Modifying Guided Reading for ELLs

During my most recent practicum I was in a class environment with a high ESL population. This meant that for language class many days of the week, half of the class would go into a separate classroom with an ESL teacher and the other half would remain with myself and my AT. However on some days of the week the students would all remain in the regular classroom and participate in the whole class’ language activity or lesson. I had a chance to teach both of these groups and see the difference between the two. My teacher did not have a chance to lead guided reading groups while I was there for my placement but I know that she was hoping to start doing this more and I could imagine it being very difficult with the vast range of reading and writing abilities some of these students had.

I decided to do a little research on guided reading with ESL students to see what has already been determine and whether or not the results are positive. An article by Avalos, Plasencia, Chavez, and Rascón (2007) discusses modifications of guided reading to utilize it in an ESL setting. Avalos et., al said, “English-language learners (ELLs) also benefit from these aspects of guided reading; however, when a modified approach is used, they gain additional language-learning opportunities that native speakers typically acquire implicitly.” (2007) They give a star diagram providing the main benefits for ELL students from modified guided reading. They are as follows; Detailed vocabulary instruction, L2 Text structure, Targeted CALP instruction, Cultural relevance, and Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing.

The steps that differ from a regular guided-reading lesson are as follows (I bolded certain words that I felt got across the main objective of each step):

  1. Analyze the text: Avalos et. al., say that a teacher should prepare for all of the aspects that will be covered with the text. Examples of these are; shared and student readings, word work, and writing responses. This can be helpful because the teacher will hopefully catch any problem areas in the text that the ELL students may have extra difficulty with. They can then ensure that they address this in the best way they see fit.
  2. Introducing the text: Depending on the students reading level in the group, and their cultural backgrounds, the introduction may be very brief or could take a little longer for the teacher to introduce the topic, setting etc. I found throughout my placement in a class with many ELL students, I often said words that I assumed that they knew and the class would like at me with a very puzzled face. This was partly due to the fact that I was not used to working with students who came from another country in recent years and I had to explain many words or concepts to them several times simply because it was new vocabulary to them.
  3. Shared Reading: Through shared reading the teacher has a chance to model fluent reading to the students in a smaller group setting. This can also help facilitate discussions and the students will hopefully make connections.
  4. Reading the text: Now the students have a chance to read the text on their own. The teacher can keep anecdotal records to keep track of progress or habits that students are displaying while reading.
  5. Returning to the Text: This can be done in the form of discussing the text and what the students have now read on their own. Thoughts, ideas, and questions can be shared during this time.
  6. Responding to the Text: Extensions that can go along with a specific text can be very helpful for ELLs to further develop their understanding of concepts in the text, as well as language skills.
  7. Word Work: The last step that Avalos et. al, speak about is word work, which has a goal of teaching systematic phonics by practicing


After I had the chance to dissect these steps provided by Avalos et. al, (2007) I really can see the importance of taking the preparation steps when working with ELLs. Although I never had the chance to lead a guided reading group in either of my placements, I would love the chance to do so in the near future to see how it would actually play out. I also think that having the opportunity to lead a guided reading group within a class with ELLs would be such a rewarding experience because students in this situation will hopefully be progressing in their language skills at hopefully a quicker rate, even though they are beginning at a much lower level then students who are not ELL. I hope this information was helpful for teachers out there who have several ELL students and are looking for ways to modify reading groups to make it more effective for these students! I would recommend checking out the Avalos et. al., article in full for more information as I have only given a quick recap/summary above!


Avalos, M., Plasencia, A., Chavez, & C., Rascón, J. (2007). Modified Guided Reading: Gateway to English as a Second Language and Literacy Learning. The Reading Teacher, 61(4), 318-329.


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