Professional Development

October 5, 2019

How to Check for Comprehension in Guided Reading

I remember during my first year of teaching, I worked so hard to get all of my students on grade level for reading. In guided reading, we did phonics practice, sight word work, hands-on word work, and running records. All of the right things. When I got to the testing, I realized I had some students who didn’t quite make it to “on-level.” I underestimated the importance of comprehension in guided reading as I was just trying to figure it all out that year. 

Without comprehension, we have word callers – not readers. The goal of reading is comprehension. 

Why is reading comprehension important? 

When we teach students to read, we often focus on phonics, sight words, and fluency. Yes, these things are so important. But, the ultimate goal of reading is to learn and to enjoy. If students can’t comprehend what they are reading, then what is the point? 

I love this quote from Fountas and Pinnell (Guided Reading), “Comprehending is not a product of reading; it is the process.” 

We must teach the process of comprehension and comprehension strategies so our young readers will learn and grow into strong adult readers. 

When and How to Check for Comprehension in Guided Reading

The best way to judge if a student is comprehending a text is to do a mix of assessments and checks, not just one single method. A variety of comprehension checks in guided reading will give you a strong idea of which specific area of comprehension a student is struggling with. 

Before Reading

Reading comprehension begins before students start reading a text. In the guided reading lesson cycle, one of the first interactions with the book the students have is during the introduction. After I offer a brief summary, we take a picture walk, go over sight words, discuss words that might catch them off guard, and set a purpose for reading. 

To check for comprehension before reading, you can:

  1. Ask students to make predictions about the text. Did the prediction make sense? Was it reasonable? 
  2. Ask students if they made connections to the text (text-to-self, world, or text). This shows that your readers were thinking and understanding what is likely to happen in the book and reflecting on their own experiences. 
During Reading

While students are reading, observe them. I always like to take one running record per guided reading group to make sure I’m assessing often enough. While observing students reading: 

  1. Check reading fluency and accuracy. If students are comprehending the text, they will have changes in expression and tone. They will also usually have high accuracy as they are self-monitoring well. Reading behaviors, including errors and self-corrections, can show us if students comprehend a text or not. 
  2. Observe students body language and listen while they read. You can easily tell if a student is struggling while reading just by watching. Are their eyes steady on the text and easily flowing from text to pictures? Or are they darting all around the page? Do they seem tense or more relaxed? 
After Reading

We ultimately want to teach our readers how to comprehend a text, not just how to answer questions. We need our assessments to be designed to get students to think about their thinking (remember that good old college word: metacognition?). You can check for comprehension both formally and informally. 

Here are some ways to check for comprehension in guided reading after reading a text:

  1. 5 Finger Retell: Have students hold up their hand with all five fingers up. The fingers represent the characters, the setting, the beginning of the text, the middle, and the end. For more advanced reading groups, the fingers can be characters, setting, problem, events, and ending. Students touch each finger and share. 
  2. Retell with B-M-E: B is for “beginning”: What happened in the beginning? Who are the characters? What is the setting? M is for “middle”: What happened to the characters? What is the problem? E is for “ending”: How was the problem solved? How are the characters different? 
  3. “Somebody Wanted But So Then” Retell: Have students retell the story. Who was the story about? What did the character want? What was the problem? How did the character solve the problem? How does the story end, or what was the resolution? 
  4. Have students share if their prediction happened. Discuss what was the same and what was different about the prediction and the book. 
  5. Have students do a quick-write after reading. You can read more about that in my blog post HERE.
  6. Let students share any connections they made and explain them (text-to-text, text-to-self, text-to-world). 
  7. Ask higher-level questions that are designed to get students to think about their reading, taking it beyond retelling. Remember Bloom’s Taxonomy? You can review it HERE. Move your questioning to analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. These questions teach students how to think and reflect on reading. 

There are many, many ways to check for comprehension in guided reading. If you need a resource that breaks down what comprehension should look like at each reading level, pick up the FREE Guided Reading Resource Cards.

They have the comprehension skills listed by level for reading levels A-Q. Print them out, put them on a ring, and you’ll be set for guided reading! Grab them in this post HERE.

My second year of teaching guided reading went much better. I focused on all aspects of reading, found great and simple ways to check for comprehension, and worked on looking at a student’s reading level as a part of the bigger picture.

If you are looking to really dig into your guided reading instruction, then you will love my online workshop, Guided Reading Unpacked! CLICK HERE to get more information!

Remember that our students’ goals for reading are bigger than our own goals for them for the school year. We want them to always learn and enjoy reading. Help them learn strategies for comprehension in guided reading, and you’ll help set them up for a lifetime of reading.

Happy Teaching,



Want to use the latest research to boost your readers during small groups? This FREE guide is packed with engaging ideas to help them grow!

Hi, I'm Amanda

I’m a K-1 teacher who is passionate about making lessons your students love and that are easy to implement for teachers.  Helping teachers like you navigate their way through their literacy block brings me great joy. I am a lifelong learner who loves staying on top of current literacy learning and practices. Here, you’ll find the tools you need to move your K-2 students forward!


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