November Question #1


Hello Irene. I recently came across the Leveled Readers from Houghton Mifflin. I noticed that they were marked Advanced, Below-Level, etc. When I saw your name as the consulting author, I was anxious to look for guided reading letter-levels that corresponded to each story. But, what I found was a number level, such as 5.1.2. Does this level translate to a Guided Reading level? Is there a correlation chart available?


Jennifer, the Leveled Readers have all been leveled with Fountas and Pinnell levels, and they are provided in the handbook for Leveled Readers, called Leveled Readers for Guided Reading-A Handbook by Irene Fountas, available through Houghton Mifflin.

Best to you,

November Question #2

Julie Coates
Third Grade Teacher

Are there any easy reference materials, charts, outlines, etc. that can be used to assist in leveling books for elementary age children?


Julie, the leveling process we have used is described in two books, Matching Books to Readers K-3 and Leveled Books for Readers Grades 3-6, both available from Heinemann.


November Question #3

Liz Bikakis
Reading Specialist

I enjoyed your presentation today with Montgomery County. I spoke to you at the end; I'm the Greek girl who gave you a statue. Maryann McBride is one of my closest friends. My question is, what would you say to 3rd grade teachers who want to know who will teach their low readers (reading on a 1st grade level)? They asked for a program to use. They asked for Soar to Success. The problem is Soar is too hard for their kids right now. I am new to the school, and I told them I would help them with book selection and staff development, but I was trying to get them to understand that they have the ultimate responsibility for those children. I was careful not to jump in and say, “I'll take those kids and make them disappear.” Actually, I was mortified that classroom teachers would even suggest that they shouldn't have to teach these kids, because they are too low for them to teach. I don't have the time to see these kids every day. They didn't get any early intervention, so who knows what kind of instruction they received over the past two years. What would your response be? Great seeing you. Greeks rock! Hope to hear from you.

P.S. There is nothing like Reading Recovery. I was a die-hard for 10 years in P.G. county. It is not growing in Montgomery County.


It was good to see you again, and I have Athena on my shelf!

I would suggest that the classroom teacher work with the children at their instructional level in a small group and that a support teacher also provide supplemental teaching difficult need more teaching at a level at which they can find success and take a small step forward.

Best to you in your work,

November Question #4

Mike Ball
Third Grade Teacher

Under the “convenient five-day lesson plan” there is a note pointing to the leveled reading books for use as homework or independent work and noting the pages where the lessons to be directed by the teacher are found. Now, if the readers are to be used independently or as homework, what purpose is served by a teacher-directed lesson?


Mike, you may be referring to the Houghton Mifflin reading guide, and I am only able to speak to the Leveled Readers as that is the component I worked on. The Leveled Readers can be used for independent reading, and that will mean no teaching support is needed. The child can read the text with ease, understanding, and fluency. If the text is in the instructional range, it requires teaching support, and you will want to refer to the instructional guides that accompany the Leveled Readers.


November Question #5

K-1 Teacher

I have a K-1 classroom. Do you feel I should do Guided Reading with my K students? Or is shared reading sufficient?


Darlene, shared reading is very important from the beginning of the year. About January, when the children are very experienced in shared reading and you notice that there are some children who are beginning to notice more about the print, you may want to start pulling three children at a time to get them started reading the very easy books at Level A and B. Continue to phase in more children until you are working with all of them in small groups by the end of the year. A good goal would be to have all the children reading a Level C instructional level by year end.

Best to you,

November Question #6

Tom Fanslow
Student Teacher

I am currently enrolled in a Literacy II class, as well as student teaching. What do you think is the best way to conduct Guided Reading? Why? Is popcorn reading or silent reading or choral reading the best way or is there a combination of ways to use the Guided Reading that you would recommend? Thank you for your answer in advance.

P.S. If my question is answered in your Houghton Mifflin column, my instructor will give me extra credit. Thanks again!


Tom, I suggest forming small temporary groups of children and working with them at their instructional level with multiple copies of a text. You should introduce the text, support them as they read the whole text individually from beginning to end, and discuss the text following the reading. You will also want to have some teaching points and sometimes engage the children in an extension activity to expand their understanding of the text. Younger children whisper read as you listen but your goal is for all the children to read silently. You can ask one child at a time to raise his voice so you can sample the silent reading. I would not recommend popcorn reading or choral reading in the Guided Reading lesson.


November Question #7


Please teach how you use below level and language development level in each grade. Do students read language development level by themselves, and does their teacher read out the below level? Why do you have those same picture-books but different sentences?


Joy, the language support texts were designed to provide an easier text for children who are learning English and require less complex language as they learn to read. The texts are designed to be used with teacher support. You will want to refer to the instructional guide that accompanies the Leveled Readers.

Good luck to you,

October Question #1

Rose Schuman
Literacy Coach

We wish to purchase guided readers for grades k-6—looked at alphaseries—very good but am confused about the levels for the genre series-non-fiction—which books are good for which grades? Please let me know. Also, which guided readers for kindergarten?


Rose, you will want to select books according to level first, and then be sure that you use a range of genre at each level. You will notice the levels for each book in the genre collection. You will want to use the earliest levels, about A, B, and C at the kindergarten level as they will give children the opportunity to develop control of the earliest reading behaviors such as holding a book, turning pages, looking at the print, using information from pictures, reading left to right and one to one correspondence. They will also develop control of some easy high frequency words and develop some very early letter-sound relationships.

October Question #2

Wendy Schaper
Reading Specialist

My school is creating a Fountas and Pinnell leveled Guided Reading library. How can we determine levels for sets of books from Houghton Mifflin “Invitations to Literacy” and Newbridge Discovery Links books? We want all of our books to be placed in the Fountas and Pinnell leveling system.


Wendy, you will find that once you use many Leveled Readers you become very familiar with the characteristics of the levels and get better at adding new titles into your collection. You can read the level descriptions in Guided Reading: Good First Teaching and Matching Books to Readers and together assign approximate levels to each of the books. The levels for the intermediate grades are described in detail in Leveled Books for Readers: Grades 3-6. In the future, Fountas and Pinnell will offer a database where you can suggest books to be leveled, and access the levels of all the new books that have been leveled by them with their teams of teachers.

October Question #3

Lupe Zinzun
4th and 5th Grade Combo Teacher

Hi, I'm a first year teacher so I am learning about this curriculum. I have a 4/5th Bilingual combo class, and I have a variation of levels, I have an equal amount of students in both grades. So I would like to teach both levels, but it's hard because of the lack of time during the day. But my question is “is there a Teacher's Edition that correlates both grades? What do you suggest?


Lupe, you will want to think about your whole group as readers and consider their present reading levels regardless of the grade level. Once you determine what is a good reading level for each child, cluster them together to form about four groups. Then you can use the Leveled Readers Teacher's Guides that accompany the Leveled Readers to guide your work with the groups. If you find the text is too easy or too difficult for a particular child, you can switch the child to a more appropriate group. If the level is not appropriate for the whole group you can change the level you are using with them. Good luck with your class! I know they will enjoy the books.

October Question #4

Robin Young
First Grade Teacher

I was wondering if the Leveled Readers had been leveled at all to fit in with your Guided Reading levels. If not, have they considered doing this to assist teachers who are trying to incorporate the Leveled Readers into leveled text?


Robin, the Leveled Readers Collection have been leveled using the same criteria we used in all our books so there should be no difference.

September Question #1

Name: Kathy Wall
Reading Specialist

Is there a chart showing Leveling Correlations between the Early Success books and the other leveling systems such as DRA, Reading Recovery, and Fountas and Pinnell?


Kathy, there is a correlation chart in Matching Books to Readers by Fountas and Pinnell that correlates basal levels, Guided Reading levels, and Reading Recovery levels.

Mary Straub
Reading Recovery/ Title 1

September Question #2

Our school is moving to using all Leveled Readers. We recently purchased the Houghton Mifflin Leveled Readers to supplement our leveled book collection. The teachers are familiar using the Guided Reading letter levels (A-Z). I am using the correlation guide to put the letter levels on the Houghton Mifflin readers but noticed that the language support books at each level are not in the guide. How would you recommend these books be leveled?


You will find that the Language Support books will be at least one level easier for the children to process. It will be important however for you to look at the book in relation to the child's control of language. It will vary according to the child's language proficiency.

September Question #3

Adelaide Scott

I am a parent with a second grader who is below reading level for the second grade. I have ordered one of your books with all your leveled and Guided Reading books. Which one should I choose for him to read? Also, if I am not a teacher, can I still use the fluency sheet to test his fluency or is this only something a teacher can do?

What suggestions would you give to a parent to see if her child is progressing in reading as they should?


Adelaide - It is challenging for a parent to take on the role of a teacher so be sure to get his teacher's guidance here.

If you are going to work with leveled books, I suggest that you start with a book you know he can read well and then slowly move up the levels. You will see that grade two is approximately levels I through N so it will depend on how much below grade level he is presently operating. You will definitely want to work below level I. Be sure to start at a point that he can read with success and choose topics you think he will find interesting.

You are welcome to use the fluency sheet to judge how smooth your child is reading. A teacher will just understand more about how to teach for more effective fluency in reading.

One way to judge is to see if your child is able to read books in the expected grade level range. Most importantly you would want to hear what his teacher says about his progress and ask if the teacher feels he is progressing steadily.

August Question #1

Judith MacDonald
Reading Specialist

What is the title of your latest book?


Our last book was Phonics Lessons 2: Letters, Words and How They Work. Sing a Song of Poetry will be released in September by Heinemann, if you wish to refer to their Web site. We are currently finishing a book called Teaching with Fiction and Nonfiction Books: Grades 3-8 that would be available next spring.

August Question #2

Maryanne Lamont
First Grade Teacher

I teach first grade and will be piloting the new Houghton Mifflin reading series next year as well as using leveled texts in my room for small-group instruction. We are currently using the “old” Houghton Mifflin anthology and have six packs of leveled books for Guided Reading. We are interested in purchasing the new Leveled Readers as well. Our biggest challenge is how to fit it all in, have a balanced program and meet all the children's needs.

To give you an example, at the beginning of the year last year I had three children in my room at DRA Level 18, two at Level 12, one at Level 8, four at Level 3, three at Level 2, ten at Level 1—five of these children were ELL. Given approximately an hour or so each day to teach reading, how would you set up a daily schedule? Our principal wants us to use both the anthology and leveled text, but I would say there is probably more emphasis on the leveled text. I would appreciate as many specific suggestions as possible (a template for a week would be wonderful. The big issue is not materials but TIME. Please help.


Maryanne, we encourage you to use our letter levels because they will allow you to work with a small range of children in one group. First try to form about four groups, knowing that there will be a bit of range in each group. Grouping is for your efficiency, and you can only form the number of groups you can reasonably manage. You can certainly combine some of the level two with the level three children. Put the more fluent ones with level three and the ones who are less proficient with some of the level one children. I would bet the level one children will change a lot one you start with them.

I would be sure the children were meaningfully engaged in independent literacy work at their seats or at centers before starting groups. Be sure the children are productive and have learned the routines of independent work prior to starting your groups.

When you start to pull groups, try to meet with your lowest group each day as they need the consistency to make significant progress. Alternate the other groups so you try to see them every other day. It would be ideal if you could work with three groups for an average of twenty minutes, but if that is not possible, you may be able to fit two in your hour. The good thing is you can introduce a text to your lowest achieving children at the lower levels and have them read it, teach and finish in about 10 or 15 minutes because the books are so short at that level. With your highest achieving children you can introduce a book, leave them at the table to read silently and go work with another group. Then you can return to discuss the text and teach.

Consider using the anthology for whole group shared reading, or read aloud so the children have a common text experience and the leveled readers for your smaller group instruction. You may also want to use some of the anthology stories for your small groups if they are at an appropriate level. Hope this helps—keep up the good work!

August Question #3

Third Grade

Please help me. I have two questions. The first: for placement I use what we're reading when the students read in class as a whole class. I also use the Slosson Inventory. Is this enough to get a feel for where the students belong in groups?

My second question is about activities. When they are not meeting with me and working on their reading book and doing an activity connected with the book, I have centers set up that enrich and reinforce what is done in the class. Is this appropriate?


The Slosson Inventory can be one indicator but you may want to listen to children read the leveled texts so you can get a more precise text reading level. The good thing is once you form groups you will see whether the children are appropriately placed and can adjust them the next day. You wont really know until you try the children in the groups.

Yes, centers that are meaningful a provide good opportunity for young children to use their literacy independently.

July Question #1

Janie Sifuentes
Literacy Coach, K-6

When doing Guided Reading with a group of students, is there an appropriate/best time to have students read aloud vs. read silently? Are there some things/triggers to look for? What would benefit the students most?


Silent reading and oral reading are similar but different processes and students need to develop both. It is very helpful to listen to the oral reading for assessment purposes and to be able to prompt children to use problem-solving strategies as they read. Oral reading at the earliest levels is important because you want to be sure children have established firm one to one correspondence.

The goal is for children to engage in independent silent reading, so you will want to move children into more silent reading once one to one correspondence is established. There is no simple answer as to when to use one or the other but it will depend on your purpose. I would suggest that you have children raise their voices and listen in to individuals starting in mid to late first grade level (e.g. about levels f or g) while the others read silently.

July Question #2

Julia Melia
Reading (grades 1-3)

Could you recommend an assessment kit to determine reading levels of primary students that is accurate rather than inflated? Thanks!


I suggest using benchmark books. They are samples of books or prototypes for each Guided Reading level and can be used to determine valid levels because they are directly from a leveled collection. See Matching Books for Readers (K-2) by Fountas and Pinnell for an example using Peaches the Pig at the primary level and Leveled Books for Readers (grades 3-6) for a description and a sample conference protocol for the intermediate grades.

June Question

Robert W. Abel
Reading Specialist (grades 2,3,4)

Teachers are concerned about using leveled books when they feel the pressure of “No Child Left Behind” and that they must use grade-level materials. How can I, as a Reading Specialist, assure them that it is appropriate to use a gradient of leveled books?


Not all children can read grade-level materials, though we all wish that were the truth. If you use grade-level materials, it does not mean all the children are actually reading them or will be able to read similar level materials after you use them.

When you use a gradient, you start with a book the child can read successfully with your teaching support, and you bring the reader forward to grade level. If you continue to use only grade-level materials, the children will not expand their reading powers and will not be able to read the grade-level materials for themselves.

You can use grade level materials for reading aloud and for shared reading to include all the children in common grade-level experiences. Some children will simply not yet be able to process the print for themselves and will need other more supportive text in order to get to the grade-level goal. In other words, the pressure to get children to grade level is best met by starting where the learners are and bringing them to the goal.

May Question

Rosa Hernandez
Reading Specialist K–5

Could you explain the reason(s) for not placing Guided Reading Levels on Houghton Mifflin's Leveled Readers? Where do you suggest that our teachers put Guided Reading labels on their books?


Levels are an approximation of a text's difficulty in relation to other texts. They are adjusted after use with many different children in different locations.

You should expect that some of the levels will change. Also you may find that a book is a little easier or harder for your students and may want to adjust the level of a book up or down after you have used it many times and feel an adjustment is needed. For example, a book about the desert will be easier for students in Tucson, or books about the ocean may be easier for children living by the seashore.

The levels are not printed on the books to allow for changes and also to allow for teachers to place the letter indications in less obvious places if they so choose. You can have the levels on the books for your use by penciling in the level on the inside or back cover, or by placing a sticker on the back. When a level changes, you can just change the sticker. The level indication is for your reference only. If children notice them and comment, you can explain that the letters help you find good books to help them learn how to read and they need not be concerned about them.

April Question #1

Stephanie Alves
5th Grade Teacher

I've seen several resources for Guided Reading, from you, for grades K-3. Are you thinking about putting something out for 4-6? If not, can you recommend any resources for older grades for Guided Reading and word study?


I have written, with Gay Su Pinnell, Guiding Readers and Writers: Teaching Comprehension, Genre and Content Literacy published by Heinemann in 2001, and we are in the process of producing a set of videotapes comparable to K-3. For word study you may be interested in our book Word Matters: Phonics and Spelling in the Reading/Writing Classroom also by Heinemann.

April Question #2

Neva Knuckey
Special Education

I teach a wide age range of students. I have students who are in the upper grades who cannot read and ones who can read but the reading comprehension is not there. Where do I begin? The students who are struggling to read affect the low comprehension of the other students.


I suggest that you form a workable number of small groups (3 or 4) so you can choose text levels that are productive for the specific group of children. When you choose appropriate levels of text, the children will be able to comprehend with your guided support. You will want to introduce the text to the group to assure they will attend to its meaning because you have connected them to it before they even start reading.

April Question #3

4th Grade Teacher

I get conflicting definitions for Guided Reading. Can you give me a clear definition?


Guided Reading is a process of supporting individual readers within a small group to process a variety of increasingly challenging texts with understanding and fluency.

April Question #4

Candee Conklin
Kindergarten Teacher

Our school has a commitment to proceed with Guided Reading. However, we are a poor city school with a lack of resources to buy leveled materials. In the primary grades where so many books are necessary for Guided Reading because they are so short, how do we overcome the lack of books?


I suggest that you start with the few multiple copies you have and also meet as a team to assign tentative levels to the stories within your anthologies. Use the stories out of order, but according to the levels you assign them. In this way the stories in your basal serve as leveled short stories. Then you can try to build your leveled book collection over the next several years. You may also want to refer to our chapters in Matching Books to Readers by Fountas and Pinnell, Heinemann, for the chapter on ways to acquire books. We offer many suggestions in the chapter.


Elaine Riley
Reading Curriculum Specialist, K-6

I am a Reading Curriculum Specialist for Grades K-6. I work with teachers who have a variety of philosophies about teaching reading and who use a number of instructional approaches, from the 4-Block model to using a basal program. I am interested in some suggestions about how Leveled Readers could work in different classrooms using such varied approaches to reading instruction.


Ways to Use Leveled Readers
You can use the texts as the core of a Guided Reading program in which you choose leveled books to guide children's reading, selecting “just-right” books for different groups of readers across the school year. You may use the Leveled Books for small-group work in early intervention programs, selecting particular books for children who find learning to read very difficult. You may also choose to place the books in baskets to enhance the classroom library, organizing them by genre or topic for independent reading. Another option is the use of the rich array of texts to complement your existing reading program, to provide extra support and practice, or to extend children as readers.

  1. Leveled Readers for a Guided Reading Programs
    The books have also been arranged along a text gradient, from easier to harder to assist in your selection of books in a Guided Reading program. They have been categorized by the types of supports and challenges they offer readers as they develop their reading competencies across the grades. They have been given letter levels according to the characteristics described by Fountas and Pinnell (1996, 1999, 2001). You will find 26 levels from A to Z, with A indicating the easiest texts, and each consecutive letter indicating a text that is a little more challenging.

    You will be able to use your knowledge of the text levels to choose books that children can read independently or with your support and prevent children from spending large amounts of time with texts that are not yet accessible to them.

  2. Leveled Readers for Early Intervention Programs
    You will also find a narrower set of levels (1-20) for the earliest grades for your use in early intervention programs. The number levels provide small steps so teachers working with children who are finding reading very difficult early on can help them take smaller steps to build an early reading process. Once the children develop proficiency in the earliest grades, they can transition to larger steps and the letter levels will serve as an appropriate tool for text selection.

  3. Leveled Readers for a Classroom Library
    You can use the range of books to create a rich and varied classroom library for independent reading. Sort the books in colorful plastic baskets, pots, or tubs with labels for categories such as historical fiction, realistic fiction, adventure stories, science, biographies, memoirs, or humorous stories (The Genre and Nonfiction Collections).

    Place the book covers facing forward so your readers can flip through the baskets as they search for titles for independent reading. Teach them how to return the books to the categorized baskets.

    You may want to create some particular colored baskets with good choices of books for some children who find learning to read difficult. Select titles that you know are within the range of the readers and point out the special baskets to them so they will be able to make good selections of books for independent reading. You may also want to place some of the books you have read with them in instructional groups so they can reread them.

  4. Leveled Readers As a Complement to Your Basal Program
    Houghton Mifflin Leveled Readers are categorized as Below Level, On Level and Above Level so that you can supplement the core reading text in any basal reading program. You can select Leveled Readers to offer children texts that are easier to read than the anthology text, or about the same level as the anthology text, or, finally, more challenging than the anthology for above level readers, providing tailored instruction for your students.

    In relation to the anthology selection, the Below Level text features simpler vocabulary and sentence structures, while the Above Level text includes challenging vocabulary words and language structures and challenging treatments of subjects and themes. The On Level text is about the same level as the grade-level appropriate anthology selection and reinforces the same level of vocabulary and sentence structures.

    You can also select a Language Development Reader to provide extra language support for children who are in the process of developing stronger English language competencies and would benefit from a text that supports that language development. The texts provide opportunities to emphasize oral language, vocabulary acquisition, and fluency, and are made accessible to readers acquiring English through the elimination of idioms, metaphors, and other figurative language that can trip up readers acquiring English.


I am a second-grade teacher in Boston, Massachusetts, and I use leveled books as part of my balanced literacy program. My students' needs and reading abilities are very diverse. How should I select the best text for a small group of students in my classroom?


Selecting Texts for Readers
To select a text for a particular group of readers, you will want to look at the characteristics of texts in relation to a particular group of readers at a particular point in time. Your goal is to choose a book that is just right with the support of your teaching, or a text that the children can read well without your teaching support. As the readers change and develop differently, you will want to reformulate your groups on a regular basis.

Independent Level
You can select a text that is easy enough for the child to process independently and does not require your teaching support. Texts at the child's independent level allow him to practice smooth, effective reading, increasing fluency and understanding. They can be read by the child with 94% or greater accuracy. Children can enjoy easy texts as they can process them without a great deal of effort. It is important for readers to gain mileage, reading a wide range of texts that do not require teacher support.

Instructional Level
You will want to consider whether a particular text provides opportunities for the children to learn how to become a better reader because it is within the child's capabilities to process it successfully with your teaching support. This is the child's instructional level, and they can process it with a 90% or better accuracy level. When the child reads books at this level with expert teaching alongside, he can learn how to read better. Instructional level reading enables children to move forward in their competencies and is essential in the comprehensive literacy program.

Frustration Level
Finally you will want to consider whether a text is too difficult and will interfere with the child's successful development as a reader. You will want to be sure children are not engaging consistently with difficult texts—those that are frustrating and nonproductive. When children read texts at a level below 90% accuracy, the texts are too difficult to be helpful.

Accuracy Level Appropriate Context
94–100% Independent Independent Reading
Rereading of Texts
90–94% Instructional Guided Reading Small-Group Instruction
Early Intervention
Below 90% Frustration Teacher Read Aloud