What To Do When Level A Books Are Too Hard

At the beginning of the school year, we take time getting to know our students. We listen to them read. We take some running records. We find their instructional reading levels. And then we put them into guided reading groups, trying our best to put students with the same instructional reading levels in the same group.

Next comes the task of finding books for our groups. If we know students’ instructional reading levels, this is fairly simple. We head to the book room or browse our own leveled libraries and pull texts for each group based upon their reading levels.

But if you’re a Kindergarten or first grade teacher, this task of finding books may not be so easy – especially when many of your students are pre-readers.

So what do you do when your students read the lowest level books with less than 90% accuracy? Do you scrap guided reading altogether? Should they be reading leveled books at all?

When students can't read Level A texts with 90% accuracy or better, this means that their instructional reading level is below a Level A. To help them be successful with reading leveled books, use these 3 strategies to support your kiddos!

Photo credit:  Serhiy Kobyakov / Shutterstock

Kids who struggle with Level A texts should still have opportunities to read them. However, reading the text doesn’t necessarily need to look the same as it does for students who can read a text with greater accuracy.

When I want to have a small group of students to read a text that I know is a bit too difficult for them, I use one of the following strategies to provide support:

  • Echo Reading
  • Choral Reading
  • Teacher Pre-Read

Echo Reading

To do an echo read, I distribute copies of the text to all students in the small group, keeping one copy for myself. I read the title to students and discuss the content and/or the day’s teaching point.

Next, I turn to the first page (and have all students do the same). I read aloud the text on the page to students, while students follow along in their books. Then, I have students read the text aloud (chorally – all at the same time).

I repeat this process for each page of the book. If I pause to teach something, I do so only briefly.

After we have read the entire text using the echo reading strategy, I then have students start the book again – but this time, I have them read it on their own. As students whisper read the text independently, I listen in and sometimes take a running record of one student’s reading. If their accuracy is above 90%, then this strategy has been successful in scaffolding their reading at this level of text.

Choral Reading

In a choral reading, I usually begin by reading aloud the entire text to students. I may or may not give them copies of the text for the first read aloud. If I don’t give them their own copies, I show them the text as I read it aloud (holding the book as I would during a readaloud).

Next, we read the entire book chorally, as a group. If students are struggling with this, then we take a step back and do some echo reading (I read a page, and then all of the students read it chorally).

Even if students are not all reading together during the choral read (some may be lagging behind a bit), they are still practicing saying the words aloud and connecting them to print – and this is valuable!

Teacher Pre-Read

Just as in the choral reading strategy described above, I begin by reading the entire book aloud to my students. Then, I give students copies of the same book, and they whisper-read the text independently.

The Ultimate Goal

Of course, the ultimate goal is for students to be able to whisper-read Level A texts (or higher!) with 90% accuracy or better. When you use one of these strategies, use it only as a temporary support to help students work toward this goal.

The graphic below shows these strategies as a continuum, ranging from “Most support” to “Least amount of support.”

Use these strategies to help students read text that is too difficult for them (below instructional level)

Other Considerations

Something else I consider when a child is struggling with Level A texts is the vocabulary used in the books. English Language Learners in particular may struggle to decode words even when there is strong picture support. For example, they may call a gorilla a “monkey” when they look at the picture, because they do not yet know the word “gorilla” and the word is too difficult to decode using visual cues (phonics).

In these cases, I spend time pre-teaching vocabulary before asking students to read the book. They may be able to read the book with 90% accuracy or better as a result of this pre-teaching.

One other note – something I never include in my guided reading instruction is round robin reading (the practice of having students take turns reading aloud, one at a time). I want all of my students to whisper read the text at the same time (but at their own pace), so that they get the most reading practice possible!

If you’re looking for guided reading lessons and activities for your emergent readers, check out my Guided Reading series. Each resource pack comes with printable books, complete lessons, phonics and phonological awareness activities, writing activities, reading comprehension supports, strategy menus, and more – and you can purchase them bundled for a discount! Click on the image below to learn more.

ABCD Guided Reading Bundle for Kindergarten

Happy teaching!

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12 Responses to What To Do When Level A Books Are Too Hard

  1. Do you have students do a picture walk before you do an echo, choral and/or teacher rereading? I do, then I address any vocabulary/hfw that students from their picture walk may need explaining or scaffolding. Thanks.

    • Hi! Yes, sometimes I do picture walks with pre-readers or beginning readers at Level A. For more advanced kids, we might look at just one or two pictures. 🙂


      • Thank You! Having students from all backgrounds I like to have students have a brain t.v. view of the story. Mostly to hear their thoughts about the author’s purpose and making connections.

  2. I teach 7th grade science. Most of my students read below grade level. Any tips to help remediate at this level?

    • Hi Jamie! When I was getting my master’s degree, I worked in a special reading clinic with students like yours. We learned to do the following things when a text was challenging for a student:

      – Pre-teach words for decoding (have the kids read tricky words before they encounter them in the text)
      – Pre-teach a word or two for vocabulary (meaning)
      – Have kids read and complete a cloze passage related to the main text before they read it (the kids fill in words that make sense, and the cloze passage provides some background knowledge)

      I definitely think that it’s important for kids to read those grade-level texts you have for science. However, ReadWorks.org is a good resources for free articles. You can find articles closer to the kids’ reading levels to give them some background knowledge before they read a grade-level text.

      I hope this helps a little!!

    • Hi Catherine! I think one of the most powerful (and simple) things parents can do to help is read aloud to their children. If you read aloud books that are a bit harder than what children can read themselves, this is great for developing comprehension and vocabulary. Parents can also ask teachers for help finding books that are at a child’s independent reading level. Having children read lots and lots of these books (that are just a little bit easy) is very helpful. I’m also planning a post about this topic for August 20th – I hope you’ll check back then! 🙂


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