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What is whole-class reading?

Very simply, it is when reading skills are taught in lessons similar to maths, science, art and music, with the teacher teaching the whole class and ensuring all children are challenged through differentiation of language, instructions, activities etc. as appropriate. 


Mrs P Teach - Twitter

How does it work?

Whole-class reading works the same as any other lesson; there is one learning objective for the whole class based around the same text.  The activities are adapted by the teacher for different abilities so that all children can access the learning objective and be challenged.  Sometimes texts are part of a class book and other times they are a poem or non-fiction article. 

We have bought 3 half-class sets of books the children read throughout the year but they make good use of many free texts. 


Why move to whole-class reading?

The two biggest reasons people consider moving is because it takes up much less teacher planning and preparation time and children learn more than in carousel lessons.


Whole-Class Reading in KS1

In sharing ideas, resources and lesson plans about teaching reading in whole-class lessons, the question asked most often is about KS1 and how it can work there. 

Children are taught to decode through daily whole class phonics across KS1.  This is important because it allows children from all phonics groups to access sounds and words which they wouldn't necessarily be taught in streamed sessions.   As it is taught as a class, the children are placed in groups (on paper) for the knowledge of the teacher.  The children can then be questioned appropriately by the teacher and moved along at their own pace.   They are assessed regularly (every half term) to gauge which sounds they have learnt and which they have missed allowing the teacher to pick up any gaps. 

In addition to daily phonic sessions, the children take part in a small-group reading session with an adult.  In this session the children are grouped according to their phonic ability, this allows the focus book to be at the correct level for each child.  This is similar to the group with the teacher in traditional carousel guided reading sessions.  Over the week the children are introduced to the story, adults pre-teach the vocabulary they need and groups discuss similar events in their life with predictions based on the title.  Follow up sessions include reading the book at least twice with a final session based on comprehension skills using the RIC objectives.  Depending on the level of the child this can be verbal, written multiple choice or traditional written questions.


What is RIC?

RIC is a character to help children remember the most important reading skills: retrieval, interpretation and commenting on authors' choices




What is a RIC starter?

It is a short activity used at the beginning of reading lessons to help children use the important reading skills (retrieve, interpret, choice) to answer questions about some form of media; it could be a short paragraph, a poem, a song, a film clip or trailer, a photograph or cartoon or one of the short films from The Literacy Shed.  The idea is that all children can answer the retrieve and interpret questions and that children add to their answer as they hear others' responses.  The "Choice" question can be about the author's choice or a creative choice made by a director, photographer, lyricist or artist.  There are a lot of examples of RIC starters to view and download here and a whole blog post about creating RIC starters here.

Year One - RIC

Two or three times a week, Year One children sit down together before home time to complete a Read with RIC session.  During this session they decode some real words, some alien words (you can thank the Phonics Screening for that) and read a book together.  They use the RIC logos to answer questions about these texts which require them to retrieve, interpret and predict.  In the autumn term, this session is completed verbally with a main focus on retrieve.  As the term progresses, the focus changes to interpreting and predicting with RIC. In the summer term, the children move to producing written responses to these RIC questions.


Year One - Whole Class Reading

Whole class reading is carried out through texts used in English lessons; using a rich and broad text to teach English reading and writing objectives.  The children become familiar with the text through drama and speaking and listening activities so that all children can then access the text and even read specific sections despite it being a challenging text for the children to read independently.  Activities always include an aspect of comprehension understanding at both word and sentence level with a writing outcome.  For example, ‘We're going on a bear hunt’.  We use this text to teach contractions, prepositions (word level work) jumbled sentences, sequencing (sentence level work) and the children write their own version after going on a bear hunt in their school environment. 


How are the higher ability stretched?

Whole-class lessons demand more complex written responses to texts from children.  Analytical paragraphs have been written by 8-year-olds, including quotes and explanations of texts, which we ourselves wouldn't have written until we were at secondary school.

KS1 reading exemplification materials 2016 (verbal)

(T) Do you think the Tear Thief was old or young?

(P) She looks like a little girl but she has grey eyes so I think she must be old. ‘As old as joy and sorrow’

means she must be quite old because in history people were sad or happy so she could be as old as the

first person on Earth!

(T) What did you like best about the book?

(P) I like the way she uses words to describe everything…the tears are like jewellery but they all have

different feelings… if you have a temper tantrum the tears would be red rubies but if you were scared

they would be white moonstones.

(T) Do you think the Tear Thief will return to steal more tears?

(P) At the end it says in the next door house a baby is crying so I think she will hear it from the moon and fly

down to steal its tears.

(T) Have you read any books with similar stories?

(P) I read ‘The Great Kapok Tree’ – it’s different because it’s about a real place but it’s the same because all

the descriptions of the rain forest make you think you are there and in ‘The Tear Thief’ the descriptions

make me feel I’m part of the story.


What about the really poor readers?

Ensure every child is challenged at their level.  That means, for children who struggle to read, adapt the activity so they can still meet the lesson objective.  It could mean using a smaller extract or changing some of the words.  They might have a matching activity or filling in the gaps to simple retrieval sentences rather than writing a paragraph in response (as the highest ability might).  Their activities tend to focus more on word reading and understanding rather than the interpretation of texts.  Think about what you would do in maths for those who struggle and transfer that to reading; it's not that dissimilar.  It's important to mention that these children still get phonics input each week or day (as appropriate to them) on top of the reading lessons in class.


How do you choose texts?

There are three main ways in which we choose texts. Either we focus on word level, our current theme or the children's interests.  Books like Charlotte's Web and Matilda have been chosen because they contain many words from the year 3/4 word list and language of a similar complexity as well as being just above the general reading ability. We have chosen texts about Ancient Egypt or Rome when studying those civilisations and likewise have used river poems or mountain-based news articles during geography themes.  We have also been known to plan single lessons on subjects like ballet, horses, Lionel Messi and dragons at the request of children - they love learning reading skills through their favourite things! With all texts, we use the curriculum word list as a basis for the difficulty we look for.


Who reads the text?

Sometimes it is the children independently, or in pairs.  At times children read paragraphs aloud or read a sentence at a time and occasionally the adults read the text aloud or play an audio version of the text.  It all depends on what the objective is and what is most appropriate for the children to achieve.



A great amount of the lower ability children made big steps in their learning. Research suggests this is owing to them being exposed to the higher-level questions and answers. High ability still made good progress as well.

Miss Wilson - Making Whole-Class Reading work for Lower Achieving Readers

Phonic Support for Children Who Need It

The children in my Year 4 class who still need to work on decoding get a 40min phonics session daily. While these children are having their daily phonics input, I do a whole class reading session with the rest of my class. Although I believe that these children also need to develop their comprehension skills, their ability to reliably decode text must be a priority for them.

At other points in the week, we have RIC starters, using a stimulus. This might be a picture, film, song, etc. From this, they have to answer the RIC questions (RETRIEVE, INTERPRET, CHOICE). These activities are designed to develop their comprehension skills without having the barrier of decoding to contend with.

A Cross Curricular Approach

Our English curriculum is linked to our topics. Therefore, in Reading lessons it is easy to choose reading material linked to what we have been learning about. This is particularly good for the lower achieving children as it means they have an existing knowledge base – including some of the vocabulary – which they can apply when reading new texts

When studying fiction in Reading lessons, I often choose an extract from our class reader. When looking at this text in Reading lessons, the children are already armed with some understanding of plot and knowledge of vocabulary: we will have discussed these already in our story sessions.

Classroom Approaches

Teaching Skills

We explicitly talk about reading skills to children. I have changed these skills slightly and simplified them to Read with DERIC:

Decode: Word Reading

Explain: Discussing vocabulary in context and discussing understanding of whole texts

Retrieve: Finding Information in the text

Interpret: Inference skills with a emphasis on using evidence

Choice: Focus on author’s choice of words and layout

We use these skills all the time in our lesson resources.  Some higher achieving children will naturally pick these skills up. Lower achieving children don’t always, and it’s our job as teachers to make them explicit to the children.

Pre-teaching vocabulary

When I am planning Reading lessons, I will look at the text I want my children to read and think about what vocabulary my lower achieving readers will find hard. I then have a session at the start of the week where I pre-teach this vocabulary. When presented with the text the following lesson, it gives lower achieving children that confidence boost and aids their understanding.

Making Texts Accessible

Often when using non-fiction texts, I will take the text I plan to use and simplify it for the lower ability children.  I also highlight the vocabulary that I had pre-taught the children in the previous lesson.

Increased focus for Lower Achieving Children

When teaching Reading, my lower achieving group get a lot of focussed support from me or my TA. Quite often this session is taught as a guided group session. We read the text together and we discuss. We talk about the questions and how we might form answers. This helps the children to achieve during the session. I often found that during Guided Reading carousel sessions my lower achieving children were just doing holding activities rather than developing their reading skills. This approach means they are achieving every lesson.


That boy can teach. Teaching Reading: a simple approach

Timetabling - my reading lessons happen on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:45 - 9:45. The children come in to a 'Do Now' which usually involves reading the day's chapter/passage/excerpt independently. On those mornings I also teach writing-focused English for the following hour and then 1.5 hours of maths after break.

Whole-Class Reading - I do not have a 'traditional' carousel of activities. All children read and answer questions about the same text; research shows that children benefit from being exposed to higher level texts (when the teacher reads it aloud to them before they answer questions on it). Many of my reading lessons are based on a class novel which we read over a half term or a term; to facilitate this we have 'class sets' of many quality texts.

Lesson Sequence - During these sessions I ask the children to first read the chapter/excerpt independently, then I read the same passage aloud, then without discussion the children attempt to independently work through the questions giving written answers. Once the majority of children have done this we hold a whole-class discussion and I (or children who have written good answers) model best answers and children edit what they have written (in purple so as to distinguish their original answer from their edited answer). This will usually be followed by a period of reading aloud the next part of the text (usually by me but I plan to begin to ask children to read aloud more often) which is always accompanied by lots of discussion and modelling of my thought processes as a reader.




Using whole class reading alongside the power of reading

(Iford and Kingston School (outstanding))


Use a whole class text for whole class reading, SPAG teaching and Power of Reading.

Begin the English lesson by pupils reading the text – teacher pauses to discuss punctuation, grammar, spelling – maybe teach a point or identify authors use and choice of…

Use RIC style questioning to discuss reading comprehension – retrieve, interpret, choice questions.  Recording answers in reading/ SPAG exercise book – not just orally.

Continue lesson into a Power of Reading session – character or setting analysis, drama or freeze framing, writing opportunity. 


Whole Class Guided Reading at Parkside

The new NC 2014 reading objectives are: 


Interpret - including predictions

Choice - including language, structure and presentation

Viewpoint - including history and culture if appropriate

Perform - to make way for the Reading objectives of performance poetry and play scripts

Review - to include written recommendations, presentations and discussions as required in upper KS2


Some English lessons would be reading biased, some SPAG biased and others Power of Reading biased.  I wouldn’t expect an even balance of each discipline within each English lesson, as long as there’s an even spread throughout a couple of weeks.

Children understand relevance of SPAG teaching much better if taught within a relevant text.  Also the reading comprehension questions are much more meaningful. 

SPAG and questions for comprehension would need to be planned carefully –we already do this in Power of Reading by reading ahead to find out what can be drawn out of the text next (or by using the sequence to help us). 

We would be able to target our key indicators for assessment more accurately in this way; assessment would be more straightforward if the whole class was working on one indicator.

This method of teaching should reduce the number of discrete SPAG or reading comprehension lessons needed as they’re all being combined into one lesson.

Obviously, at the moment we can only do this for one term as we only have one set of fiction books per class.  Other methods of reading comprehension and SPAG delivery will need to be continued in other terms i.e. First News, comprehension books.  If, after trialling one book, we are in favour of combining our teaching, more half sets of books can be ordered in the new financial year.

By only having 2 or 3 whole class sets, consistency of strategy shouldn’t be a problem.  So it would give teachers autonomy to develop different strategies and routines in different terms according to pupils needs and teaching, learning and assessment requirements. 



1.       Do we need a planning/recording document for guided reading?

2.       Does differentiation need to be planned?

3.       Do questions need to be recorded

Research by Rachel Townshend 2017