How to Begin Teaching Second Grade Readers

three second grade girls learning to read

Just like in kindergarten and first grade, we begin teaching second grade readers with baseline assessments. Your second-grade students have spent two years on their reading journey, but they are not all in the same local. Assessments will help you determine where each of your students are in their travels. As their guide, you need to point them in the right direction. The right assessments will help you do that. These assessments will act as the GPS system of your reading instruction.

Teaching second grade readers takes preparation. So, resist the urge to jump right into instruction. You need to know where to start and then you need to know where you are going. We refer to this instructional cycle as “Assess, Analyze, Instruct”. At Informed Literacy it is our core belief that the best instruction begins with targeted assessment and analysis of students’ understandings. This analysis will help you identify your next steps in reading instruction.

Is there a standardized assessment for second-grade students?

While there are several valuable standardized assessments available, we use DIBELS 8 as a universal screener to obtain beginning, middle and end-of-year benchmarks. DIBELS 8 offers free downloads for fall, winter and spring benchmarks as well as progress monitoring materials.

Since DIBELS is a standardized, criterion-referenced assessment, we wanted to know specific benchmark assessment windows for the fall, winter and spring screenings. We contacted DIBELS and they confirmed the following assessment windows:

  • Fall/Beginning of Year= 1-3 months into the school year
  • Winter/Middle of Year= 4-6 months into the school year
  • Spring/End of Year= 7-9 months into the school year

It’s important to review the Administration Guidelines as this assessment has discontinuation procedures in an effort to maintain efficiency of benchmark assessment and decrease frustration for beginning learners.

Second Grade Assessments

We recommend assessing several weeks into the school year rather than Week 1. Students often come to school with vastly differing understandings. Most of them benefit from several weeks’ time to get acclimated to the school environment. Meanwhile, be sure to review each student’s reading data from the previous year and do a lot of ‘kid-watching’. These are both important first steps when preparing to teach reading.

Anecdotal Observations: While official assessments or screens won’t start from Day 1, teachers can certainly gather anecdotal data that can provide a picture of the whole child.

  • Can the student follow directions?
  • Can the student attend to a story?
  • Does the student have strong (or weak) oral language?
  • Can the student work independently?
  • How does the student hold their pencill?
  • When writing, are the letters of uniform size?
  • Do the letters rest on the line or ‘dance’ across the page?
  • Does the student write complete sentences using capital letters and punctuation?
  • How does the student interact with peers?

Grade 2 Assessments

Remember, the best way to teach reading is to have a clear understanding of what your students can and cannot do. Before teaching reading to second grade readers, be sure to review their files and previous reading assessments. You won’t need to assess phonological awareness or letter name and sound unless your student has an underlying reading disability,

If you think one or more of your students needs remediation in phonemic awareness or letter names and sounds, check out our Grade 1 post.

My students mastered phonemic awareness and letter names and sounds. What’s next?

The next step is to determine your students’ ability to apply the alphabetic principle to read individual words and connected text.

DIBELS 8 offers one-minute timed assessments in single word reading for two types of words: decodable words and high frequency words. High frequency words (HFW) are words that first graders are expected to read by the end of the year. HFW are both regular and irregular words.

Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF): The nonsense words are decodable and follow common syllable patterns. Students read from a list of words for one minute. DIBELS uses nonsense words to evaluate whether the student truly recognizes the pattern or whether the student has memorized individual words. Students’ understanding of syllable types is crucial for accurate and fluent reading.

If your students struggled with this assessment, it can be helpful to complete further assessments in specific phonics patterns to determine which phonics patterns require further instruction. Our Single Syllable Assessment found in our single syllable resource includes directions on how to administer and guidelines for analyzing.

An Oveview of the Six Syllable Types Cover

Word Reading Fluency (WRF): During this one-minute timed assessment, students read a series of words that contain both regular and irregular word patterns.

What type of running records do you recommend?

DIBELS 8 Oral Reading Fluency (ORF): This assesses the students’ ability to read a grade-level, non-controlled text. Non-controlled text means just that. The words in the passage are not limited primarily to patterns to which the students have been exposed.

After everything we’ve said in our blogs about the importance of decodable texts, you might be wondering why DIBELS uses non-controlled text with their ORF. It is because this is a criterion-referenced assessment that gives a more complete picture of where the student falls on the continuum of their grade level.

DIBELS is also a standardized assessment. The standardized component allows us to compare apples to apples. How is one student grasping reading skills as compared to their peers?

It’s worth mentioning again, teachers must be mindful of the discontinuation procedures put in place by DIBELS. Discontinuation guidelines keep assessments quick so as not overwhelm or frustrate students with tasks in which they are not yet proficient.

Why can’t I just give my students a running record using a leveled reader?

There are a few reasons why we recommend DIBELS 8 over leveled readers.

First, leveled readers are not standardized. Within a level of these types of books, text difficulty varies greatly from text to text.

Second, the DIBELS ORF is a 1-minute timed assessment. Leveled readers are much more time-consuming to administer.

Third, DIBELS includes discontinuation procedures that reduce student frustration. Most leveled readers do not.

Fourth, unlike leveled readers, DIBELS does not encourage students to rely on faulty word-solving strategies. Because DIBELS is timed, incorporates discontinuation procedures, and does not include pictures, students do not reach frustration and do not fall back on guessing at words. The same cannot be said for leveled readers.

What about using controlled texts for running records?

We are so glad you asked!

If you are following a structured literacy format and you are incorporating systematic phonics instruction into your daily reading lessons, then controlled texts is an essential part of assessment.

Controlled refers to the types of words in the text. A controlled text is a decodable text. That means students have been taught the phonics patterns found within the text. This type of assessment is particularly helpful because it reveals whether the student is responding to direct instruction.

Be sure to administer controlled text running records that contain only previously taught phonics patterns. This will help you determine whether your students have mastered specific phonics patterns or whether they need further instruction.

Do I have to give both types of running records?

Both types of running records are important because they provide different information. Each type of running record must be scored for accuracy and fluency (the number of words read correctly per minute).

What about comprehension?

As proponents of the Science of Reading, we all know that the ultimate goal of reading is comprehension. DIBELS 8 offers a 3-minute timed assessment for comprehension called the MAZE. This assessment can be given to the whole class, so it is a real time-saver. Students read the cloze passage silently. Every seventh word is a multiple-choice option. Students must circle the word that best completes the sentence.


The next step in teaching second grade readers is to then analyze your students’ assessments. What do they reveal?

Accuracy: When reading connected text, students should read with at least 95% accuracy (DIBELS requires 96% accuracy). Inaccurate reading leads to issues with comprehension. Look for common errors. Are they leaving off endings, confusing syllable patterns, having trouble with multisyllabic words? By analyzing common errors, you can determine how to target subsequent instruction.

Fluency provides an important insight as to a student’s mastery of syllable types and their ability to apply this knowledge to connected text. Be sure to calculate words correct per minute rather than just total words per minute. There’s a world of difference between the two. Check out our post on How to Calculate Fluency Rate to find out more.

If a student is disfluent when reading a passage, it could be an indication they have not achieved automaticity at the word level. Further investigation in warranted. For more information on why fluency is important please check out our posts on the bridge to comprehension.

Comprehension: Typically, students who have low accuracy and/or low fluency scores tend to have difficulty with comprehension. To improve comprehension, both underlying skills of accuracy and fluency most be shored up. You Can’t Build on a Shaky Foundation.

That said, often students with dyslexia have strong comprehension but poor accuracy and fluency. Don’t let those strong comprehension skills trick you into complacency. These students must be supported by targeted phonics instruction and decodable texts. Otherwise, poor decoding and fluency will eventually impact comprehension.


Check out our FREE K-2 Scope and sequence. This handy guide provides you with a map of what to teach next and ensures that all the important skills are addressed.

Where can I find Science of Reading-aligned resources?

An important next step in teaching second grade readers is to use the appropriate resources. After all that hard work of assessing and analyzing, you don’t want to take a wrong turn by using resources that don’t address your students’ instructional needs. Shop our TPT store for SoR resources. Each resource comes complete with lesson plans so no matter where you are on your journey, you can help your students meet with reading success! Here are just a few of the SoR materials we offer.

Word level fluency grids help develop automatic word recognition.
Fluency is the bridge to comprehension.
Decodable Word Lists and Sentences
Reinforcing of Phonetically regular words resource
Reading and spelling are reciprocal skills. Strengthening one will strengthen the other.

Are you interested in learning about teaching reading in kindergarten or first grade?

Check out our posts on the best way to begin teaching reading in kindergarten and the first step in teaching reading to first graders for some helpful tips.

Let us help you as you begin teaching second grade readers and lead them onto the pathway of success!

Connect with us on Instagram and send us a DM with any questions you might have.


Similar Posts