as long as clear expectations have been established. You know your students best and whether this would be a good option. For more info on setting up breakout rooms, check out the directions here. 

Main room + Breakout Room: If you aren’t comfortable with (or allowed to) having students unsupervised in a breakout room by themselves, another option would be to log into Zoom using 2 devices. Keep one device in the main room with students so you can keep an eye on things. Then, with the other device, pull students 1:1 into a breakout room to listen to them read. A bonus of this set-up is that you can share screen in the main room and in the breakout room. This is a great solution for when you want to share a passage or digital book for students to read.

Round robin: I know what you’re thinking. You’ve probably heard by now this is an outdated and ineffective way for practicing reading skills. That’s true. However, we are living in a period of life where we have to adapt and that means conditions are not ideal. While I would never suggest to round robin read daily, in small groups reading this way is sometimes necessary. I always provide this as an option along with another choice. You’d be surprised how many students do want to take turns reading pages. I also read a page myself to model fluency and expression. The point is I want students to feel comfortable doing it. If they don’t, this is off the table.

Choral reading: Choral reading is reading aloud in unison. Choral reading helps build students’ fluency, self-confidence, and motivation. Because students are reading aloud together, students who may ordinarily feel self-conscious or nervous about reading aloud have built-in support. The downside to choral reading virtually is the lag time. I would choose words, phrases, sentences or small chunks of texts to choral read together.

Truth be told, none of these is the best choice. However, a combination of a couple of strategies or trying all of them to find what works best for you will make for the most effective virtual reading practice.

Part 4: Wrap-up

If the reading portion is the most challenging, then the wrap-up is the easiest part of the lesson.

Oral sharing: This is pretty self-explanatory but a simple discussion after reading will suffice! It doesn’t always need to be fancy. For older students, you could give them each a comprehension question to focus on during their reading and then they can share out.

Sharing through chat: Pose a question in the chat for students to answer as they are returning from their breakout room. Have everyone summarize the text is less than 8 words. Assign students to retell by typing the story elements or main idea and details.

Jamboard: Google Jamboard is a collaborative whiteboard. You can use it for responses to questions, completing parts of an anchor chart, sorting information ect. It can be simple and used as a blank whiteboard or upload a graphic organizer to the background. Students add their ideas via sticky notes, text or even images!

Seesaw: Again, I love Seesaw for the ability to record video and voice. You can have students verbally retell the story or complete a comprehension graphic organizer. You could upload a copy of the text as a Seesaw activity and have students circle words that followed the phonics pattern you were working on. Or, they could identify examples of facts and opinions or cause and effect. Annotating the texts on Seesaw is such a great option!

Retelling steps: I’ve including in my Digital Guided Reading activities resource a few ideas for comprehension wrap-ups. These retelling steps are an interactive way to visually see the sequence of retelling. There are activities for fiction and nonfiction texts included!

Just like pretty much everything else this year, teaching small reading groups virtually has many challenges. My top advice is don’t overthink it so much that you avoid doing it entirely. Start meeting with groups and try out one element of a complete lesson (i.e. just do a warm-up with each group one day, try word work the next day) and build up to a full 4-part lesson. I typically try out any new activities with my highest readers first before I try it with any other group just to see how it goes. If it’s too difficult for them to navigate the technology, I know I want to avoid it completely.

Need more ideas for teaching virtually? Click here!
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