How to Set Up EVERYTHING in Your Reading Classroom To Make Life Easier

Ultimate Guide To Teaching Reading | How to set up your reading block

Are you a veteran teacher looking to spruce up your writing time? Or maybe a brand new teacher looking for where on earth to start? Between teaching phonics, comprehension, fluency and vocabulary, plus feeling as though you need to cram in read alouds, whole group, small groups, mini lessons, spelling practice and more, it can be SO overwhelming. The good news is that this guide is here to help you set up a reading block that works perfectly for you and your students.


Timing is everything in elementary school classrooms, and it never seems like there is going to be enough of it. To have an effective reading block, you really need no less than 60 minutes a day, and it can even span to being up to 2 hours long. For the purposes of setting up our READING block, we are going to view reading and writing as two separate subjects.

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Creating a Reading Schedule | warm up - phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, mini lesson, small groups - pillars of reading, closing - independent work review, evaluate target, create tomorrow's goals

When I set up any block of time for my classroom, I divide it into the same components:

  • Warm Up (3-5 minutes)
  • Mini Lesson (5-15 minutes)
  • Small Groups (40 minutes to 130 minutes)
  • Closing (2-5 minutes)

Reading blocks have many different components taught throughout the day. There is also a model which includes having multiple mini lessons and multiple small groups. That is okay too! For me, it was always better to focus on just one mini lesson each day, that way students could get a full grasp on the concept without getting confused. To keep it so that I covered all the pillars of reading, I rotated the mini lesson pillar each day (while still spiral reviewing ALL concepts during centers):

  • Monday – Phonics / Spelling
  • Tuesday – Comprehension
  • Wednesday – Vocabulary
  • Thursday – Grammar
  • Friday – Assessments

Warm Up

Reading warm ups can vary greatly depending on what skills you are focused on. Typically, I kept my reading warm up the same every day. By sticking with a routine to set up a reading block, students know exactly what to expect and can feel prepared to do their very best each day. We would meet on the carpet, partner up, then with our partners go through the following routine:

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Daily Reading Warm Up | phonics - practice reading through the phonics or spelling pattern words with a buddy, vocabulary - with a partner, define a few new words a day practice using them in a setence, fluency - as a class, read through a decodable passage, repeat the same passage all week, comprehension - review the weekly comprehension skill and how it relates to the story of the week or daily read aloud
  • Phonics/Spelling Words Quick Read (1-2 minutes) – Read through some or all of the spelling words of the week. Spelling words always follow a phonics pattern. Change it up each day by doing fun voices, having students close their eyes and spell words, let different students point to different words, etc.
  • Vocabulary (1-2 minutes) – With a partner or as a class, go through the word list and define words. Practice using the new word(s) in a sentence.
  • Fluency (1-2 minutes) – Practice reading aloud a passage, a sentence, a word list, or more using various strategies as a class. Try not to put students on the spot during this time. Let them partner read, echo read, choral read, or do strategies that are comfortable for the whole class. Try using the same, simple, decodable passage all week for the most success.
  • Comprehension (3-5 minutes) – Review the weekly comprehension skill. Discuss the anchor text story and how the skill relates, or discuss a new read aloud and how it fits into the weekly or monthly comprehension skill.

Please note that on Monday the warm up will be longer, and as the week progresses, it will get shorter. I adjust my small group time accordingly. Please also note that on Monday, mastery is not something that should be expected. Students will make mistakes and that is A OKAY and should be encouraged! You would rather have them try and have difficulties than not try at all.

Whole Group Mini Lesson

Each day, I focus on a different pillar of reading during my whole group mini lesson. We go through the cycle as follows:

  • MondayPhonics / Spelling – Typically, I introduce the phonics skill and go in depth with it by doing some type of song, book, anchor chart, or a decodable reading passage. We talk in depth about the phonics skill and in what settings we use specific phonics patterns. The length of these lessons will vary based on the difficulty of the skill.
  • TuesdayComprehension – I always do a whole class read aloud on the day we do a comprehension skill. We take time to go over an anchor chart, we look at what the graphic organizer will look like, then we read aloud the book while filling out the graphic organizer together. I try to keep graphic organizers very simple. Typically, we use the same graphic organizer and comprehension skill for an entire month or unit. This allows students to really demonstrate mastery. It also allows us to start very simply and get more complex as time moves on.
  • WednesdayVocabulary – Vocabulary should NOT be taught in isolation. Make sure that the vocabulary you are teaching is relevant to the content you are teaching. We discuss the weekly vocabulary words and how they relate to the stories we are discovering. We use the same vocabulary charts all year to organize our words and create a dictionary of new “juicy” words.
  • ThursdayGrammar – Grammar is sometimes considered reading, and sometimes writing. In most programs I have used, it has been included in reading. Typically this skill feels isolated from reading, but we try to relate it back as best as possible. Usually, I try to engage students with a song, read aloud, anchor chart or fun whole group activity to practice the grammar skill. Grammar is usually really fun! We also focus on incorporating the skill during writing the following week.
  • FridayAssessments – Usually I use whole group time on Fridays to complete assessments. These can be whole group or individual assessments and usually include some type of spelling test and skills test. It can also include fluency checks on individual students.
The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Daily Reading Mini Lessons | Monday Phonics Tuesday Comprehension Wednesday Vocbabulary Thursday Grammar Friday Assessments

You need to find a flow that works for your students when you set up a reading block. It took many years for me to perfect the one that works from me, and I still teach it with adjustments. The most important part of setting up your flow is consistency so students know what to expect.

It is also important to note yet again that even though you are only explicitly teaching one pillar of reading during whole group, you are still touching upon all the pillars in both your warm up and small groups.

Small Groups

Small group reading time can be daunting, however, I truly believe that small groups are where the magic of learning to read truly happens. Setting up groups can lead to many questions. Typically, I set my groups up and change them by quarter. I do set them up by level, but not just using one data point. My groups are flexible so that if I feel as though a student is excelling, they are able to move. Each quarter when I change their groups, I totally change the names of the groups so students don’t know which group is higher, lower or in between.

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Small Group Reading Ideas | Word work - sorting activities, decoding words, phonics games, pre reading words Fluency partner read, whisper read, echo read, choral read Comprehension work as a group to read the text and thoughtfully answer questions about what is read

Small group reading is set up relatively similarly to my daily warm up. Typically each group is anywhere between 10-20 minutes long, depending on what they need. Here is usual routine:

  • Word Work Activity – This can be sorting, reading, a game, or something fun and fast
  • Fluency Practice – This can be done as a group or independently. We practice different ways of reading the text – partner reading, whisper reading, choral reading, echo reading, listening to the teacher read, etc.
  • Comprehension Practice – We do this as a group and typically fill out a graphic organizer together. Then, after group, students spend time filling it out on their own. They can copy our group model or work independently.

On Thursdays, we typically do the grammar skill instead of word work.

When I am selecting text for small groups, I rotate levels depending on genre. If we are doing nonfiction, every group gets the exact same passage and I differentiate how we read it together. This means that even my struggling readers are accessing the same text. Sometimes I read aloud, sometimes we read together, sometimes we read less. This helps make sure they are all being exposed to grade level text.

During fiction units, I typically will select a text that is one level above the groups’ average reading level. This allows students to work on their own level and to push themselves to learn new skills that might not come up in grade level phonics lessons. Texts will vary from easy, decodable text to chapter books and complex comprehension.

When students have become used to our routine, I give them ownership of their small groups by letting students guide the reading groups. This usually adds to even more engagement from the students, and allows me to step back and really assess the students even further.

Again, reading blocks can be VERY difficult and you need to find what works best for YOU and YOUR STUDENTS when you set up a reading block.


Reading centers are my absolute favorite part of the day. Students get to use this time to explore BOOKS and to further their reading skills. As with all parts of reading, there are many ways to set this up, and there are no WRONG ways.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is what your goals are for each day. If you are following the model I talked about above, typically I will have one “must do” for the day, plus whatever we do at my back table, as absolute skills my students must finish. I also want them to READ an actual book.

In addition to those skills, some fun reading center ideas are:

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Fun Reading Center Ideas | buddy reading, sight word games, phonics activities, spelling practice, digital practice, readers theater, shared research projects, pasison projects
  • Reading Independently
  • Reading Centers
  • Reading Logs
  • Reading with a Buddy
  • Phonics Activities
  • Sight Word Practice
  • Computer Practice (programs like Lexia, Imagine Learning, ABC Mouse, Etc.)
  • Spelling Games
  • Grammar Games
  • BOOM Learning Cards
  • Writing Centers
  • Reader’s Theater
  • Reading Projects
  • Reading Flip Books
  • Passion Projects

This can be set up as a dinner and dessert model, the daily 5 model, or any other model that works for you.


Typically, if we have a worksheet to grade, I use that as my closing. If we are doing a nonfiction unit and all of my small groups read the same passage, I will tell them to partner up with someone NOT in their group and discuss the reading comprehension skill we practiced. This is a very quick ending, but allows us to check that we completed our learning goal that day.

Daily Read Alouds

Before reading, after reading, in the middle of reading as a break, before the bell rings, after lunch, or SOMETIME during your day, I think it is essential that you are reading aloud a FUN book for kids every single day. This can be a quick picture book or a fun chapter book.

Another way to spruce this up is to have a Mystery Reader come read the class each week or month. Students love this and it keeps engagement high!

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Daily read Aloud Ideas | back to school, character traits, each season, every holiday, beginner chapter books, science topics, passion projects

Modeling daily reading really gets students into new books and allows students to fall in love with reading. I try to read one chapter book from different series each time so that students get into new authors. I also like to align this with the Scholastic Dollar Books so students get excited about their new books.

Some great read aloud ideas are:

Embedding Technology

Whether or not we agree with it, technology for students is here to stay. Therefore, when you set up a reading block, it is important to consider how this will fit in and how much time you want students to devote to being on technology vs. off of technology.

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Embedding Technology | phonics games, reading log, boom cards, comprehension, listening to reading, leveled reading, online libraries

Some great ways to incorporate technology to set up your reading block include:

  • Boom Learning Activities
  • Digital Reading Logs
  • Fun Phonics Games
  • Interactive Read Alouds
  • Leveled Reading Programs (Like Lexia)
  • Online Libraries
  • Digital Comprehension Activities


There are SO many ways to assess students in reading, and it will truly depend on your district and what is mandated as to how you are assessing students.

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Reading Assessments | daily informal observations, running recordes, weekly formal reading grade in phonics, fluency, comprehension and vocabulary, quarterly benchmark testing, annual standardized tests, district tests and classroom resource asessments.

For me, I do weekly assessments. We do a weekly phonics assessment that goes beyond a spelling test. Comprehension, grammar and vocabulary are also all tested during a weekly quick check. Both of these assessments are self graded.

I also do a weekly fluency check with all of my struggling readers, and bi-weekly for the rest of the class. For the purposes of establishing a norm among my students, these tests are all the same. This allows me to reassess groups and to be sure that I have students in the correct placements.

I also do whatever standardized assessments my district requires. Depending on the validity of these tests, you can use the data as fits.

Scope & Sequence

Scope and sequence for reading will rely heavily on whether or not your school has a supplied reading program or not. Even if schools do, sometimes adapting these programs will be necessary for your learners.

If you are looking for a specific program, you can check out my Let’s Get Reading Series, which provides a full year of reading lessons including: comprehension, grammar, phonics and vocabulary activities for every single day that is common core aligned for second grade. Lesson plans, warm ups and daily activities are all included.

Spiral Review

Reading is a great subject because spiral review is almost naturally included. However, it is important to be intentional that when you are focused on a nonfiction unit, you are still exposing students to fiction text, and vise versa.

I also like to include old phonics games in our daily centers so students are not forgetting how to decode and spell these words. This is the same for grammar and comprehension as well.

Ultimate Guide to Teaching Reading | Reading Homework Ideas | Did you know that by having students read for just 20 minutes per day they will be exposed to 1.8 million words per year? Ditch homework and let kids read


While I typically do not believe in homework, I do believe in daily reading at home. Depending on how strict your district is, consider doing a daily reading log, or just allowing students to fill in a calendar based on what days they actually read at home. This keeps it simple for you, and allows students to spend the maximum possible time at home reading rather than writing down titles.

Another fun way to link home and reading is to host a holiday book exchange. This is a great way to get students excited about reading around the holiday season!

Year Long Resources

If you are looking for resources to help set up a reading block that works, here are some of my favorites:

Let's Get Reading | Second Grade Reading Unit | A year of 2nd grade lessons, videos and activities that cover phonics, comprehension, vocabulary and fluency
Student Led Guided Reading Group Materials
POetry Unit for Elementary Students | digital, includes lessons, videos, and daily activities

Final Thoughts

Trying to set up a reading block is a lot of work, and it varies greatly depending on how many resources your school provides. Let me help you! Please ask any questions you have in the comments! I am happy to help however I can!

Emily - The Mountain Teacher

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