Improved Silent Reading Program

Most New Zealand schools use a Guided Silent Reading (GSR) procedure with students aged 5 to 13 years. GSR instruction was developed in the belief that silent reading of complete texts is more beneficial than having students take turns reading short passages aloud. During GSR instruction, teachers focus on helping students to solve unknown words and to comprehend what they read.

However, David Whitehead, senior lecturer, School of Education, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, reports that New Zealand educators became concerned that the GSR program was not helping older, more fluent readers develop the complex learning and literacy strategies necessary for independent study. Teachers believed that students needed more explicit demonstration and practice in order to understand and learn from complex texts. Therefore, the public schools recently conducted trials of a revised reading program for students aged 9 to 13.

The Modified Guided Silent Reading (MGSR) program is designed to train students to:

1. activate prior knowledge and generate predictions;

2. set a purpose for reading;

3. record, order and manipulate information to develop understanding; and

4. communicate this understanding to others.

MGSR requires two or more 45-minute class periods each day. During this time, students work with the teacher as she explains and models strategies. They then complete text-related activities individually or in groups.

Most teachers working with MGSR for the first time group students by reading level and select materials appropriate to each group’s learning needs. However, some teachers of 13-year-olds found that they were able to work successfully with their entire class.

Learning activities

Before reading the selected text silently, students brainstorm together, skim the text for key vocabulary, and then group vocabulary words by topic.

Next, the teacher guides students in setting a purpose for reading and deciding what they want to learn from the text. If the text is particularly challenging, students are encouraged to consciously monitor their understanding while they read. Among other strategies, teachers model oral summarization and the use of graphic frameworks for note taking. Using the word groups and labels from brainstorming as well as headings and subheadings from the text, students generate questions about what they hope to learn. These questions are also used as a way to monitor understanding during reading.

After silent reading, students discuss whether they have achieved their purpose. With guidance from their teacher, they learn several ways to record and order the information acquired from their reading. For example, students learn to set up grids on which to sort information, using topics they generated before reading. They also learn to use perspective cubes to record information on a particular topic by analyzing the topic from different points of view. Teacher support is gradually withdrawn as students become adept at using these strategies independently.

Finally, students work on group activities to increase and share their understanding. Teachers circulate between groups as they answer comprehension questions and make products illustrating their knowledge.


New Zealand educators conclude that MGSR’s repeated modeling, practice and application of learning strategies has been effective in helping upper elementary and middle-school students improve their independent learning skills.

“Teaching Literacy and Learning Strategies Through a Modified Guided Silent Reading Procedure”, Journal of Reading, Volume 38, Number 1, September 1994, pp.24-30

Published in ERN January/February 1995, Volume 8, Number 1

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