To carousel or Not to carousel, that is the question...

I’ve read a lot of comments in support of whole-class guided reading in the past few months, but with my student-led hat on, I thought I would look at the benefits and positives associated with the carousel in regard to its ability to provide opportunities for children to lead, demonstrate their independent working skills and to take ownership of their own learning.


First off, I must point out that I take absolutely no credit for my approach other than some tweeks I've put in to personalise it (like anyone else would!). I had worked in three schools prior to where I now teach, and at each one, although the teachers were engaging and positive, groans were often heard when guided reading was announced and the books were pulled out. I had seen it taught from a large text on the interactive whiteboard and in small groups as a stand-alone lesson. The sessions focused on the comprehension of the text and the understanding of new vocabulary. Results were fairly positive, but the backdrop was often bland. I don't like bland...


My first role in Bedford, whilst I completed my degree in the evenings, was to play the role of TA in a year four class led by Mrs Lewis; a thoroughly positive and engaging class teacher, and assistant head, who has been a massive inspiration and influence on my own style ever since. Guided reading in Owls Class, in 2015/16, spanned the entirety of the morning session, through to lunch. It was inclusive of a range of vastly differing activities that captured the attention of our eight and nine year olds. The class was broken into groups of between five and six, who were then sent off to complete their first activity where they spent approximately 20/25 minutes before venturing onward to their next challenge.


Mrs Lewis (wo)manned the comprehension. She worked closely with one group at a time; reading carefully through the text and identifying difficult vocabulary. The children were given opportunities to read, as well as to listen to their teacher reading. They were able to observe how she addressed punctuation and how she used expression, and they discussed a number of questions which related directly to the text. Due to the small number of children in focus, misunderstandings were easily ironed out and needs were more easily supported. Simple, yet incredibly effective.


Another adult-led table worked on a different aspect of SpaG each week. Again, the group size meant that the children were able to pose questions which were quickly responded to. The presence of the TA allowed for little opportunity for focus to slip and knowledge was shared among peers. It was always a productive experience and we commonly saw the focus of the week’s learning being used accurately in English lessons and in other writing.

The remainder of the stations gave the opportunity for the children to work independently – something which I’ve always promoted and championed. After qualifying, I attempted to recreate what I had seen with a few twists. Here’s how I lay things out and what I hope to achieve during our learning time:


First, mixed ability groups are selected at random, allowing for peers to provide support to one another, and to play the role of ‘teacher’ at independent stations. I’m a massive advocate for the importance of allowing my higher ability learners to teach in order to master. Children who find things harder often really appreciate their support too!



Station 1 – Adult-led comprehension


As discussed above – a focused comprehension session aimed at improving the ability to read, understand, pronounce, encounter new vocabulary and use expression. The text is closely linked to the topic or science being currently studied. For example, we began the year by looking at space and so our guided reading has focused on the moon landing, the moon itself and the Mars Rover (Mars Rover lesson is available in downloads - give it a whirl!)


Station 2 – Adult-led SPaG


As discussed above – a focused SPaG session with a weekly focus. Discussion about terminology, the opportunity to resolve confusion and the chance to embed learning in writing. We complete SPaG starters in every English session during the week, but this is a more focused opportunity to push things forwards!


Station 3 – Dictionary Corner


Our first student-led learning zone. The children are handed a selection of five words which can be found in their comprehension text. Working as a group they are challenged to locate the words in dictionaries, to copy their definitions and to then use them in their own sentences. Using dictionaries can be a time consuming ordeal, but allowing for a ring-fenced session during guided reading, every week, means the group can hone their abilities to find words quickly and share their skills.


Station 4 – Computer Research


Another student-led activity. Like with the comprehension task, our computer research links to the topic or science. If the text used at station one relates to the moon landing, the research task may be to use search engines to further their understanding of the subject and to find an array of facts and figures that they may not otherwise come across. The children are tasked with recording the ‘juicy-bits’ on large sheets of paper for presentation at the end of the session. They enjoy the freedom to browse, can present their findings in a style of their choice and can draw and sketch appropriate images as well as simply scribing text – that’s a couple more curriculum requirements ticked off.


Station 5 – Fact Finders


The final station, and a third opportunity for the students to lead. I provide a series of books that, again, link to our topic. The children research and record key information and facts which can be added to their presentations. They are encouraged to share their findings with friends and to push themselves to come away with something which they never knew before.



At the conclusion of activities, I give the children the opportunity to stand at the front of the classroom to present their research and findings. After covering such a vast array of subject-related material over the morning, deliveries are usually confident and fact-filled. The ability to speak in front of an audience is a hugely important dynamic in my classrooms and this is the perfect opportunity to get up and share! We finish with a live-mark of the dictionary definitions to ensure that understanding has sunk in.


The process is a busy one. There is a lot happening at the same time and there is always the possibility that if the individual groups aren't considerate, that the volume level could create serious distractions. However, given the opportunity to own these moments, I find that the majority of students step up; grasping the opportunity to show off their ability to work sensibly, productively, and quietly, with maturity. Another tick for the student-led check list!


How does guided reading happen in your classroom? Do you run a carousel, take the whole-class approach or do something even more inventive? I’d love to hear about the different ways in which you run things, so leave a comment below or get in touch via Facebook or email.

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