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K-5 Small-Group Literacy Instruction: Sample Schedule and Activities

On this page:, focus on alphabet, focus on decoding, focus on fluency, focus on comprehension, learn more about small-group instruction.

Here are four examples of teacher-directed small group instruction in:

  • Alphabet and Concepts of Print
  • Reading Comprehension

Each plan emphasizes different components of reading and are designed to help students progress along the literacy continuum. Remember, not all components of reading are addressed within your small group time. The other components of reading and writing are addressed throughout the ELA block. 

Most teachers allot between 10-20 min. to meet with each of their small groups. You may meet with every group every day or meet with varying groups on alternating days. Adjust the components and times to match the assessed needs of your students.  Try to provide struggling readers with the lowest teacher/student ratio and the most time possible. Ideally, these students meet with you daily, regardless of any other interventions they receive — it’s the accumulated time, frequency and intensity of reading practice that helps struggling readers. If students have difficulty sustaining attention for more than 10-15 minutes, consider breaking components apart or giving students a short brain break.    

Using the sample schedules

Read the explanations below to choose a planning template that best fits your students’ assessed needs .  All of the times in each plan are  suggestions  — not hard and fast. Make adjustments to the components and times as needed to match the targeted needs of your students.  

Who needs this plan?

  • Limited or no alphabet knowledge
  • Rudimentary or limited phonological awareness skills
  • Limited or some concepts of print
  • Student’s writing may range from random marks/scribbles, using random numbers and letters and may lack left-right and top-bottom directionality .
  • Some students on this plan may represent initial, final or salient sounds in words but spelling lacks vowels. Example:  mop might be spelled:  M, P, or MP.     
  • Student cannot decode words on their own.   
  • Student cannot read back their own writing, and sentences lack spaces between words.     

When can I move on? 

  • When a student reads accurately and smoothly at or above Preprimer B with minimal teacher support. 
  • When a student knows about 10-12 or more letters of the alphabet.
  • Student represents previously taught beginning and ending sounds consistently and begins to use a vowel in spelling. 
  • Student acquires concepts of print, e.g., able to track a text accurately or self-corrects tracking if s/he loses their place. Has directionality in reading.   

Highlights of plan

  • Focus is on teaching skills necessary for later reading:  oral language , phonological awareness, and alphabet knowledge (letter names, sounds, and formation).          
  • Use  rereading  to foster concepts of print such as concept of word and directionality (L-R and top-bottom). 

Focus on alphabet: sample schedule and activities

  • Fails to meet benchmark on an Oral Reading Fluency task
  • Performs at or below a 1st grade level on timed graded word lists 
  • Student is learning  to read and spell words with initial/final consonants, short vowels, digraphs /blends in closed syllables (CVC,  CCVC,  CVCC).  
  • Student is learning to read and spell high-frequency words . 
  • When a student reads accurately and smoothly at or above a 1st grade level
  • When a student masters most or all of the phonics features for the closed syllable
  • When a student no longer needs to focus on decoding each word and has developed a sight word vocabulary  
  • Focus is on teaching decoding and word level skills: phonemic awareness , explicit phonics, and developing a sight word vocabulary.  
  • Use  rereading  to foster accurate and automatic word identification. Students may reread books 3-5x before retiring texts. Provide text-only versions of texts to remove picture supports and support decoding once a text is familiar/fluent.  
  • Teacher-directed reading — use decodable  texts to apply phonics skills previously taught. Focus on  accurate  word recognition.      

Focus on decoding: sample schedule and activities

  • Student reads  between a 1st and 3rd grade instructional level     
  • Student reads  accurately  but  too slowly  for age norms 
  • Student is learning  to read and spell words with common and less frequent vowel patterns (VCe,  Vowel teams, R-controlled, etc.) in the stressed syllable and can read many multisyllabic words .       
  • Students who read at or beyond a 4th grade level with accurate, quick, and smooth/expressive reading can move to the next plan.   
  • Note:  Students who read above 3rd grade but whose decoding skills are lagging may need to stay on this plan longer, especially if they read at/below 100wpm.   
  • Focus of effort is on developing  fluency : accuracy , reading rate , expression, phrasing, and building stamina to read longer, more complex texts.
  • Focus of effort is on supporting reading comprehension with teacher guidance.   

Focus on fluency: sample schedule and activities

  • Student reads  at 4th grade level or beyond 
  • Student reads  accurately  and  smoothly  for age norms (120wpm+)
  • Student reads and spells multisyllabic words and learns common syllable patterns, inflected endings, and derived spellings. Morphology is a large focus of their spelling/ vocabulary instruction.
  • N ote:  Does a student have a reading comprehension problem? If a student with poor comprehension is on this plan, then it may be due to insufficient prior knowledge , weak vocabulary, or other unknown language/linguistic causes. Be sure that word reading accuracy and reading rate ( decoding and fluency ) were ruled out as potential sources of the problem first!   
  • Focus instruction mostly on promoting reading comprehension, building vocabulary, and developing written response to texts.       
  • Encourage  a close reading of the text.
  • Comprehension strategies are reviewed, but the focus of reading is on building content knowledge about the topic. 

Focus on comprehension: sample schedule and activities

See K-5 Whole-Group Literacy Instruction

Intensive Interventions for Students Struggling in Reading and Mathematics

Guides and Toolkits

Intensive Interventions for Students Struggling in Reading and Mathematics

Using Instructional Routines to Differentiate Instruction: A Guide for Teachers

Using Instructional Routines to Differentiate Instruction: A Guide for Teachers

16 Elements of Explicit Instruction

Curriculum and Instruction

16 Elements of Explicit Instruction

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Right to Read

Differentiation Done Right: How “Walk to Read” Works

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To Group or Not to Group — That Is the Question

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Avoid Making This Mistake for More Effective Small Group Instruction

Guided Reading Lesson Plans Template 6

For years, I was making a HUGE mistake with my small group instruction without even realizing it! Read on to find out what I was doing wrong and the minor change in my mindset that lead to more effective small group instruction for students.

If you’re new to small group instruction, you may want to start by reading my Getting Started Guide for small group instruction ! Or you may also want to check out the following posts in the series about Reading Small Groups:

  • Informal Assessments for Small Groups
  • Essential Tools for Small Groups

This post includes affiliate links for which I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

What Mistake Did I Make?

The way I use to plan my guided reading may be similar to how you currently plan for your groups. I always started by picking a book that was at students’ reading level. I completed my lesson plan template based on what they needed to know and do to demonstrate comprehension for that specific book. This included listing the vocabulary words students needed to know, writing comprehension questions about the story, and selecting sight words and phonics skills from the text.

So you may be asking yourself, “what is so wrong about that?” I began to realize that I was teaching students how to comprehend a specific book. Students could read and comprehend that text but it wasn’t transferring to other books. Each book was being taught in isolation. I was teaching students how to read a specific book instead of how to be a reader.

How Did I Fix It?

I spent a lot of time reflecting on what my ultimate goal is for my guided reading instruction. This helped me completely change my mindset and how I approach small group planning. Instead of starting with the book, I first think about what skill or strategy I want to teach.

My ultimate goal became to teach students a strategy or skill that they can apply to ANY text. I added the phrase “Good Readers Can…” to my lesson plans as a way to maintain my focus for the lesson. What do I want students to be able to do as a reader that would work for any book? Download the small group lesson plan templates I use or get free sample templates below!

Find out the huge mistake I was making and the minor change in my mindset that lead to more effective small group instruction for students.

Examples of Good Reader Statements

These statements can focus on strategies for any component of literacy instruction: decoding, vocabulary, fluency, or comprehension. Try to write the statements in student-friendly terms so they can easily understand and remember the strategy.

Good Readers Can …

  • Ask questions as they read.
  • Stop and jot notes to remember what they read.
  • Read with expression to show the character’s feelings.
  • Flip the vowel sound in an unknown word.
  • Use clues in the text to determine the meaning of a word.

If you’re looking for more ideas for specific strategies, you can download the freebie at the end of this post! You may also want to check out these phenomenal resources!

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How Do My Small Groups Look Now?

During my small group lessons, I model the strategy for students using a think aloud. They’re then provided with time to practice the strategy with my support. I end the lesson by restating the strategy or skill that we had been practicing.

Before students leave my room, we do a brief exit ticket. Usually, this is just a quick verbal response. I will ask them to explain the strategy we practiced. (I don’t have them just name it because that doesn’t help them internalize the strategy or take ownership of it). Other times I may ask them if they found the strategy helpful and why or why not. Doing so helps students begin to understand and take ownership of the strategy at a deeper level. They also begin to realize how it benefits them as a reader. Once they see how a strategy helps them, they start implementing it during other books we read together or while reading independently.

I have been thrilled by what a tremendous impact this change in mindset has made with my students. They have become much more confident and active readers. As a reading specialist, I work with reluctant readers who typically try to avoid reading. But now they are so engaged and LOVE to read. They’re empowered because they have strategies and now know how to feels to be a READER!

Find out the huge mistake I was making and the minor change in my mindset that lead to more effective small group instruction for students.

What Can You Do for More Effective Small Group Instruction?

Begin using the phrase “Good readers can…” when planning your instruction to ensure that you have a clear focus and a specific strategy in mind. This should be a skill or strategy that is not just focused on a certain book but can be applied to any text. Making this simple adjustment to your lesson planning will lead to more effective small group instruction. Sign up below to receive FREE lesson plan templates to help you get started!

This mindset does not just apply to small group instruction. Teachers should also be thinking this way when planning their mini-lessons. It can also be applied during writing workshop using the phrase “Good writers can…”


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How to Teach Small Groups: 6 Steps For Reading Success

How to teach small groups?

That was a phrase I googled A LOT my first year of teaching.

Small group instruction is such an important part of your reading block. It is a chance for you to provide targeted and differentiated instruction that will help each of your students grow as readers.

It’s also a great chance to connect with students on a more personal level. During your small group lessons, you can get to know your students as readers. You can find out their reading preferences, their strengths, and their challenges.

But most teachers don’t feel confident with how to teach small groups in their own classroom… I know I wasn’t super confident when I first started.

Getting started with small group instruction can feel overwhelming at times. If you are looking for ways to improve the effectiveness of your small group reading instruction, keep reading. I’ve got six steps you can take that will help you learn how to teach small groups and experience success at your small group reading table.

Wondering how to teach small groups? Start with these six steps!

How to teach small groups? start with engaging activities like this poem of the week resource.

Step #1: Plan meaningful and engaging activities for the rest of your students to work on while you pull a small group.

If you’ve been wondering how to teach small groups, before you can refine what happens at your small group table, you need to make sure that the rest of your class is engaged.

In order to have effective small group reading instruction, you need to make sure that you have enough uninterrupted time to actually teach your small group. This means that the rest of your students need to be engaged in a meaningful reading or writing task while you pull your small group.

If your students are not independent for 15-20 minutes, this is the first thing you need to address before trying to teach anything at your small group table.

Here are a few ideas of reading and writing tasks your students could engage in while you pull small groups:

  • Independent Reading
  • Literacy Centers or Workstations
  • Literacy Routines like Poem of the Week or Root of the Week

In order to make sure that your students are truly independent, spend some time helping students build their independent reading stamina, review expectations for this portion of your reading block, and practice. 

Make sure that your students can be engaged in something meaningful for 15-20 min so you have time to focus on the small group at your table.  

Now that you have the rest of your class engaged, let’s talk about how to teach small groups at your reading table.

Step #2: Plan your small group lesson around a reading objective that will benefit the students in that group.

Your small group reading instruction will only work if it is providing the students in that group with guidance and support in the specific reading area that they need.

It’s important to remember that not every student has the same reading roadblock or challenge and in order for you to be able to help all of your students grow, you need to make sure you are correctly identifying the individual needs of each student.

For example, if you have a student who struggles with accuracy and fluency, then providing more support in comprehension during your small group lesson isn’t going to be as beneficial as providing a guided phonics lesson to help them improve their accuracy.

More than likely, each of your small groups will have a different need or focus area and it’s important that you can pinpoint and identify exactly what each small group needs.

In upper elementary, you might need to focus on the following in some of your small groups:

  • Comprehension skills or strategies
  • Identifying and understanding different text structures
  • Reading and breaking down multi-syllabic words
  • Identifying and understanding affixes and roots
  • Writing about reading
  • Annotating a text

small group lesson plans

Step #3: Find materials that support your specific lesson objective.

Once you know the objective and focus area for your small group lesson, you want to make sure you are finding materials that will support the objectives for each small group lesson.

Your small group lesson will only be as effective as the materials you provide for your students.

Even if you KNOW the exact objective your students need to work on, if you don’t have materials to support that objective, your students won’t be able to grow in that area.

For example, if you are teaching a small group lesson on the suffix -ed and the three different sounds it makes /id/ /d/ /t/, you need to make sure that your students have a text that actually has all three sounds in it. Your lesson won’t really be meaningful for your students if the text and materials you provide don’t connect to your objective.

Planning and finding materials to support your small group lesson is essential to the success of your small group lesson.

Knowing how important the right materials are to small group success is one of the reasons why we created our small group strategy lesson plans … we wanted to make it so much easier for teachers to find materials that matched up with the objective they were trying to teach.

Step #4: Structure your small group lessons to give students time to practice or engage with the objective.

It can be really tempting to TEACH for the entire 15-20 minutes of your small group lesson. But it’s important to remember that the only way our students will grow as readers is if they actually get time to practice whatever your lesson objective is.

During your small group lesson they need to be able to practice reading, or sorting, or blending, or writing, or discussing, or whatever your objective is.

Students need to have time to engage with the text during their small group lesson.

This means you need to limit your teacher talk and structure your small group lesson in a way that gives students enough time to practice.

A really easy way to structure your small group lesson is with the 4T model.

  • TARGET – 1 min: Tell your students what the target is for the lesson (tell them the focus objective).
  • TEACH – 2-3 min: Spending just a few minutes to review or remind students of the steps, questions, rules, or processes for the focus objective. Most of the time your small group lesson will be reteaching something so you shouldn’t need a ton of time to review it. I suggest using an anchor chart, strategy card, or some other visual tool to help this portion of your lesson go quickly.
  • TACKLE – 8-10 min: Students will get to practice whatever the focus skill is. Maybe they are reading. Maybe they are writing. Maybe they are manipulating words. Maybe they are discussing. But students should get the majority of your small group lesson to do some sort of work.
  • TRANSFER – 1-3 min: This is where you wrap up your lesson and help students make the transfer to their independent reading. Remind them how they can apply the same objective anytime they are reading independently.

If this small group structure sounds like something that would be helpful for you, be sure to grab my free small group teacher planning guide.

Get started with the 4T model!

Small Group Teacher Planning Guide

Learn how to use the 4T model to set up and structure your small group lessons. In this freebie you also get a sample lesson plan using the 4T model, a blank lesson plan template, and sentence starters to help guide your lesson.

small group lesson plans

Step #5: Consider how you can make your small group time more fun.

It is so important that we are constantly thinking about how we can make reading more fun and enjoyable for our students. This means we need to consider how we can make our small group lessons more fun as well.

There are a ton of ways you can make your small group lessons fun. And most of the time it just takes the addition of a few extra materials or routines to do so.

Here are some simple ideas:

  • Give students fun highlighters to use during your small group lesson.
  • Give students special post-it notes.
  • Let students use special reading glasses or pointers to read (yes, this works in upper elementary).
  • Play special music during your small group lessons or transition time.
  • Turn on a fun lamp or display a fireplace on your smartboard

You could even do something as simple as starting each small group lesson with a joke or a riddle. It doesn’t need to take long, and it doesn’t even need to be connected to reading. Just some rituals that your students look forward to.

Step #6: Assess to see if your small group instruction is working.

Often times when we think about how to teach small groups, we forget about what happens after we teach the lesson… assessment.

This is one of the most important parts of providing effective small group reading instruction but is often forgotten. If you are going to take the time to plan and teach a small group lesson, you also want to make sure that it is working and your students are making progress in the area you are supporting them in during small group.

There are several ways you can assess your students during a small group lesson:

  • Look for evidence of growth on weekly assessments
  • Provide an exit ticket or quick check after 2-3 small group lessons on the same objective
  • See if the student is making growth on their homework or independent practice
  • Notice if the student participates more in small group or whole group discussions
  • Check-in with the student during a reading conference to see if they are making progress

Ultimately, you want to find evidence that tells you your small group instruction is working.

small group lesson plans

Ok, let me recap real quick. 

If you did a Google search for “how to teach small groups” and it brought you to this post, I hope you are feeling a lot more confident in your ability to teach a small group reading lesson.

Here are six steps you can take to maximize the effectiveness of your small group reading instruction: 

  • Make sure the rest of your students have something meaningful and engaging to work on.
  • Plan your lessons around a reading objective that will benefit the students in that group. 
  • Find materials that support your specific lesson objective.
  • Structure your small group lesson time so students are engaged in practice… limit teacher talk. 
  • Consider how you can make your small group time more fun. 
  • Don’t forget to reflect and assess the effectiveness of your small group lessons. 

Now you know how to teach small groups in your own classroom. If you would like help using the 4T model during your small group lessons, be sure to grab my FREE Small Group Teacher Guide below!

Happy Teaching!

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How to Structure the Small Group Reading Lesson

During my reading centers, my students would see me at the teacher table for their small group instruction time, aka Guided Reading Groups. This was the MOST important center because I was able to differentiate it for each group. Here's how I would structure the small group reading lesson during our center rotations.

How to structure your small group reading lesson

Here's how a typical small group lesson (about 15 minutes) would go:

  • 2 minutes: Early Start Activity : Students would sit down at the small group table and do their “early start” activity (usually a roll and read page or sight word flashcards). During their “early start” activity, I would do a quick lap around the room to make sure all students were starting their centers.
  • 2 minutes: Lesson Warm-Up:  We would warm up by working on sight word flashcards, doing a roll and read, answering a question, or naming words that went with a specific phonics skill. This got their juices flowing and settled into our small group time. I would also take this time to quickly review from our  Phonics Whole Group Lesson.
  • 10 minutes: Small Group Lesson:  Here's where you actually teach the lesson! Each day, I focused on a different subject and I differentiated the lesson for each group.
  • 1 Minute: Closing:  I liked to end our small group time with a quick review of what we learned for the time. I would ask each student a different question, and they would get a sticker, ticket, skittle, for answering the question and being a great listener at this center. Once the timer went off, we would clean up any materials we used and set up for the next group.

Rather than just focus on reading comprehension during this time, I liked to work on a different ELA skill each day. This allowed me the chance to work on  all ELA  skills to make sure that my students were understanding what they were learning in whole group instruction. Being able to work on all ELA skills was the best way I could differentiate each subject and skill for my students while keeping the whole group lesson simple.

Here's how my instruction for the week went:

  • Monday: Sight Words/Fluency – My students and I would go over the new sight words of the week, as well as practice their own individual sight words. We would play sight word games, practice spelling on whiteboards, using them in sentences, matching games, or  roll and read fluency pages .
  • Tuesday: Reading Comprehension – For reading comprehension, we were required to use the student's weekly readers that came with our boxed curriculum. My students would do a quick book walk through. This is where they would identify what they thought the story would be about or characters they saw. They would find the highlighted sight word, we would practice spelling it, saying it, clapping out how many syllables, etc. Then they would take turns reading a sentence each. I taught them how to follow along using their finger. When they saw a period, it was time for them to stop and the next student was up. We would get through the story once, then I would ask simple comprehension questions, like “What is the setting?” “Who is the main character?”
  • Wednesday: Reading Comprehension – On Day 2 of Reading Comprehension, we would reread the story of the week. Then, they would answer the main questions at the back of the book. I would either call on one at a time to answer or they would write it on their whiteboard. If my students finished the story on the first day of reading comprehension, we would do a Phonics Reading Passage from A Teachable Teacher .
  • Thursday: Writing- Weekly Journal Writing – This was the time I would work on specific writing skills with each group. Some groups would need to work on handwriting. Others may be writing their sight words in a sentence, or practicing spelling phonetically. This changed from week to week and was almost always different depending on the group. Your main goal is to get them writing! You will be right there to help them along (and remind them to take their time and use the lines!). Usually this was their BEST writing of the week, because I was guiding them the whole way.
  • Friday: Phonics Interactive Notebook – My students would complete a page in their  phonics interactive notebook  based on the skill of the week. I used Friday as a catch up day. I would assess students, work with students one on one on certain skills, monitor centers management if needed, etc. It was helpful to have a day where I could go where I felt I was needed.

Want to learn more about my reading centers?

Find more center ideas and how I plan and schedule the rest of my reading centers block here.

Roll and Read Templates for Small Group

You can try out a  Roll and Read with CVCe Words for FREE here!  It can be used as an Early Start activity or as a reading center by itself! Or grab these  Roll and Read Editable Templates  to create your own!

I hope this helped you get some ideas on how to structure and plan your small group reading lesson. It is a short, but very important part of your day!

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8 New Small Group Reading Activities for Your Classroom

August 26, 2022 | eSpark Contributor

Teacher Resources | Best Practices , Reading

Two students writing in a book together while working on small group reading activities.

Are your breakouts getting stale? Do you feel like you cycle through the same small group reading activities to the point where both you and your students are bored? It’s the start of a new year and that means new activities and exciting lesson plan opportunities. You can refresh your reading small groups to keep young learners engaged in the material. 

Here are a few of our favorite reading comprehension lesson plans, games, and celebrations so your students can grow their critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills. 

1. Create a Reading Comprehension Volcano

Reading a book is like unwrapping a present, the more you pull away ribbons and tissue paper, the better you can see the items inside. When your students first approach a story, they can guess what it is about (like shaking a present and lifting it up to see how heavy it is) but they will only develop a clearer understanding of the plot as they dive deeper into each paragraph or chapter. 

Consider creating a comprehension volcano with each piece you read. The volcano has four parts:

  • The Base: ask students what you think the story will be about. What will happen? What characters might play a role? There are no wrong answers here. 
  • The Middle: check-in halfway through the story. What is the book about? How will it end? What predictions were right?
  • The Peak: review how the story ended and the overall plot. What did students think about the story? What could have happened differently? 
  • The Explosion: How can you apply the story to real life? What connections can you make to this story and others you have read? What do you want to learn next? 

This activity teaches students to use contact clues before reading and to stop at different points to confirm their understanding and review the material.   

2. Use Retelling Gloves

Retelling gloves can be used for fiction and nonfiction passages. Each finger has an element to the story (characters, setting, conflict, plot, etc.) and the palm and wrist also have open-ended questions for reflection. Ask students to put on the retelling glove and work through the ideas from the passage they read on each finger . This can help them think about each element and share their thoughts. 

Check out the gloves by One Giggle At A Time to see an example of what they look like.  

3. Flashlight Fridays

You might be surprised by how a small change in atmosphere can engage kids in reading groups. Turn off the lights on Friday afternoons and let students read by flashlight. They can even read on the floor with blankets and pillows if you have them. Turning off the lights can eliminate distractions and ensure each student is focused on the reading material. 

For alternative options to Flashlight Friday , you can bring students to read outside on nice days or set up “read-ins” where students take over a different space each month (the principal’s office, the art room, another classroom) and read for 20 minutes without disruption. 

4. Ask Small Groups to Create Retelling Bags

Retelling bags are a popular project for teachers, but you can modify these lesson plans for your new reading small groups. Students can work together to create a retelling bag, with each reader taking on different elements of the story. If your students read through a book over multiple days, they can even contribute items from home that are relevant to the plot and characters. 

To make this project interactive, let your small groups swap bags after reading different books. Your students then become story sleuths to look at the clues in the bag and tell the story based on what items and descriptions are included. Your students might start laughing as their peers try to figure out what a banana, racecar, and a circus performer all have to do with the plot of a book.

5. Host a Character Meet and Greet 

As your students engage with different stories throughout the year, they will pick some favorite characters and some least favorite ones. Invite students to dress up as their top heroes or villains for Book Character Day . You can build activities where the characters mingle together or host a meet and greet where students in other classrooms can talk to the characters and learn their stories. 

This is a great way for your students to share the books they love with others – building a curiosity about the stories and a desire to read within their peers. 

6. Comprehension Jenga

This activity is simple. All you need to create the lesson plan is a Jenga set and a marker. On each block, write an element of the story or a question to gauge the comprehension of your students. Set a timer for your reading small groups to review a passage or chapter and then let them play Jenga. Each student pulls out a block and answers a question on it until the whole stack falls. This is a good way to reward students for reading while ensuring they actually focused on the material. 

7. Build Real-Life Connections

There are multiple reasons to form real-life connections with small group reading activities. The first reason is that it increases their interest in the story. Why should your students care about a character living through the Revolutionary War? Connections to real-life experiences make these characters real. Building real-life bonds in your reading small groups also helps with memory. Students are more likely to retain key information about the stories they engage with. 

Consider building these connections through discussions in your small groups. Ask students to stop every few pages or paragraphs to build connections in real life. For example, if there is a character in the story named Matt, is he similar at all to a student named Matt in your classroom? Why or why not? 

8. Tap Into Mirrors and Windows

One way to build real-life connections with students is to use Mirrors and Windows. A mirror is something students see themselves in . It is physical, cultural, social, or emotional representation. A window is a peek into another life or lived experience. Almost every character has mirrors and windows for your students. 

For example, give the students in your reading small groups a book about a child in Belize attending their first day of school. Some of the mirrors that students see might include nerves on the first day and excitement about meeting new friends. However, there might be elements of the story that students have never experienced because they are unique to Belize. These are windows. 

Utilize Different Small Group Reading Activities Each Week

Some students will connect with different projects and small group reading activities more than others. One student might love using retelling gloves while another enjoys playing Jenga. By switching out your lesson plans and bringing in new activities, you can keep your reading small groups fresh. Your students will want to read the material so they can participate in the activities that go with it.

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The 90 Min Literacy Block: Small Group Instruction

small group lesson plans

This is the second post in a blog series on the SoR 90-Minute Literacy Block and it focuses on small group instruction. In it, I discuss why small group instruction is important and explain how t o group your students for small group instruction. I identify literacy skills to teach in small group and offer a list of science of reading-aligned resources designed for small group instruction.  Finally, I leave you with a FREE, downloadable small group lesson planning template for kindergarten, first or second grade.

In my last post, I outlined a suggested schedule for your 90-minute science of reading-aligned literacy block.   Today I am excited to focus on just one part of the block, your small group instruction . 

Small group instruction is one of the key ways we can support our students and help increase achievement, but it isn’t always easy to pull off. It requires careful lesson planning, regular shuffling of student grouping, and strong management.  

small group lesson plans

Today I’m excited to provide you with information and resources that will help you successfully implement small groups in your classroom.  I’ll first share why small group instruction is important and explain how to group your students.  I’ll then identify specific skills that you should teach in small group and offer a list of science of reading-aligned resources designed for small group instruction.  Finally, I’ll leave you with a FREE, downloadable small group lesson plan template to help you get your groups up and running! 

Why is Small Group Instruction Important? 

Research has found that small group instruction has a significant impact on student learning.  Small groups allow you to provide explicit, targeted instruction to students based on their identified needs. It is an opportunity for students to receive the additional teaching and practice that is often needed for them to master the skills we teach.  

small group lesson plans

Additionally, small group instruction allows a teacher to monitor student actions more closely and to provide frequent and individualized feedback.  Correct responses receive immediate and specific reinforcement, while incorrect responses should be met with immediate corrective feedback.

Teaching in small groups allows you to perform informal assessments and collect data that helps drive your instruction. Watch closely as your students attempt a task to get a clear sense of their understandings and misconceptions.  

Finally, students love their time in small groups.  Of course, they love having your full attention. The immediate feedback you provide helps to build a connection and can boost students’ confidence.  

How to Group Students for Small Group Instruction

Many teachers are unsure of how to group their students since we have begun to move away from leveled readers.  The science of reading tells us that small groups should be grouped and regrouped by a shared skill deficit . 

small group lesson plans

To properly group your students, you need a strong assessment system.  You need data from a universal screener to identify students who might be at risk of difficulties in learning. This will give you a general sense of how to group students.  Diagnostic assessments are then used to confirm the initial screening results.  They help you to refine your groupings by determining a student’s specific difficulties.  Finally, weekly progress monitoring and observation will help you adjust your groups.  They are flexible.  As needs change, groups change.    

If you are looking for a free universal screener, I recommend David Kilpartirck’s, Phonological Awareness Screening Test (PAST) .  You can read more about it in chapter 11 of his book, Equipped for Reading Success . 

To assess students’ phonics skills, I recommend using the CORE Phonics Survey. It assesses a variety of phonics skills that have a high rate of application in beginning reading. You can download a free CORE Phonics Survey here .

Lastly, Acadience Reading (formerly DIBELS Next®) is a great free tool that assesses essential early literacy and reading skills for students from kindergarten through sixth grade. You can use this assessment to identify students who may be at risk, identify areas to target in your small group instruction, and monitor students over time. You can download the assessment for free here .

Skills to Teach in Small Groups

In a small group, you provide students with targeted remediation and review that they need to master the skill you have identified as their need. Skills you will work on in small groups include: 

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Comprehension

Science of Reading-Aligned Activities for Small Group Instruction

The following resources are designed to be used in small groups.  They are engaging, LOW-PREP activities that target the skills you will teach in small groups AND they are aligned to the science of reading. 

Phonemic Awareness Lesson Plans for Kindergarten and 1st Grade

My Science of Reading-aligned Phonemic Lesson Plans for Kindergarten and First Grade students have EVERYTHING you need to bring effective phonemic awareness instruction to your small groups!  

The resource includes:

💕 Phonemic Awareness Lesson Plans Aligned to a Scope and Sequence

With this resource, you’ll get lesson plans laid out in a weekly format.

Each daily lesson plan includes a warm-up for the target skill and three activities. 

  • Phoneme Segmenting : students practice breaking apart each word and identifying each phoneme
  • Phoneme Blending : students hear a sequence of phonemes and put them together to identify the word
  • Connecting Graphemes to Phonemes : students practice connecting the phonemes in a spoken word to the letters (graphemes) that represent those sounds.

small group lesson plans

💕 Picture Word Mats

The picture word mats provide a visual representation of the words in the Connecting Phonemes to Graphemes section.  This support helps students to build meaning of the words .

💕 Screener Assessments

You’ll get a two-part screener for each unit that will identify whether each student can segment and blend phonemes, as well as a spelling inventory assessment that would be given whole-group.

small group lesson plans

💕 Class Data Tracker and MORE!!

You can read more about the importance of phonemic awareness and download a free sample of this resource here .

Word Mapping – Connecting Phonemes to Graphemes

Word mapping is a physical way to represent the relationship between the phonemes and graphemes.  It allows students to physically connect or match the letters with the sounds they represent. Ultimately, it helps build word recognition and decoding skills that improve fluency in both reading and writing . Students find word mapping activities ​​highly engaging because they have both visual and kinesthetic aspects.

small group lesson plans

Phonics Word Building Activities

These science of reading-aligned word-building activities give students explicit and systematic phonics skills practice.  There are two types of word building activities, each with their own instructional purpose.  

small group lesson plans

  • Word Building: Blending Focus   In this type of word building students are asked to make a word, such as cat .  Then they would be asked to change the letter c to s and read the new word formed.  The goal here is for them to blend, or sound out the new word. You can include many words with the new target phonics skill and also include previously taught skills. 
  • Word Building:  Word Awareness Focus  Here, students are asked to make a word such as cat, and then told to change it to hat.   This requires a lot more thinking than blending-focused work.   Students have to think about how the two words are different and which sound must be changed in order to form the new one.  

Phonics Word Sorts

Word sorts require students to think about how words work by drawing their attention to common spelling patterns.  Students receive a set of words that all have something in common. They must identify the feature and sort them accordingly.

Research on information-processing tells us that students need to spend time elaborating and summarizing their new learning in order to store it in their long-term memory. For this reason, the “what did you notice” section of this activity is key, as is the discussion that may take place after the word sort. Both help students to verbalize the new learning that applies to spelling.

small group lesson plans

Heart Words: Teaching High-Frequency Words

The science of reading tells us that the Heart Word method is an effective way to teach students high-frequency words. Using orthographic mapping strategies, the heart word method teaches students to sound out the parts of irregular words that do follow phonics rules. Students then only need to learn a small portion of the word that is the “tricky part” by heart. This resource is science-based and includes everything you need to successfully teach your students how to use the heart word method to become successful readers.

small group lesson plans

Decodable Passages or Decodable Books with Comprehension Questions

The science of reading shows us that the connection between what our students learn in phonics and what they read is imperative for building a strong foundation in early reading.  The text in these decodable books and decodable passages resources are a phonics-based controlled text that contain target phonics skill words, previously taught phonics skill words and irregular high-frequency words.  The comprehension questions help to bring discussion about text and writing into your small group instruction.  The resources also include activities for before, after and during reading.

small group lesson plans

While these two separate resources do follow the same research-based scope and sequence, they do not include the same texts. The passages and stories are different, giving you more options for your instruction.

small group lesson plans

“What are the other kids doing while I work with my small group?” 

This is is a question that gets asked frequently!  The answer is they are engaging in intentional literacy center activities that reinforce skills you have already taught .  These activities are not new learning, they are not skills the students are still acquiring.  They are skills that you have seen them perform successfully and accurately when they are with you.  This ensures they can work independently and you can focus your attention on your small group. 

Now you may be wondering…if they can already perform the skills successfully, then why do they need more practice?  The truth is, we often underestimate the amount of practice and repetition it takes for students to master the skills we teach .  According to Wiley Blevins, in order for a skill to stick, it must be purposefully and systematically reviewed for 4-6 weeks.  Literacy centers offer students the practice and review they need for mastery.   

small group lesson plans

Keep in mind, that literacy centers and rotations are not something you just hop right into.  They involve routines and expectations that must be explicitly taught and practiced.  Take a look at this blog post for tips on how to introduce your literacy centers and build independence. 

I know I have shared a lot of information today!  To help you make sense of it all, I am happy to share a FREE downloadable planning template for small group instruction. 

small group lesson plans

Drop your email below to instantly download these editable small-group planning templates

I hope the information and resources I’ve shared here today will help you plan and implement effective small group instruction in your classroom. Be on the lookout for the next posts in this series on the SoR 90 Minute Literacy Block where I’ll focus on whole group word recognition instruction and whole group language comprehension instruction.

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Kindergarten & 1st Grade Phonemic Awareness Yearlong Curriculum – BUNDLE

– PIN for LATER –

small group lesson plans

Such GREAT information!

Thank you for the great ideas and resources!

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Small group template

Just learning small group science of reading structures.

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Looking for Small group planning sheet

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Hi Kristin,

I’m sorry, the form became unlinked in the post. Enter your email here and I’ll send it right over! 🙂 -Christina

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This will be so helpful to plan small groups!

I am also looking for the small group planning template! How could we download this?

Hi Karlie, I’m sorry, the form became unlinked in the post. Enter your email here and I’ll send it right over! 🙂 -Christina

Thank you so much!

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I am wondering if you sell the long vowel spellings card that is on the easel in the pictures of you in small group above? It is the long a card with a sailboat. I didn’t see them in your shop, but ay have missed them. I am looking for a set like that. Thank you.

Hi Christine,

These are part of my sound wall bundle. I just printed an extra set of cards for small group! Find it here! Thank you, -Christina 💕

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I teach second grade and wonder if you have all of this for second or can recommend someone who does!

Hi Jamie, This would all work for 2nd grade. I have lots of resources specifically for 2nd. Let me know if you have any questions and I am happy to help! 🙂 -Christina

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Do you meet with all 6 groups each day? in the 50 minute block?

I meet with 3 groups a day during small groups! This blog post series may be helpful to you! 🙂 -Christina

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Wow!! You nailed it! Such great information presented very clearly and succinctly. Thank you. This will definitely keep me focused and intentional during my small group time.

I’m so glad to hear this post has been helpful.I hope you’ll stay connected with this community. I’ve got a (fun) free training planned for next week, sign up here if you’d like to join us!

🙂 -Christina

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would like a planning template, please

Enter your email and I’ll send it right over! 🙂 -Christina

' src=

need help with intervention group planning. Thanks for this resource

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A Lesson Plan for Teachers

Small group lessons: 8 best practices for the classroom teacher.

As teachers, we often find ourselves faced with classrooms full of students with a range of abilities, interests, and learning styles. While whole-class instruction can be effective in certain situations, small group lessons can provide more targeted and personalized learning experiences for our students. Let’s explore some best practices for facilitating small group lessons in the secondary level classroom.

Learn the 8 best practices for using small group lessons in your classroom.

Planning for Small Group Lessons

  • Plan ahead: Before beginning small group lessons, it’s important to plan ahead. Consider the learning objectives for each group, what materials will be needed, and how much time each group will need to complete the lesson. As with any lesson, It may be helpful to create a schedule or chart to keep track of which students will be in each group and when.
  • Create flexible groups: Group-based activities should be flexible to meet the needs of individual students. Create groups based on skill level, interest, or learning style. Adjust the groupings as needed.
  • Set clear expectations: Before beginning any lessons, it’s important to set clear expectations for behavior and participation. Make sure students understand what is expected of them during the lesson, and reinforce positive behaviors when they occur.

Tools for Small Group Lessons

  • Utilize technology: Technology can be a great tool for facilitating small group lessons. Consider using online resources or educational apps to provide individualized instruction for each group.
  • Incorporate hands-on activities: Hands-on activities can help students stay engaged and retain information. Consider incorporating images to annotate , scavenger hunts , or other interactive activities into small group lessons.

Facilitating the Lessons

  • Monitor progress: As students work in small groups, it’s important to monitor their progress and provide feedback. Check in with each group periodically to make sure they understand the material and are making progress towards their learning objectives.
  • Encourage collaboration: Collaborative lessons provide an opportunity for students to work together and discuss the content they are studying. Encourage students to share ideas and help each other as they work through the lesson.
  • Reflect and adjust: After each lesson, take some time to reflect on what worked well and what could be improved. Use this feedback to adjust future activities and continue to improve the small group experience for your students.

Learn the 8 best practices for using small group lessons in your classroom.

By following these best practices, you can facilitate small group lessons that are engaging, personalized, and effective for your students. Remember to plan ahead, create flexible groups, set clear expectations, utilize technology, incorporate hands-on activities, monitor progress, encourage collaboration, and reflect and adjust. With these tools, you can create a classroom environment that supports the unique needs of each and every student.

Happy Teaching!

small group lesson plans

Volume 20 Supplement 2

Peer Teacher Training in health professional education

  • Open access
  • Published: 03 December 2020

Planning, preparing and structuring a small group teaching session

  • Christie van Diggele 1 ,
  • Annette Burgess 2 , 3 &
  • Craig Mellis 4  

BMC Medical Education volume  20 , Article number:  462 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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A structured approach is critical to the success of any small group teaching session; preparation and planning are key elements in ensuring the session is systematic and effective. Learning activities guide and engage students towards the achievement of agreed learning outcomes. This paper introduces the central concepts of planning and preparing a small group teaching session. It provides an overview of key theoretical principles in lesson planning, delivery, and how to provide effective feedback in this setting.

A small group teaching session that is well planned provides a systematic approach for both teachers and learners, whether it occurs in the university ‘classroom’, hospital or community ‘clinical setting’. Compared to didactic lectures, effective small group teaching and learning strategies increase student engagement, retention of knowledge, self-directed learning, communication skills, teamwork ability, and peer discussion [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ]. Consequently, small group teaching has become increasingly popular within medical and health professions education. This paper introduces the central concepts of planning and preparing a small group teaching session. It provides an overview of the key theoretical principles in structure, lesson planning, different formats of small group teaching, delivery and provision of effective feedback to learners.

Planning small group teaching

The planning of learning activities is an important part of course design and everyday teaching; curriculum and lesson design must be aligned in order to achieve the intended learning outcomes [ 6 , 7 ]. Specifically, there should be alignment of the curriculum, the subject, learning outcomes, learning activities, and assessment tasks [ 6 , 7 ]. Learning activities should encourage student participation and guide and engage students towards the achievement of set, agreed learning outcomes. They should also provide opportunities to: model thinking and learning strategies, practice skills, build on existing knowledge, learn from a range of sources (including peers) and gain feedback [ 7 , 8 ]. Bloom’s taxonomy (Fig.  1 ) is a useful structure for lesson design. It is used as a tool for classifying lesson objectives and contains six categories that are structured in hierarchical order progressing in complexity as it reaches the highest point [ 6 ].

figure 1

Bloom’s Taxonomy (adapted from Anderson et al., 2001 [ 6 ])

The learning cycle

The key characteristics of small group teaching are the active involvement of students in the entire learning cycle, and the interactive and social process. Within each pedagogy of small group teaching, students are encouraged to apply and transfer new knowledge through in-depth discussion, collaboration and reflection. This is referred to as “collaborative learning”, since it is centred around interactions between students, their peers and facilitators, rather than a one-way interaction, where knowledge is imparted from the teacher to the student. It is this social, interactive approach that lies at the centre of small group teaching. Planning forms a vital component of the learning cycle (Fig.  2 ) [ 8 ]. 

figure 2

Structuring a teaching session

Even though the clinical setting may be busy, it is possible to plan to teach common, recurrent topics, and follow a set structure. We propose the ‘Outcomes-Activity-Summary’ (OAS) method (Table  1 ) as a structure that can be applied for initial planning, whether in the classroom or clinical setting, when unexpected teaching and learning opportunities are more likely to be encountered. Two worked examples, where the OAS method has been applied to planning teaching sessions on ‘childhood asthma’ in the classroom setting (case-based learning) and clinical setting (bedside teaching) are provided in Table  2 .

Designing a formal lesson plan

A lesson plan acts as a map, assisting in guiding a series of activities to ensure students gain the knowledge, skills or attitudes set out within the learning objectives [ 9 ]. It also provides a record of what has been taught and assists in planning and alignment of assessment tasks. Although not all lessons can be planned, especially within the clinical setting, there are steps that can be taken to ensure a theoretical approach in lesson structure. An advantage of a lesson plan is that adjustments can be made to suit the needs of individual learners [ 9 ]. A lesson plan should identify the key aim and outcomes, content, structure and timing of activities and assessment tasks [ 7 ]. The five key steps to consider when writing a lesson plan are highlighted in Fig.  3 and described below [ 7 , 8 ].

figure 3

Five key steps to designing your lesson or module

Profile of your target audience

Consider who will be participating in the lesson. Consider their background knowledge and learning needs. Also consider the resources that are available to you and to the learners, such as suitable, available patients.

Decide on focused and achievable learning outcomes for the teaching session [ 10 ]. Be clear (in preparation and in conveying to the learners) about learning outcomes, and what can be achieved in the limited time available. Make sure what you teach is relevant to the learners and pitched at the right level, considering the background knowledge of students. Consider environmental factors for the teaching session, such as seating arrangements and suitable lighting. If a patient is involved, make sure they are suitable, able and willing to participate. Although learning outcomes need to align with the curriculum, at the level of the individual teaching session, it is important to consider individual learning needs of participants. Ensure that agreement is reached on specific learning outcomes, which may require adjustment according to these needs and the teaching context [ 10 ]. Each lesson should have 3–6 learning outcomes.

Writing learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are the descriptors or goals students should know, or be able to do, at the completion of the session [ 7 ]. These may include knowledge, skills or attitudes. Whether devised by the teacher, or set by curriculum documents, outcomes should be provided to the students prior to, or at the beginning of the session, to ensure they know your expectations. Bloom’s taxonomy can be used to select appropriate verbs for the intended learning. In order to write learning outcomes there are three items to include [ 6 ]:

a verb pitched at the appropriate stage of understanding or skill level,

the content the verb is intended to address,

the context in which the verb is to be deployed.

For example: A simple knowledge recall objective- Explain the importance of setting learning objectives. An objective that requires higher order thinking- Evaluate the importance of learning objectives.

This involves interaction between the teacher and learner/s. While the adult attention span is short (averaging at 10 to 20 min), active learning styles can significantly increase both attention span and knowledge recall in learners [ 6 , 7 , 8 ]. Ensure that you deliver the dialogue in a way that is brief, succinct, and relevant – that is, engaging. Address students by their names, ask questions to keep them actively involved, and to check their understanding. Consider including learning activities that vary and use students’ higher order thinking skills. With the current trend towards online learning, Learning Management Systems (LMS) can incorporate different types of content, including simulations, polls, quizzes, scenarios, animations, customised audio, interactive images, branching scenarios, videos, images, slides, and PDFs. Prepare the learning materials, organise the small groups, provide a clear explanation of the learning activities, and timing guidelines.

Formative assessment provides a key driving force for learning [ 8 ]. It reinforces the information and skills learnt, and feedback should provide the learner with information on areas that may need improvement. In order for the assessment activity to be worthwhile learners need clear outcomes, an indication of their performance against these outcomes, and guidance on how to improve. Use effective questioning and assessment to keep learners actively involved throughout the lesson. Types of questions range from low level closed questions, to high order questions that go beyond simple recall, and engage the learner in problem-solving and critical thinking [ 11 ]. Through formative assessment tasks with feedback, learners can check their understanding, identify and address gaps in their knowledge. The learner’s interpretation of the feedback will direct and encourage self-regulated learning, where students monitor their own learning goals, and the strategies they use to achieve these goals [ 12 ].

Briefly summarise what has been covered in the session, and make links to previous learning. If you haven’t already, provide some feedback to students on their learning and any tasks that were done during the session. Ask students to identify the most important point/s, knowledge or skill/s that they have learnt during the session. Ensure you give two or three brief take-home messages, and advice on a self-directed learning task (i.e. an ‘educational prescription’). Make sure you finish on time.

Types of small group teaching

The format of small group teaching activities required to develop the learners’ knowledge, skills and values needs to be considered in curriculum planning and teaching. A range of small group teaching methods have been developed, adopted and adapted within university medicine and health education curricula, according to available resources and student needs. Additionally, many online configurations of small group activities are emerging, particularly with the introduction of social distancing.

Popular methods for small group teaching in the university classroom setting are problem-based learning (PBL), case-based learning (CBL) and team-based learning (TBL), all providing learner-centred instructional approaches [ 2 , 3 , 4 , 13 ]. Common to all three pedagogies, active learning with peer learning and discussion in small groups is based around a relevant, authentic clinical patient case; existing knowledge is activated; and new knowledge is applied to solve clinical problems [ 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 13 ]. As outlined in Table  3 , there are also some differences between these pedagogies.

While patient case discussions are common in healthcare education, other methods of engaging learners can be implemented within large class settings, to give students a small-group learning experience. Examples include [ 14 ]:

Paired discussion: one-to-one discussion on an assigned topic for 3–5 min. The teacher is able to join in on the discussion

Break out groups: the teacher poses a question and learners (in groups of 2–4) discuss responses before sharing with the whole group

Creation of posters/drawings: for example, a mechanistic flow chart to describe the pathophysiology of the disease process

Group round: generates interest in a topic with each learner having one minute to present their brief response. The order of participation can be selected at random and learners can pass their turn at least one time. For example asking for a ‘brief verbal synopsis’ of a clinical trial at a journal club, where each attempt will get progressively more succinct, clearer, and more accurate [ 14 ]

Brainstorming: can produce a large number of creative solutions in a short period of time. This method encourages learner recall of knowledge and promotes interaction

Role play: can be useful for developing communication skills e.g. interviewing. Sometimes actor patients/clients may be recruited for advanced role plays

Workshops: a mixture of individual and group activities, with brief lectures

Seminars : a report by students or a group of students, or discussion of a paper.

Small group teaching and learning formats in the hospital setting include bedside teaching, clinical tutorials, student-led tutorials [ 14 ] and SCORPIOs (Structured, Clinical, Objective References, Problem-based, Integrated and Organised) [ 15 ]. Within each of these contexts, there will clearly be differences in how small group learning is approached, even though the general principles are similar. Whether in the clinical or the university medical and health education setting, the goals of the small group teaching format are similar. Students want to be able to ask questions and ‘think things through’; check their understanding of material; work as a team and learn from each other; apply content to clinical or ‘real life’ situations; and learn to problem solve [ 16 ].

Learning environment and seating arrangements

Before the commencement of a small group teaching session, consider optimising the seating arrangement. Various seating arrangements have the potential to alter class discussion and interaction [ 9 ]. Each arrangement serves a different purpose and your selection should be based on the type of activity you are planning for your lesson. Below are a series of configurations (Fig.  4 ) depicting some common seating layouts for small group teaching sessions.

figure 4

Lecture style seating, Group discussion seating, Discussion table seating (adapted from McKimm and Morris, 2009) [ 9 ]

Lecture style seating: is a formal seating arrangement that is good for lecture style delivery, but does limit group interaction. It is clear that the facilitator leads the group with all of the chairs in rows facing the front of the room.

Group discussion seating : allows good group discussion, with the teacher forming part of the group. The teacher is seen as being equal rather than being in a leadership position. All group members have eye contact encouraging participation by all group members.

Discussion table seating: Although the table may act as a barrier for movement, this seating arrangement has the facilitator set within the group of learners. It provides space for working with papers/resources and encourages relaxed discussion between all members. However, some learners may feel less included because eye contact from the teacher may be limited with some seating arrangements.

Delivery of the small group teaching session

Small group teaching design and delivery should be based on key principles that include the introduction to the topic; ground rules; group maintenance role and tasks role; activity; briefing, debriefing; and feedback [ 9 , 13 ]. The flexible nature of small group learning means that the approaches can be tailored to meet the individual needs of students, and focus on the development of specific knowledge and skills. Effective facilitation allows students to develop not only content knowledge, but also critical thinking skills. Strategies to enhance the effectiveness of these teaching sessions include [ 16 , 17 , 18 ]:

Coherence and flow: the lesson should be linked through activities and content that relate and continue on from previously learnt content and skills

Variety : a certain degree of predictability should remain (e.g. teacher, environment), however, the lesson plan should range in activities and topics to ensure student engagement

Flexibility: an effective teacher needs to be able to think on their feet, and modify the lesson at any point to keep student interest, or follow unexpected questions.

There will always be diversity in learning preferences among students in any one group, and it is the facilitator’s role to assist all students to learn [ 7 ]. Consequently, teaching methods should be varied to cater for the different learners. Some learners will engage readily in learning activities, while others may be less motivated, and require greater guidance to form a deeper level of understanding, particularly where activities are specifically designed to use higher order thinking skills.

Feedback in the small group teaching setting

Provision of feedback helps close the gap between current and desired performance, and has the greatest impact on learning when it is immediate. Ensure that your teaching plan includes time for individual feedback to learners. Feedback can be provided by both peer learners and the facilitator. Feedback promotes learning by informing the student of their progress and the specific areas needing improvement; motivating the student to engage in relevant activities to further their learning; reinforcing good practice; and promoting self-reflection. Use of a structured method for feedback, such as Pendleton’s model [ 18 ], illustrated in Fig.  5 , offers the learner the opportunity to evaluate their own performance, and prompts immediate feedback from the observer.

figure 5

Feedback model (data from Pendleton et al., 1984) [ 18 ]

In order to optimise learning and maximise engagement, teaching activities should follow a recognisable structure and ideally, be planned. Key issues to address when preparing for a small group teaching session include: determining the learning outcomes, designing the learning activities; aligning the learning outcomes with learning activities, the curriculum, and assessment; and ensuring seating arrangements optimise engagement. Students’ learning experiences should encourage active participation, opportunities for practice, and the provision of feedback.

Take-home message

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This article has been published as part of BMC Medical Education Volume 20 Supplement 2, 2020: Peer Teacher Training in health professional education. The full contents of the supplement are available online at URL. .

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