The 3 Minute Reading Conference

I had coffee with a sweet teacher friend this weekend who switched to language arts after years in math.  We were discussing how to keep your finger on kiddos in the upper grades when are doing more whole class lessons, literature circles, and silent reading than guided reading groups.

There seems to be growing pressure in education for only assessing kids when you can assign a number value to them.



There is nothing wrong with data.  We need to know where kids are, see how they are growing and changing.  DRA, fluency passages, phonetic checklists.  Love them all.  But not every moment needs to be number crunching, data-able.  This trend of turning kids into scores has gotten scary.
Don't let your readers get lost in the data.  Tips for how to spend just three minutes conferencing with your students to learn what they're doing as readers.

You can learn so much about a kid and what they need by just sitting back and listening to them read for one minute a book they’ve chosen independently.

When I felt most confident with knowing where kids were as readers is when I used their independent reading time to check in.  I tried to check in with 5 kids a day and during the week I was able to get to everyone.  I jotted down quick notes about that interaction.  This was great to have during conference time.  I could whip out my binder and talk about what I was seeing with the reader.  With 44 kids, things start to blur.  But by keeping notes, I was able to see what was going on over time.

Let’s take a trip back to 2010 when lime green and brown was my jam.  I found these golden oldies in a PowerPoint from an inservice I gave.

Keep a binder handy to record notes.  This was right behind my small group table.  Put a class list on the front, so you can keep track of who you met with.

Keep your note taking quick and easy.

This is fast and casual, people.  Bring me what you’re reading.  Just read to me from where you are.

Then stop and LISTEN.  Teachers are often so busy being in charge, it’s hard to sit back and lister to where a reader is at the moment.

While you’re listening, a whole new world of teachable moments opens up to you.  You also get great information about what a kid needs during guided reading groups.  Seeing trends across the class?  This can guide whole class lessons.

Here are a few things I listen for:
1.  Did the student pick a good fit book?
So many of our struggling readers choose books that are not appropriate.  You guide them in the classroom, but then they bring in a 400 page book from home or the school library that is five levels harder than they could possibly read.  Or they’re still reading The Cat in the Hat for the 800th time this month.

This is huge.  Your kiddos are not going to make any gains as readers if they are reading books that they can’t read and comprehend.  Work with them and work with them and work with them until they can get this.
2.  Correcting misread words
Take a close look at this.  What are kids doing when they misread words?  Going back and correcting them or just sailing on even though what they just read made absolutely NO sense.
Take a look at those errors.  Do the errors make sense but don’t match?  Or do the errors seem close phonetically but don’t make sense in the story?
3.  Fluency
Choppy? Smooth? Beautiful expression? Robot reading?

Tell them what they did well.  "I like how you backed up and reread when you noticed it didn’t sound right.”

DO NOT TALK ABOUT ALL OF THESE THINGS.  Just pick the one you think is most pressing.  It’s not worth talking about fluency when your student can’t choose good fit books.  Plus you only have about one minute for this part.  Make it good, make it fast.

If you have time, talk about predictions, connections, series, why your student chose that book.  Basically, whatever works that day with that text.

Major bonus?  Kids loooovvvveeee this one on one time with you.  Absent kiddo?  He will hunt you down and remind you that they yesterday was your day to read with him.

Want to learn more about conferencing with readers?  Check out this post on Jennifer Serravallo's Conferring with Readers book.


  1. Love these tips! We just bought Reading A-Z and Raz Kids, so I'm able to walk around the room and check in on kids reading. I can also use the running record feature and listen to their recording.


  2. Awesome post!! You are totally right...teachers are often SO busy "being in charge: but taking the time to do this a little every day would be super powerful :)

    The Techie Teacher

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  4. Can you say 'spellcheck'?? I type faster than my brain thinks sometimes. Anyway....I wanted to let you know that I love your post! I need to buy all new binders this year so that I am set!!!

    Teacher's Open House

  5. Can you say 'spellcheck'?? I type faster than my brain thinks sometimes. Anyway....I wanted to let you know that I love your post! I need to buy all new binders this year so that I am set!!!

    Teacher's Open House

  6. Awesome post! I need to get all new binders for this coming year so I can be set!

  7. Great post! I like how you make it seem like common sense - which, it really is! I mean, it's easy to listen to a kid and tell what they need to improve on in reading. Thank you for reminding me to go back to the basics. You don't need a thousand checklists and formal running records programs to help kids learn how to read. Thank you for reminding me to get back to the KIDS. Focus on them and how they can improve!

    Ashley Lafleur
    Teaching in the Net

  8. I love this! I am going to try and meet with all my students next year at least once a week! These tips are just what I needed to make this an easy but yet meaningful meeting with my students!

  9. I {{LOVE}} everything about this! It's so basic and simple but extremely effective.

  10. Hi There!

    Love your blog!

    I am currently in a masters class and I am researching learning styles. If you could hop on over to my blog and take a look I would love that!

  11. You are so right! I've been doing this-meeting with my students individually about their "good fit" books for two years now. Look out if anything gets in the way of your meeting with them! They will remind you. I think they love the indivudal time with you, and you get such a good sense of what books work for them, and where you can stretch them. Plus, they want to keep reading because they want to show you how much farther along they are or how much better they are at the skill the next time you meet with them. Keeping appointments is smetimes hard, but we set a date and they know it might not happen on that day, but a day or two later. Good stuff!