Posts Tagged ‘Making the Most of Small Groups’

I thought it would be fun from time to time to share portions of my books with you here on the blog. This way you will get to read some great classroom tips and also get a flavor for a book. This one is from Making the Most of Small Groups and it deals with forming and managing reading groups.

How Do I Form Groups at the Start of the Year?

Look at all your data. Setting up a flexible reading groups folder can really help. It will allow you to look at each child as well as the whole class. Place each child where you think he or she will fit best for now, and then be prepared to be flexible.

You can move students from group to group using sticky notes as you’re making these initial decisions. You can even place a student in more than one group, depending on the child’s needs. For example, an emergent reader may meet in one group for letter identification work and in another group for phonemic awareness. A student reading on a second-grade reading level may meet in one group that is focusing on phonics at that level and in another group for fluency if the student needs both. Be flexible in placing students in groups.

You can always try a student in a group and then rearrange the groups based on your observations. Follow the lead of the child. Look for student success. It will guide you in the right direction. Know that there is more than one way to group students.

Form your groups and then try them out. You’ll be able to tell whether students are correctly matched to the texts and skills they need. Use both your formal assessment data and your observations to inform your grouping decisions.

How Many Groups Should I Meet with in a Day?

I think it’s smart to begin with just one group a day once you begin small-group instruction. In first grade and up, this is usually after four to six weeks of school (when children have been trained to work independently at literacy work stations). In kindergarten it usually takes longer. After you are meeting with one group a day successfully, work with two small groups a day. Occasionally, you might work with three groups in a day, but this is probably not the norm. You need time for whole group and small groups. If you do too many small groups, you’ll run out of time for some whole-group reading instruction, too.

Trying to see every group every day will not yield quality teaching. Remember, quality, not quantity. It’s not about how many groups you can “fit into” a day. Rather, it’s about meeting the needs of students in small groups. You’ll want to plan your lessons daily for the next day’s groups to keep with students’ cutting edge of development and optimize learning. No classroom teacher should be expected to plan three or four small-group lessons for reading in a day plus whole-group reading instruction plus writing and math and science and social studies!

Note: If you are fortunate enough to have another teacher in the classroom to work with small groups alongside you (Title I, special education, etc.), it may be possible to work with every group daily between the two of you.

How Long Should I Meet with Each Group?

I have found that about twenty minutes per small group works well in first grade and up. In kindergarten I often work with students for about fifteen minutes. I prefer short lessons to long ones because I think students take more away from them. When lessons are short and focused, student engagement remains high and kids pay better attention. This also allows you to see more than one group if time is limited.

How Often Should I Meet with Each Group?

Generally, most teachers meet with their lowest readers more often. Most schools ask teachers to work with their struggling readers every day. Teachers are very caring people and want to treat all children fairly. But remember that fair is not always equal (a quote from my friend Judy Wallis). If you try to meet with every group every day, you’ll burn out quickly. And often you’ll find yourself just pulling a group and reading a book with kids, rather than being thoughtful about planning a lesson and teaching in that small group.

Figure 3.14 is a chart that shows how one teacher managed meeting with her small groups over a two-week period. She plotted this out on sticky notes, so she could move the groups around flexibly until she found a plan that worked. You’ll notice that she is often meeting with students on consecutive days so that she can connect instruction for them. Her yellow group has her highest students. She meets with them only once a week since they are reading well above grade level. Her lowest group is the red group, and she meets with them four times a week. Her blue group needs more support than her green group, so she meets with them a bit more often.

How Can I Meet with My Lowest Groups Every Day?

The reality in most classrooms is that it is very difficult to meet with your lowest students every day in small group because you’ll run out of time very quickly. One possibility is to meet with those children four days a week and, on the fifth day, meet with them individually for a few minutes during independent reading to have a brief conference with them.

Another idea is to find hidden pockets during the day during which you might meet with this group. For example, you might be able to meet with them for fifteen minutes as kids are entering your room in the morning. If they know you’ll be there to work with them, they may make the effort to get right to class. The rest of the class can do morning jobs and get ready for the day while you meet with this group for some extra attention.

In some classrooms there are several low groups, or the majority of kids are reading below grade level. This, again, is reality for some teachers. If you’re one of them, you may have to meet with three groups a day on many days, finding and using the pockets of time mentioned above. This works best in a self-contained classroom.

You may also have to assign students to particular literacy work stations as interventions, planning very carefully which students go to which work stations for practice. For example, if you have a low group that needs fluency practice, you might plan for them to go to the buddy reading station (to practice orally reading easy text with a partner) or to the recording studio (to tape-record themselves reading orally, then listen to and self-evaluate it) or to the computer station (to work on a fluency program).

How Do I Keep My Groups Straight—Who Read What, Lesson Plans, and So On?
Use a small-group lesson-planning notebook as described in this chapter and in Chapter 2. Keep written lesson plans and jot down which books were read in each group. Some teachers also keep a sticky note in this plan book where they jot down the date and title read by this group.

Don’t worry if you occasionally have a child in a group tell you he or she has already read a book. Odds are the child will improve during this reading of the text! I always refer to familiar books as “old favorites.” Tell the student he or she will be an expert on this book after reading it again. Just ask the child to please not give away what happens in the book so that everyone can enjoy it fully.

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About 30 educators in the Houston Independent School District joined with their leader, Ann Sledge, in a four-week after-school book club at Longfellow Elementary. The goup of teachers, coaches, and principals studied my book, Making the Most of Small Groups. I joined them for a question-and-answer session. It was great fun being part of their discussions about the chapters they read. They worked in small groups to read and choose their 3 most important things learned from each chapter which they then shared with the whole group.

Here are some photos from this meeting:

HISD educators have a book club where they discuss Making the Most of Small Groups

Teachers work in small groups to read and discuss a chapter

Meeting and talking about the vocabulary chapter

Sharing what they learned about teaching phonics


Chart made by teachers about phonemic awareness as part of their book club discussion

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