5 Tips for Making Running Records Work in Your Classroom

by Sarah Collinge | Oct 3, 2019 1:49:46 PM

For years I have used running records in my classroom, both formally and informally.  These assessments were valuable in that they nudged me to listen to my students read on a regular basis.  The information I gained through these assessments helped me better understand the strengths and difficulties my students were experiencing while reading.  They proved to be less reliable in matching students to an appropriate reading level and text. 

            As it turns out, the formally published running record assessments sometimes steer teachers away from their own natural instincts, and in the end, may not give teachers the information they need to make instructional decisions.

Let me provide 5 tips for making running records work in your classroom.

  1. Focus on matching your students to a book, not to a reading level.

            Lets face it, reading levels are arbitrary and don’t always match up perfectly.  Just because a student can successfully read a level M leveled reader about a trip to the zoo, doesn’t mean the same student will be able to successfully read a level M chapter book about a bully.  When using running records in your classroom, use the actual books students will be reading in class.

            If you want to know whether or not the student’s independent reading selection, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone, is a just right fit, ask the student to read aloud 15 lines of the book (about 150 words).  Look over the student’s shoulder as they read.  Secretly keep track of miscues on your fingers.  Follow up with some questions about the characters, setting, and plot.  Hearing the student read the book in question provides far more valuable information than hearing the student read a matched leveled reader.

            If you want to know whether the book club book you’ve selected for the student to read will be in their instructional level, utilize the running records created for the Read Side by Side Reading Program.

  1. Focus on comprehension over speed.

            When students are reading controlled text in the primary grades, you are looking to see that they can read with automaticity.  The words in the book are those they have been learning in class, so therefore, they should be able to read them quickly.  This is why reading speed is often an emphasis in the primary grades.

            However, as students moved from controlled text to uncontrolled text and are exposed to more domain specific and academic vocabulary, it is important for students to now adjust reading speed in order to achieve understanding.  By the time students reach third grade, how quickly a student reads is less important.  What is more important is whether or not they understand what they have read.

  1. Ask literal and inferential questions, with less focus on the retell summary.

            Running records traditionally have a comprehension component that includes having the student summarize what was read.  The script goes something like this, “Now that I you have read this story aloud to me, I want you to retell or summarize what you read.  Pretend that I don’t know the story. “  And as you say that the student is thinking, Of course you know the story, I just read it aloud to you!

            Giving a summary of the passage can lead to mixed results in terms of the student’s comprehension score.  Often the highest readers in the class will score low on such an assessment because these students know the importance of being succinct when summarizing.  They also don’t want to bore you with the details.

            Rather than over-emphasizing the retell summary, have students answer several literal and inferential questions.

Sample literal questions:

  • Who is the main character in the story? What do you know about him/her?
  • Where does the story take place? Tell me at least 2 details about the setting.
  • What is the problem in the story?

Sample inferential questions:

  • How do you think the main character felt when _____? Why?
  • What word might you use to describe the main character? Why?
  • What do you think is going to happen next? Why?
  1. Aim to determine whether the text is at the student’s instructional reading level.

            When students are reading text that is of high interest to them, they often times can stretch into more challenging text.  Similarly, when they are reading a book that is in their background knowledge—a genre, topic, or author that is familiar—they can stretch into more challenging texts.  For the most part, your students are going to do well in text that is at their instructional reading level.  This is what you should be aiming for when determining if a text is “Just Right”:

Accuracy:  90% or greater

Fluency: 25%ile or greater (Tindal and Hasbrouck, 2017)

Comprehension:  50% or greater

  1. Communicate to students what a “Just Right” book is.

            In the past, I have taught students that a just right book feels comfortable, like an old shoe.  Then wondered why my students rarely ventured beyond their favorite series books or graphic novels.  As it turns out, readers enjoy a little bit of challenge.  And I want my students trying new things!  So here’s my new definition of a “Just Right” book:

A just right book is a book that matches your reading interest and challenges you a little bit.


As they say, you learn something new everyday!  I am really glad to have a new understanding of how toFIN_ALT_Sara_Stack_114 use running records in the classroom.

You will find resources for running records here.

Also, check out the NEW Assessment and Intervention Guide for the Read Side by Side Reading Program, By Peter Dewitz & Sarah Collinge (2020)


Written by Sarah Collinge

Founder & President

Read Side by Side Publications, LLC.

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