5 Great Tips for Analyzing MSV Cues in Running Records - Simply Skilled Teaching

5 Great Tips for Analyzing MSV Cues in Running Records


Want to know how to solve the mystery of using MSV cues when scoring running records? You need to know your way around those three letters as you administer these assessments with the students in your classroom, so in this post I want to help remove some of the mystery and replace it with clarity.

A working knowledge of MSV cues will enable you to administer and evaluate a running record with ease. The data you gain from evaluating a student’s use of these cueing systems is essential, because it can inform your instruction and help you meet the individual learning needs of your student.

There’s a mountain of information you can obtain from this type of analysis, so let’s dig in and uncover 5 Clues to Help You Use and Understand the Cues.

1. Know the Codes: MSV – “The Big Three”

We’ve all heard it: “Everybody makes mistakes!” The great thing is that you can learn a lot from the mistakes a student makes during a running record, and you can put that knowledge to good use. When a student makes an error, MSV analysis can reveal what cueing system they used, (or failed to use); and when a student self-corrects their miscue, you can evaluate the self-correction to determine the cueing system the student used to correct their error.

In my previous post, I gave you a brief introduction to the MSV cueing systems, so just to review, here’s a quick overview of what each letter means:

M = Meaning (Semantic)

“Does it make sense?” “Does it go with the storyline and pictures?”
(Awareness or sense of story, understanding of story illustrations)

S = Structure (Syntax)

“Does it sound right?” “Is that how we talk?”
(Sentence structure, understanding of grammar and the way language should sound)

V = Visual (Graphophonic)

“Does it look right?” “Does it match the letters I see on the page?”
(Concepts of print, letter/sound awareness)

Mystery Solved! Or at least we’re hot on it’s trail…

2. Use the Codes to Analyze Your Students’ Use of MSV Cueing Systems

Now that you’ve had a review of the basics of MSV cues, let’s dig deeper. A look at a running record sample can help you “crack the code” and understand how to use MSV cues to analyze and accurately assess a student’s reading behaviors as well as to assign a correct reading level.

Let’s imagine we’re doing a running record on a student named Gracie. Gracie begins reading the Level D text, Ants at Work. (This is part of my Simply Skilled Teaching Curriculum for Guided Reading. I’ve chosen it for Gracie because it is at her approximate instructional reading level.)

The text in the Ants at Work booklet reads as follows:

(Page 1)
Hard at Work

Ants work hard. They work in groups.

(Page 2)
Ants work in teams. They lift. They move.

(Page 3)
Ants move things. Big things! Heavy things! One ant can’t do it. Many ants can!

(Page 4)
Ants live in dirt. It’s sandy. Ants like dirt. They like sand.

(Page 5)
A Place to Live

Ants live in a “hill.” A hill holds many ants. Hundreds! Tons! That’s a lot! Do they fight? No. They don’t.

Now let’s see how we would use the MSV coding system to evaluate Gracie’s reading ability as she reads this text during a running record.:

M = Meaning (Semantic)

First, let’s look at how we would determine if Gracie is monitoring for Meaning as she reads:

“Ants work hard,” Gracie begins.
“They work in ‘ground’ — I mean, ‘groups.’”

The photo image on this page of the text shows clusters of busy ants, so we can assume that Gracie used the information from the picture on the page to help her understand the Meaning and to help her make sense of the words she was reading. The photo shows that the ants are, in fact, in groups!

We will draw a line above the word ‘groups’ in the passage, and write the word ‘ground’ above the line to show Gracie’s substitution. Then we’ll insert a slash next to the substituted word and write the letters ‘SC’ after it to indicate her self-correction. We’ll place a 1 in the “M” column across from that line of text, to indicate that Gracie considered the Meaning of the text when she made her self-correction.


S = Structure (Syntax)

Now let’s look again at that same example and evaluate it in terms of Structure or Syntax.

As Gracie read the text from page 1 of Ants at Work, she also took cues from the Structure of the sentence. When she read the words, “They work in ground,” instead of “groups,” Gracie realized the words of the sentence did not sound correct.

Her self-correction reflects an awareness of Structure and Syntax, so we’ll place a 1 in the “S” column to reflect that.

V = Visual (Graphophonic)

Finally, let’s look at Gracie’s miscue and self-correction in terms of her use of Visual, or Graphophonic, cues:

When Gracie made an error by substituting the word “ground” for “groups,” we know that she was only reading the beginning letters of the word correctly; however, her subsequent self-correction shows us that she did use some Visual cues as she looked at the letters of the word she saw on the printed page and realized the letters in the word she substituted did not match all the letters of the printed word.

Again, in addition to the “1” we marked in the “SC” (Self-Correction) column, we would also place a “1” in the “V” column to indicate that Gracie’s self-correction showed some awareness of Visual cues.

3. Understand the Reading Behaviors You Will Assess During a Running Record

There are several reading behaviors you’ll be assessing through use of a running record. As the child reads the text, you’ll monitor and mark the following:

  • Accurate reading – How many words do they read correctly?
  • Substitution – If they read a word in error, what word do they use as a substitute?
  • Omission of words – Does the student skip over any words?
  • Insertion of words – Do they insert additional words that aren’t printed in the text?
  • Re-reading words, sentences or phrases – Do they go back and repeat words or phrases?
  • Self-corrections – When the student makes an error, do they recognize their miscue and go back and self-correct it?
  • Teacher interventions – Do they struggle to the point at which you decide to intervene, asking them to “Try That Again” (“TTA”) or telling (“T”) them the word?

In the next section, I’ll break down each of these behaviors and show you how the annotations might look in a running record, so hang in there as the mystery unfolds!

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4. Learn The Marks You Need to Annotate a Running Record

There are several important marks you’ll need to be familiar with as you begin to administer a running record.

Let’s take a look at these marks and see how we would use them in evaluating little Gracie’s reading behaviors on our running records recording chart:

Accurate Reading

Above every word in the text that Gracie reads accurately, we’ll place a check mark, “.”


In the case of a substitution, we will note Gracie’s error by drawing a line above the word and writing in the substitute word that Gracie used. (A substitution counts as one error.)

They work in groups

Omission of Word

If Gracie omits or skips a word in a passage, we’ll write the letter “O” above the word to indicate an omission.

“Ants work in teams,” Gracie reads.
“They lift.” “They move.”

“Ants move [things]. Big things!”
“Heavy things! One ant can’t do it. But many ants can!”

In the third sentence, Gracie omitted the word “things,” so we’ll write the letter “O” above the word “things” to indicate the omission.

Insertion of Word

In the above example, Gracie not only omitted a word that was in the passage; she also inserted a word that was not included on the page of text. In the case of an insertion, we’ll mark the symbol “˄” and write the word the student inserted. (An insertion counts as one error.)

“∧ Many ants can!”

The word “but” does not appear on page 3 of the printed text. Since Gracie inserted this word, we’ll insert a “˄” and write the word “but” above it to indicate Gracie’s insertion of an extra word.

Rereading a Word, Sentence or Phrase

In the event that Gracie rereads a word, sentence or phrase, we’ll draw a line over the repeated words with an arrow pointing back to the place in the sentence where the repetition began. (A repetition does not count as an error.)

Gracie begins by reading the subtitle on page 4:

“It’s a Dirty Place,” she reads.

“Ants live in dirt. Its…”  Gracie pauses briefly and repeats..

“Ants live in dirt. It’s sandy.”

“Ants like dirt. They like sand.”

So how would we annotate and record this repetition in the running record? In this instance, we’ll draw a line over the words, “Ants live in dirt” and “It’s,” to indicate that Gracie repeated those five words. The line will include an arrow that points downward to the point where the repetition began.
(Repetitions do not count as errors.)


If Gracie makes an error but self-corrects her miscue, we’ll draw a line over the word and write the substituted word above it.

Then we’ll write the letters “SC” to indicate the student’s self-correction. (Self-corrections do not count as errors.)

Let’s look back again at Gracie’s first miscue and substitution…

“Ants work hard,” Gracie reads. “They work in ‘ground’ — I mean ‘groups.’

In our running record, we drew a line above the word ‘groups’ in the passage, and wrote the word ‘ground’ above the line to show the substitution. Then we inserted a slash next to the substituted word and wrote the letters ‘SC’ after it to indicate Gracie’s self-correction. (No error.)

Teacher Intervention

If a student struggles with a word or phrase and you as a teacher intervene, you’ll mark the letters “TTA” (“Try That Again”) over the portion they attempted again. If the student does not succeed in decoding the word and you provide it for her, mark the word with a “T” to indicate it was a “told” word. (Counts as one error.)

Here’s how Gracie reads the text on page 5…

“A Place to Live,” she begins.

“A hill holds many ants. Hundreds! Tons!”
“That’s a lot!” “Do they f…fi…f..”

[As the instructor, I interject, asking Gracie to “Try That Again.”]

Gracie continues to struggle: “Do they ‘f…i…f…’”

[“Fight,” I tell her. “That’s the word, ‘fight.’”]

5. Use the Data From MSV Analysis to Inform Your Instruction

One important principle to keep in mind with regard to MSV analysis: The data you uncover when administering a running record is useless until you apply it! As you evaluate the results, look closely at the student’s use of MSV cues. If a pattern of error emerges, use it to inform your instruction.

Does the student need a review of vowel teams or diagraphs? Do they need a reminder to pay attention to word endings? Do they need to work on using Visual cues to decode words? Is the student relying too heavily on only one cueing system? Do they need additional instruction on how to use the other cues? What is the student’s strongest skill?

In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about how running records data can help inform your instruction; but for now, here are a few tips to help get you started:

Use MSV Analysis to Affirm the Positive –

If the running record reveals your student has a strong grasp of one particular cueing system, affirm that strength, and use it as a point of encouragement. Also use it as a springboard to remind them of the need to push forward and strengthen their grasp of the other cues.

Use MSV Analysis to Address the Need –

If a student shows low use of a particular cueing system, determine how you can provide additional scaffolding and instruction. Is one-on-one instruction needed, or could a short-term strategy group help sharpen their focus and give them the tools they need?

Use MSV Analysis to Assemble the Strategy –

As you evaluate the running records of each of your students and begin to consider the patterns that emerge, you’ll see opportunities to address areas of struggle through temporary, short-term strategy groups. Use these groups to bring together readers of various levels who share a common struggle with a specific reading strategy or concept.

You can also use data to help you plan your guided reading and whole-class instruction. Are there concepts or strategies that need reinforcement or review?

The use of Meaning, Structure and Visual cues is foundational for reading comprehension and fluency, so I hope these 5 tips have helped to demystify the mysterious “Big Three” – MSV! As you become familiar with MSV cues and begin to use them appropriately in your data analysis, you’ll be amazed at how much they can tell you about your students’ reading behaviors!

Meanwhile, thanks for joining me. Just a reminder: Be sure to check out my next post as I go into more detail about The 3 Best Ways to Use Running Records Data to Inform Your Instruction.

‘Bye for now, and Happy Teaching!

5 tips for analyzing msv cues in running records

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Anna DiGilio


I'm Anna DiGilio

Hi, I'm Anna! I was a primary teacher for over twenty-three years, wife of a firefighter, mother of twin teenage boys, obsessed with being creative and helping teachers and love my Saturday morning quiet cup of coffee!
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Hi, I'm Anna! I was a primary teacher for over twenty-three years, wife of a firefighter, mother of twin teenage boys, obsessed with being creative and helping teachers and love my Saturday morning quiet cup of coffee!
Thanks for stopping by!

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