Questions about Fountas and Pinnell Teaching Systems

This back-to-school season the Fountas & Pinnell Forum at has received a swarm of implementation questions for Leveled Literacy Intervention, the Benchmark Assessment System, and other Fountas and Pinnell teaching systems such as The Continuum of Literacy Learning. Below are some of the top questions we have received and answers to help you start the new school year right!

As always, we welcome and appreciate your feedback and questions! You can post your questions to the Fountas & Pinnell Community of educators by using the "Forums" link at the top of our blog, or just click here to see a list of all the conversation threads in our forums.


Forum Questions about Fountas & Pinnell teaching systems

Benchmark Assessment System - 1st Edition vs 2nd Edition
Question: What are the differences between the two kits? Are the passages the same?

Answer: This page summarizes the changes between the first and second editions of Benchmark: Overall they are largely the same; the 2nd edition provides enhancements for ease of use (improved Assessment Guide format) and information on working with specific student populations (ELL, Special Education - for example). No new little books have been added, but slight adjustments have been made to the running word counts in the upper-level nonfiction books.  The Pre-K Continuum has also been added.

If you are transitioning from the old Benchmark edition to the new one, you can order a BAS 2nd Edition Compatibility Package. If you do not plan to implement the 2nd Edition alongside the 1st Edition you do not need this package. We recommend that you continue to use your system as you do now. If you plan to use the 2nd Edition system alongside the 1st Edition, the package will allow you to have consistency across systems. We recommend that you request the Compatibility Pack.

Progressing through Benchmark Assessment levels:

I have a second grade group who has all had Reading Recovery and did not progress. They Benchmarked at level D and have gone through the 10 green lessons with average of 93% accuracy. When we moved to level E this week, they scored in the 83% range on the first Running Record. Because I worked with them so intensely, I have a feeling that when their time comes up to be tested, they will need additional special education services. My question is: "Should I progress through level E or do the level D in the blue system so they can be successful?" Your thoughts, please??

Answer: You are on the right track with wanting your second graders to be successful. Children need success to learn. Perhaps more time reading at Level D from the Blue System would be beneficial. You could also try more Level E books and increase your level of support in the introductions and their first reading of the new book.

It would be helpful to do another study of their reading records from the 10 green lessons to see if there are any patterns emerging and compare your findings with how readers are processing text in the Continuum of Literacy Learning at Level D. The introductory paragraph to Level D gives important information about readers at this level (not to be missed).

Also, as you examine the reading records over the last ten lessons, go through the behaviors and understandings to notice, teach and support that are listed in the Continuum with this group in mind. Have you analyzed these reading records with a colleague? Sometimes having several people interpret and discuss the reading records sheds more light and gives new direction for your teaching. How much are these second graders reading when they are not with you? They need increased time with easy book.

Question: We are testing students using the Benchmark system in grades 1 and 2. Many of the students scores are falling below 90% at the Level A. Where do we start with them? Are we able to use the LLI with them? If so, what level do we start on?

Answer: Yes - you could use the Orange System of LLI for your students who are reading below A and start at the beginning of the System because you will be reading to them and with them before you ask them to read a text by themselves. This support will help them read Level A texts independently.


Teaching phonics for kindergarten:
I am wondering if anyone uses the Phonics Lessons in their Kindergarten, Gr.1, or Gr. 2 classroom...I am teaching a K-2 class and am trying to choose a Phonics/Spelling program and am wondering if you have found it comprehensive enough to teach sight words, spelling and phonics?

Answer: The Fountas and Pinnell Phonics and Word Study Lessons Grades K-3 is a comprehensive series of lessons for phonics and word study that is based on research and how children learn. It is designed on a continuum of knowledge that includes nine areas of learning: Early Literacy Concepts, Phonological and Phonemic Awareness, Letter Knowledge, Letter/Sound Relationships, Spelling Pattersn, High-Frequency Words, Word Meaning, Word Structure, and Word-Solving Actions. will provide you with a program overview. Along with these Phonics and Word Study Lessons for K, 1, 2, and 3, there is a large amount of professional development built in to increase your knowledge of the linguistic systems, there is a direct connection to reading and writing, and there are built-in assessments that will provide you with data to inform your instruction. We are confident that you will find these lessons comprehensive enough to teach sight words, spelling and phonics.


Teaching balanced literacy, Reading Recovery, and special needs students:
Question: I am a reading intervention teacher and I have enjoyed using the LLI programs with my 1st and 2nd grade struggling readers this year I have seen much progress. My district has decided that pulling groups out of the classroom is a no-no and that coteaching is the way to go for next year. I am passionate about helping struggling readers learn to read and I don't feel they can be helped with a "hit-or-miss" approach. I think they need a daily, systematic, sequential program. From what we have been told with coteaching we are not to work with the same groups of children every day. I think this is a disservice to those struggling readers who feel so much success when they work with me. Do you have suggestions as to how I can provide help for these children under those conditions? It is breaking my heart that after only one year with LLI I will have to give it up, yet how can it be used when I will be in multiple classrooms and will not be allowed to have a set group each time?

Answer: Your district is setting up a completely different delivery design than the one suggested for LLI, so it is a problem. We believe skipping around to different groups and giving struggling readers only occasional help will not have instructional power and is not supported by research.

It is a little hard to understand exactly what will be happening. Will there be two teachers in the classroom at the same time for a morning or a day? Or, will you move from class to class taking groups? LLI has been very successfully used in a "corner" or small designated space in a classroom so that children do not leave. It seems a major challenge you have is in providing a sequence of lessons that allow children to build momentum. You might try to make a case for the most struggling readers to have at least four lessons per week (realizing that you will not get the acceleration possible with five lessons) With two teachers present, you would be able to allow 30 minutes. Perhaps you could present your administrator with a systematic plan that allows for you to do the co-teaching they want and at the same time work intensively with one or two groups. It will be very important to collect student data and analyze it.

If all of this fails, be sure to gather your results from this year and prepare a concise written report that also includes how you implemented LLI.
This is a responsible thing to do in any case and you will have a written record that you can come back to as you evaluate results for next year. We hope this helps. Let us know how it is going.


Question: I would like to know more about why this reading program is not designed for students w/ dyslexia. Is it designed for students w/ language learning disabilities? Thanks. Is any part of the Fountas Pinnell reading program specifically designed for dyslexia/language learning disabled children?

Answer: Although Fountas & Pinnell programs such as BAS and LLI are not specifically designed for students with autism/dyslexia or other learning disabilities, many people do use them in such circumstances. (see this forum thread for an example). Some research has been done on using guided reading with autistic children (this article, for example), but for the most part the programs are used in regular education classrooms. While many people use Fountas & Pinnell guided reading programs for special needs students, there hasn't yet been a large-scale study on this topic, and the programs themselves are not specifically designed for special needs populations.

All evidence available at this time indicates that the instructional principles of guided reading are appropriate for use with special needs students, and this is something that Fountas & Pinnell hope to address more closely in their upcoming work.

Here are a few more articles that you might find helpful:
Supporting Literacy With Guided Reading
Strategies for Teaching Reading to Visual Learners
The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) also has several articles on using guided reading with special needs students, but many of them are available to members only.


Question: I teach kindergarten through second grade special education (mostly LD and cognitive disabilities) in a large urban midwest city. I am also lucky to be trained in Reading Recovery, although our district dropped the program several years ago. I read When Readers Struggle this summer, and I am going to use the LLI lesson format using any materials I can find. I am also writing a grant to purchase at least the BAS and the first grade LLI kit, since we have less than no money for materials. If I get the grant, I'll have to collect a lot of data, and I will be happy to share my results with you. Do you have any advice on how I can make it clear in the grant that LLI will help support my instruction more than my dwindling collection of Reading Recovery books?

Answer: At under the Fountas and Pinnell tab, in the right hand column, you will see Research and Data Collection. You will find the research and data for both the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment Systems and the Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention. There is valuable information that will help you with your grant writing.


Using Leveled Literacy Intervention in conjunction with DRA reading levels:
Question: My school ordered the blue system in the LLI. I read that that system is primarily for second grade and above. However, I teach first grade. Students who are on a DRA 3 and below are pulled to participate in the LLI-blue system. I love using the LLI, but I didn't know if my students would be more successful using the green system than the blue. Is there much of a difference?

Answer: The Green System is for Levels A though J – designed for 1st Grade

The Blue System is for Levels C through N – designed for 2nd/3rd Grade

The LLI systems are coordinated with the grade levels and the books were written to coordinate with the different age levels. The Green System has a series of 10 Getting Started lessons that children reading a C or below need before starting into lessons. Another difference would be the phonics lessons which are systematic and explicit. You may see a difference with the needs of your first graders and the Phonics portion of the lessons in the Blue System. The Green System will be more appropriate for struggling first graders. You will have to make your decisions for teaching based on the observation of your groups of LLI children rather than following the guide in the Blue System. If you could have the Green System, you would have a wider range of options.


Organization and management of classroom materials:
Question: I am using the green kit with 2 groups and the blue kit with 3 groups as a Title 1 Reading Specialist. Two of my groups I walk to, carrying materials. I find it difficult to carry the manuals and to keep switching manuals between groups. To solve that I resorted to copying the manual pages for each group so I just carry the pages needed and each group has the manual pages with their daily materials. Does anyone have a better solution than copying the whole manual? Is there a possibility that the manuals would be on CD so that they could be printed as needed for a group?

Answer: The teachers in our building who teach multilevel LLI groups pull a cart on wheels, purchased from Staples or some other office store. That way, it is easy for them to also have all of the LLI materials, books, etc that they need right with them. They pack them up at the end of every day so they are ready in the morning.


Question: I am getting things ready for this school year. Does anyone have a great way to organize all the materials for LLI? I have all three systems and need to keep things organized for multiple people to use. Please let me know how you have organized your materials.

Answer: Until districts have the funds to purchase more systems, they have tried several ways to organize their materials to share with others.

The districts that have a book room designate a section for their LLI books and materials. They keep the books (and they had to purchase extra copies of books because they could not predict when two teachers might have a group on the same lesson) organized by Lesson number on their bookshelves. They have a checkout system for the LLI books similar to the one they use for their Guided Reading books. They have 3 ring binders containing plastic sleeves for each lesson that contain copies of reading records, parent letters, fold sheets, picture cards, word cards. . . whatever is needed for each lesson in a sleeve labeled with the lesson number (some lessons required several plastic sleeves since they have multiple copies of everything needed for the lesson). The binders are kept on the shelves with the books organized by Lesson number. They purchased Lesson Guides for each teacher and keep the Program Guide/DVD’s with the LLI books. They developed a system for replenishing materials needed for the lessons when the supply was down to the last two. The teachers decide whether they checkout materials for the week, a number of days at a time or daily.

Other districts had a similar system with file cabinets because they do not have the luxury of space in the book room. Rather than keep three ring binders of lesson materials in sleeves, the teachers made their own copies of materials for the lessons to keep in files in their rooms. They purchased copies of the Lesson Guides for each teacher.

Copernicus Educational Products is now offering three smart storage systems designed specifically for use with guided reading programs such as Leveled Literacy Intervention. They are all available on the Copernicus website, here:

There is also a video on TeacherTube about organizing a guided reading classroom - you might find some good tips her as well.


Leveled Literacy Intervention for upper elementary grades and middle school:
Question: I have heard that LLI kits will be created to extended into grades 3-5. If so, when will they be available?

Additionally, will the lessons differ from the current kits? (time, components of the lesson, comprehension)

I have used the blue kit with 3-5 students and have seen tremendous growth in my students' reading levels, confidence, and attitude toward reading. I would love to see the progress students would be able to make with materials matched to the grade level of the students!

Answer: Gay Su Pinnell and Irene Fountas posted an updated about the development of LLI for grades 3-8 on their blog. You can read the post here:

More updates on their progress will be posted as development of these new LLI levels progresses.


~The Fountas & Pinnell Team

Benchmark Assessment System 2nd Edition is Now Available

Benchmark Assessment System, 2nd EditionWe are very pleased to announce that the 2nd edition of the Benchmark Assessment System is now available from Heinemann Publishing. The Benchmark Assessment System is a one-on-one, comprehensive assessment to determine independent and instructional reading levels, for placing students on the Fountas & Pinnell A-Z Text Gradient, and connecting assessment to instruction with the Continuum of Literacy Learning.

As with the first edition, the 2nd edition of the Benchmark Assessment System is available in two unique flavors:

Irene Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell describe Benchmark Assessment System, 2nd Edition:

"As we work with teachers and students, we continually refine our assessment and instructional systems to provide the most current, efficient measurement tools and teaching supports for improved decision making and data reporting on behalf of students. With the Second Edition, we have made key changes based on widespread use of the BAS.

Based on the feedback of many teachers and administrators, we have made changes in the Assessment Guide that will provide stronger support for professional development and support teachers in using the BAS with efficiency. The Continuum of Literacy Learning also has a more user-friendly design.

Because of the greater attention to pre-kindergarten literacy, we have expanded The Continuum of Literacy Learning to include continua that will support teachers in this area. We have also updated some of the principles to reflect changes in assessment and learning.

While the student texts for the BAS are essentially the same (to provide consistency with the first edition), we have provided new designs for the BAS2 fiction books that will have greater appeal to pre-adolescents and adolescents and made a few minor changes in the nonfiction texts to reflect current knowledge. Based on observation, we have adjusted word count in nonfiction texts to reflect reading section headings.

The guide for the comprehension conversation at levels A to K has been adjusted slightly to have greater emphasis on thinking about the author's craft. The scoring rubric however remains the same. You will also find a new DVD with many examples to support professional development.

For more details about the changes click here.

By the way, if you are currently using the 2008 Edition and plan to combine it with the Second Edition in your school, you might want to order a complimentary Compatibility Pack."


- Irene C. Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell


For more information about the second edition of the Benchmark Assessment System visit the following websites:




A new resource for teaching prekindergarten literacy!

We are involved in the enjoyable task of bringing a new book into publication especially for prekindergarten teachers. We hope you will look for and enjoy "Literacy Beginnings: A Prekindergarten Continuum to Guide Teaching", which we hope to publish by late 2010.

In this book we look at the wonderful world of prekindergarten children as they enter literacy in a playful and joyful way. The book includes a continuum of literacy learning for prekindgarten and lots of practice advice gained from observations in classrooms. It's full of children's drawings, language, and emerging writing and reading.

Thank you all for your tireless dedication to the craft of teaching!

Best regards,
- Gay and Irene