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Tackling the Reading Beast: Knowing WHAT to Teach and WHEN

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

So...what do my readers want now?

You want to get ahead of your readers and plan some lessons they will need in the immediate future.

You want to get ahead and determine what your readers will need and what they want to gain to improve themselves at reading and move closer to proficiency.

BUT...the reading standards are so broad and general and the reading process is a BEAST. Not to mention, the district's pacing guide is not unique to the group of readers you currently have sitting in your classroom.

You want to tackle the beast and meet your readers where they are which brings you to this question...

How do I know what to teach and when?

Let's tackle this reading beast!

First, you have to do an audit of what you have taught and the goals you have set for your group of readers.

Let's go back and think about what you've worked on in reading.

In Knowing When the Lesson is Sticky, I posed four points for knowing when one particular lesson is sticky...

  1. Observe

  2. Talk

  3. Student Work

  4. Use Exit Tickets

Your readers are always changing and that's what you want but it's hard to keep up with all the patterns and trends that can contribute to your future lesson planning to meet those needs. What's a teacher to do?

Let's focus on each of the points above and go a little deeper so you can audit what you have taught, notice how your readers have responded and discover your readers' ever-changing wants and needs.



Look at what is actually on your readers' desktops and in their notebooks. It may not match what you wanted them to gain in reading, does match where your readers are right now.

Notice exactly what your readers are doing, trying and approximating within their independent reading. How are they applying the strategy or skill work within their self-selected texts?

When you are eavesdropping into their conversations with students about their work. What are they saying? What kind of book talk are they having? Really listen... Are they using content vocabulary (strategy words, thinking stems, etc)? Are they doing more than just restating text? Are they building on each others' ideas?

From here you have a gold mine of ideas for meeting your readers' needs and meeting them where they are at!

Talk To Your Readers

Dig a little deeper into your readers' thinking about their reading strategy and skill work.

When you have conversations with readers, do you do all the talking? the reader articulating what they want and need? If that's the case, then your readers are telling you exactly what to teach next!

Talk (confer) to your readers about their independent reading with these questions in mind...

  • Are your readers just parroting what you have stated in minilessons?

  • Are they rereading the anchor charts to you?

  • Are they approximating or trying out unsuccessfully the strategies and skills you've already taught?

  • Are they approximating and having a go with a little success but not sure how to move forward?

  • Are they independently consistent with strategy use?

  • Are they actively stating what they want to learn as a reader?

Look at Independent Reading Work

Review your readers' notebooks and the work they have done over the last several weeks. Notice trends and patterns. There is always a pattern and trend when you look at the whole big picture.

Divide your readers' notebooks into groups and ask yourself this question...

What have my readers gained from my previous minilessons in reading?

  • not applying strategy and skill work and responses are literal and restating text

  • trying to apply strategy and skill work but needs more support

  • independently and consistently applying strategy and skill work

Use A Reflective Exit Ticket

Use an exit ticket to see what your readers really want and need.

Have your readers write goals for themselves as readers. They will do the work for you!

Look at your readers' goals and notice patterns and trends within the group of goals.

  1. This is what your unique set of readers is wanting right now.

  2. This is where you can meet your readers where they are at.

  3. This is where you need to focus some of your minilessons.


When you are tackling the Reading Beast, you must actively get in the trenches and look at your unique group of readers.

It's so important to audit what you have recently taught in reading and assess the goals you have set for your unique readers.

Look for 8 Reading Tools You Must Use to Uncover Your Readers' Needs where I share how to look at more specific types of reading artifacts (student work) to discover the unique needs of your readers.

Until next time,

The pictures above display forms taken from Data Wall Reflections: Goal Setting & Tracking Forms for Teachers and Students OR found in the Building Readers Toolkit for Progress Monitoring shown above along with other valuable tools to assess your readers and inform your instruction.



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