Reading Mastery Grid Tips & Tricks

Chad OstrowskiBlog, Differentiate Better, Lesson Plan Better, Manage Better, Mastery Done Better


  • When creating a reading grid, consider how the reading will be done: independently, whole class, etc.
  • Focus on standards, not stories.
  • Consider multiple resources/texts.
  • Provide a pathway forward.
  • Increase complexity while students read.

Making a Grid

Just in case you’re not familiar, The Grid Method is a self-paced mastery framework where the teacher creates a learning pathway in the form of a “grid.” Students are allowed to work at their own pace through this pathway while demonstrating readiness and mastery as they progress from one learning opportunity to the next. If you’d like to learn more, there is even a free course available.

Generally speaking, the process for developing a grid is the same for any subject. Teachers start with breaking down the standards into learning targets using Depth of Knowledge (DOK) or other learning taxonomy. Then they further develop through backwards design their mastery questions/assessment items and learning opportunities.

These are all organized into their grid. While this process is the same regardless of the content, there are specific tips and tricks that can help in certain subject areas. ELA and reading are no different. Here are a few things that can help you create the best possible reading grid for your students!

Make sure as you develop your grid that students are actually able to work ahead without being 'stalled' or having to wait for the rest of the class to catch up. Click To Tweet

General Things to Consider with Reading Grids

Before we get into specifics, I want to discuss what makes reading a bit different than other content areas in terms of developing a grid. While all subjects have skills embedded, it could be argued that reading is the amalgamation of many skills. Because of this, it is possible to measure ALL skills or reading standards with almost any text. This is useful but can also lead to overwhelm when designing grids.

Additionally, you have to take into consideration of how the “reading” will occur. Will it be done independently? Will students listen independently to audio files? Or will there be whole class read aloud of an entire novel? (Please don’t do this.)

These will all be considerations as we design our grids. Some may also have pre-set reading programs or curriculums. While we’ve seen The Grid Method work with almost any curriculum or resource, this is another consideration to have before you begin the process. Now that we have those generalities out of the way, let’s talk about specifics that can help you as you design the best reading grid possible!

Reading Grid Tip #1: Focus on standards, NOT stories.

I know this sounds a bit harsh. However, it is one of the most common issues I find when developing reading grids with teachers during trainings. I will often hear phrases like “When I teach To Kill a Mocking Bird” or “Romeo and Juliet” the hair stands up a little bit on my neck.

It’s not because of the fact that I don’t understand what is being articulated or that the teacher shouldn’t use those as foundations to demonstrate a skill or standard.

However, focusing too much on the text can cloud the view from what the focus should be which is the skills, standards, and targets you’re trying to get students to master. If you are reading an entire text, novel, or collection, please understand the reasoning or focus of the chosen text as an exemplar or demonstration of a specific attribute.

If I’m having a class read Catcher in the Rye, maybe one of the primary focuses could be symbolism. This is actually the reason—for many standards and areas of focus—entire novels that take immense amounts of time may not be the best solution when considering learning opportunities and resources to support the development of your grid. Additionally, having a set of “focus standards” that you’re measuring throughout the work or learning can help focus your discussion, activities, as well as avoid trying to teach “everything all the time” (which will never work).

Reading Grid Tip #2: Consider multiple resources/texts.

Continuing on this line of thought: Consider using excerpts or multiple shorter texts in your grid instead of larger ones. This can actually articulate and teach concepts much more concisely sometimes. This becomes apparent when after reading an entire novel, students know that single story, its characters, or plot very well; however, if you ask them to apply that to another text, we sometimes get blank stares.

This means that they have memorized the “things about” one text as opposed to mastering the higher level skills that should now be transferable from the standards. If we use multiple texts, even comparatively to a primary text, this can help hone the skills we are trying to achieve.

Reading Grid Tip #3: Provide a pathway forward.

Especially with reading, I often find that teachers are scared if they let students read self-paced or with grids that they won’t be able to have class discussions or debates. I would like to challenge this notion and suggest that having students at various spots might actually enrich the conversation especially if you KNOW where they are. Make sure as you develop your grid that students are actually able to work ahead without being “stalled” or having to wait for the rest of the class to catch up.

However you’re having students articulate mastery or readiness as they continue to read, ensure that it is not dependent on the time in which it occurs. One additional tip is to manage your discussions by having a “NO SPOILERS” policy where students may not reference or discuss past a certain point within the text, story, or plot if a longer story is being read.

[scroll down to keep reading]

Reading Grid Tip #4: Increase complexity while they read.

When developing grids, many teachers will try to add “the reading” at the beginning so that students can do deeper analysis after it has finished. This can be troublesome because it creates a “bottleneck” in the grid when longer texts are being used. If you ARE using a single longer text within a grid, focus your learning opportunities on higher DOK levels as the student acquires more information about the characters, plot, setting, or whatever focus you are trying to convey from the standards.

For example, when they start reading the story, they may be identifying the plot components within the story (DOK 1). As they read more they can summarize or explain how this plot is changing or what events are causing others, etc. (DOK 2). As the student continues to gather more information from the text, they can begin comparing plot points or other texts with the current reading (DOK 3). And as the student finishes the text, they may even be able to create an alternate ending while explaining the ramifications it would have on the existing plot (DOK 4).

This actually uses the progression through the text as a support for deeper questions and the application of higher skills.

I know that reading is a complex skill that can be difficult to build within learners and has multiple moving parts. But when you layer self-paced mastery on top of it, you can better serve the students you teach and truly differentiate their reading experience. By taking some of these tips and tricks and applying them when you design your own reading grid, you’ll be ready to teach any reading standard or set of standards successfully using Mastery Grids and The Grid Method!

See the full blog series here!

About Chad Ostrowski

Chad Ostrowski is the co-founder of the Teach Better Team, and creator of The Grid Method. He is also a co-author of the Teach Better book. But Chad is a middle school science teacher at heart. He now travels the country sharing his story, working with teachers, schools, and districts to help them to reach more students. Chad is also a member of the Teach Better Speakers Network.