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Small group lesson plan template.

This lesson plan template guides the teacher to document how a small group lesson plan may be executed. Lesson planning for group work is often very challenging. It is important for students to experience working in groups with peers that are within different learning ranges. This small group lesson plan template has the teacher lesson plan for group work that may take place in his or her class. This is a thorough small group lesson plan template. This small group lesson plan template may be used for a variety of grade levels.

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Planning the Small Group Reading Lesson

Teach and Guide

Dr. Deborah Glaser

This post also appears on The Reading Teacher’s Top Ten Tools Blog . It has been posted here with permission from the author.

Small Group Instruction

I just completed a review of 147 reading texts used in our colleges of education to teach teachers how to teach reading (National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ)). One troubling observation I made is the lack of guidance to help teachers and soon-to-be teachers understand how to structure small group reading instruction. To be clear, guided reading, a popular small group practice, is a prevalent practice throughout these texts, and it is perplexing that this universal custom lacks consistency. Authors of these texts present guided reading in ways that reflect their personal views of how reading should be taught, and unfortunately many of these views are not reflective of what we have learned about best practices in reading instruction, especially for our very young and struggling readers.

A New “Guided Reading”

Guided reading was originally designed to provide a comprehension focus. However, now, guided reading has become a small group catch-all wherein any reading skill, including ‘word work’ or decoding lessons are also taught.

Since the term guided reading is so universal in our schools, I propose that we redefine this small reading group practice to empower teachers to TEACH first then GUIDE our students to become proficient readers. The structures I propose incorporate the most effective overall teaching practices and those specific to reading instruction. Please download these two informative syntheses of the research on overall effective teaching practices and follow along with me on this journey as we design a small group structure that is easy to use and adapt to our students’ needs. Principles of Effective Instruction and Seven Strategies

The Small Group Structure

We will create a framework, which may be new to many of you, or remind you of lesson structures you have used in the past. A framework helps us be more efficient in our planning – we all need that! If you use a reading program, it probably provides a lesson framework for you, steps that you follow. If you do not have a program, this framework will be especially helpful for you. Either way, having a structure into which you plug your lessons parts will ensure that you teach systematically and explicitly. As you read through this framework, know that it is just that. It will be up to you to insert the content that is responsive to your students’ needs and plan your instruction for each part of the lesson in the framework.

The Small Group Lesson Framework

Our teacher lives are complex and demanding enough. Having a consistent framework helps simplify our planning, and meets a requirement of systematic instruction – a routine that fills teacher and student need for consistency. Try using this framework for planning whole group reading lessons too! You may not be teaching all of your students in small group, so use this framework to provide excellent TEACHING and GUIDING during your whole group lessons as well.

With a program, this framework will work. Insert the elements from your program, add additional practice activities.

Without a program – It will take a little extra work on your part, but you can do it! You need a skills sequence , words and reading materials that are matched to the target decoding elements. You will also need practice activities.

The STEPS Framework – Teach then Guide

Adapted from Next STEPS in Literacy Instruction, Smartt and Glaser. Brookes Publishing.

The framework works well for decoding lessons, but is adaptable to teaching other reading components as well.

S – Set up for Learning (The Warm-Up) 3-5 min

Begin your lesson with a review of a skill students have learned. This serves to prime the pump for learning something new. This step wakes up the brain for learning, motivating students through active involvement at a high rate of success.

Choose the skill you want to review and plan an active way to review it.

Warm-Up Ideas: (remember – use words and material students have learned in earlier lessons)

  • Phoneme segmentation with head-waist-toes,
  • Encoding from teacher dictation with moveable letters,
  • Quick flash & say grapheme sounds, read, spell, and use vocabulary terms
  • Students pick a word from pile, read it and turn to partner, uses it in a sentence. Repeat.
  • Reread story or sentences.

T – Teach (I Do – Teacher Voice is Dominant) 3-5 min

In this step the teacher explicitly teaches the new skill through explanation, modeling, showing and telling. Students will hear you say, “Today we will learn…” “Watch me. Listen.” “My turn.”

  • Use a white board to model decoding new grapheme,
  • Point to and teach word parts,
  • Demonstrate decoding of words
  • Present and teach the orthography and meanings of vocabulary words
  • Demonstrate a comprehension process

E – Engage (We Do – Teacher and Student voices together) 3-5 min

With your support, students engage with, and briefly practice the skill just taught to them. This gives the teacher an indication of whether the students need more instruction before the next lesson step.

  • Students practice decoding words as the teacher points to words on a white board, a pocket chart, or with moveable letters as teacher creates them.
  • The teacher provides corrective feedback and scaffolds the process, stepping back to allow students to work independently, or stepping in to reteach, as needed.

P – Practice (You Do & We Do – Student voice with Teacher voice when needed for correction, praise, reteaching) 15-20 min

In this step, students practice the concept just taught multiple times. Teacher guides students to apply what they have learned, providing more instruction, corrective feedback, and specific praise.

Ideas: Students practice their skill with –

  • Sound spelling boxes, (here is a video of a 2 nd grade teacher using this practice process)
  • Moveable letters to encode, (teacher dictates words and students tap phonemes and spell the words)
  • Games to practice reading words automatically, (only games that ensure students are reading words MULTIPLE times) Here is a resource for these activities.
  • Read decodable or other controlled text to practice the words just learned

S – Show you Know (Assess learning) Quick 3-5 min

During this closing step, students are asked to demonstrate their learning. Teachers want to know, “Did the students master this skill?” Teachers keep data on student performance to help them plan future lessons.

  • Students may read a list of the words just learned,
  • Spell dictated words or sentences,
  • Produce word meanings
  • Complete a timed progress monitoring measure.

Tips to make your small group instruction powerful!

  • Reading and spelling – decode and encode – in the same lesson
  • Engage – multiple student responses.
  • Include isolated word reading and sentence, story, reading.

Taught and guided… your small group lessons will become easier to plan and teach when you use a framework in which you TEACH and students PRACTICE ( a lot!) the skills you teach.

  • ELA / Literacy
  • Elementary School
  • Middle School

8 thoughts on “ Planning the Small Group Reading Lesson ”

This was truly helpful, especially including a video of a teacher demonstrating the spell boxes. Thank you

Extremely helpful article. I did not have access to several of the live links though.

Ah, thank you for alerting us, Annette. I’ll work with the author to get these links functioning again.

I also was not able to open any of the direct links. Nevertheless, thanks for sharing! I have been searching for something to help in planning small, guided reading groups and this is it!

great article, but would love to be able to access material in links

Thank you, I enjoyed the article. I wasn’t able to open the live links.

I need access to all the links.

Awesome Dr Glaser for empowering us. As for teach and guide, I strongly agree with you. The frame is also amazing. Thank you once more. Andries South Africa

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About the Author: Deborah Glaser has had a passion for teaching reading for a very long time. Ever since her little sister needed some help reading, she has followed her dream to teach others to read. Deborah has taught reading as an elementary teacher, special education teacher, and dyslexia specialist. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Glaser has traveled around the nation providing professional development for teachers, consulting with schools, districts, and policy groups. Her desire for every teacher to have access to the knowledge they deserve to help them teach all students how to read distinguishes her as a leader in the field. Dr. Glaser is author and co-author of the LETRS© Modules, Foundations: An Introduction to Language and Literacy (L. Moats) and ParaReading: A Training Guide for Tutors. Other publications include Reading Fluency: Understanding and Teaching this Complex Skill (with Dr. Jan Hasbrouck) and Next STEPS in Literacy Instruction: Connecting Assessment to Effective Interventions (with Susan Smartt, PhD).

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Small group literacy lesson plan, enhance your small group instruction with our complimentary small group literacy instruction lesson plan.

Heggerty has created small group literacy lesson plan templates to help you plan targeted small group instruction around oral language and foundational skills. Pair these simple templates with your diagnostic data and other instructional resources to plan meaningful, explicit literacy instruction.

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Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading

Questioning: A Comprehension Strategy for Small-Group Guided Reading

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In this lesson, the teacher explains the difference between thin (factual) and thick (inferential) questions and then models how to compose question webs by thinking aloud while reading. Students observe how to gather information about the topic and add it to question webs in the form of answers or additional questions. Students practice composing thin and thick questions and monitor their comprehension by using question webs in small-group reading. This practice extends knowledge of the topic and engages readers in active comprehension.

From Theory to Practice

NCREL: Reciprocal Teaching

  • Students who answer their own questions show improvement in reading comprehension.
  • When students know prior to reading that they each need to think of a question about the text, they read with an awareness of the text's important ideas.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Chart paper and markers
  • Highlighters
  • Sticky notes
  • Text selections


Student objectives.

Students will

  • Monitor comprehension by composing thin and thick questions as they read
  • Determine the difference between thin (factual) and thick (inferential) questions
  • Use graphic organizers effectively to collect information that answers questions
  • Participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of whole- and small-group activities

Session 1: Introducing Thin and Thick Questions

Note: If small-group guided reading is a regular routine for your students, the introduction to thin and thick questions could be done in that setting. However, carrying out the following steps is also viable in a whole-group setting.

Session 2: Thin Questions in Small-Group Reading

It is recommended that you do the following activities with one group at a time. Once students are familiar with the routine of investigating what they read with questions, you might try having the entire class work in small groups simultaneously. Varying degrees of scaffolding may be necessary in order to ensure that all learners interact with text actively with questioning. If your schedule dictates that you must move to Session 2 activities with small groups working simultaneously, then a cooperative-grouping situation is recommended where students can take a shared role in interacting with the text. For example, in groups of four, students could all work from the same selection of text. Four roles to facilitate the group could be: one student chooses the chunk of text to read (the longer the text, the bigger the chunk), another reads the chunk aloud, a third records questions and answers, a fourth is responsible for sharing questions and answers with the rest of the class. Before working in small groups

Working in small groups

Session 3: Thick Questions in Small-Group Reading

Before working in small groups

Working in small groups Once again, the routines you established in the thin question activity apply to this thick question activity. Operate in the same way, either in small groups that you manage, or as multiple cooperative small groups.

Have students write in their notebooks reflecting on how question webs can help them understand what they are reading.

After students have investigated their reading material and have asked questions as they progressed, some lingering curiosities may still exist. Direct students to online texts and activities where they might answer any remaining (or new) questions. Possible websites to explore, should they align with your content area topic, include:

  • America's Story from America's Library At this Library of Congress website, students can learn about famous Americans, explore American history, find out facts about the 50 states, and more.
  • Animal Planet The Main Index Page under "Animals A to Zoo" leads to a categorical listing of many of the world's animals. For each animal, students can read about its geographic range, physical characteristics, food habits, reproduction, behavior, habitat, economic importance for humans, and conservation.
  • HowStuffWorks: Science Stuff The Science Stuff page is home to numerous articles dealing with the earth, life, and physical sciences, as well as information on engineering, space, and more.
  • Social Studies for Kids Students can find information on a wide variety of social studies topics at this site, including current or historic events, cultures, languages, geography, and archaeology.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Are the questions appropriate to the content area? Do Session 2 question webs reflect an understanding of what thin questions are? Do Session 3 question webs reflect an understanding of what thick questions are? Did the student use the webs successfully in determining or demonstrating answers? (Note, though, that finding answers at this point is secondary to asking questions.) Does the writing exercise from the conclusion of Session 3 show critical thinking about the use of questioning as a comprehension strategy?
  • As for students' participation in group activities, your assessment may vary depending on whether you managed the groups individually or if students worked cooperatively in simultaneous groupings. For either scenario, consider what each student's responsibilities were and the significance of his or her contribution to the group.
Read aloud a new text selection. Have 10 questions prepared on a sheet of paper. After students listen to the read-aloud, have them answer and label the questions as either 'thin' or 'thick' and explain why. Make the test worth 30 points (one point for the correct answer, one for the label, and one for answering why it is thin or thick). Include four bonus points for those who write two thin and thick questions on their own about the read-aloud.
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small group lesson plans

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 groups 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.    

Phonics Screeners for Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd Grade

I recommend these Phonics Screeners bundle for Kindergarten 1st and 2nd grade to assess your students’ phonics skills. This resource includes a variety of screeners and has everything you need to group students working at a Kindergarten, first, or second-grade level.

small group lesson plans

This bundle of K-2 assessments includes phonics screeners for:

  • Phonemic Awareness Screener (for K and 1st grade)
  • Letter & Grapheme Identification
  • Reading Survey
  • Spelling Survey
  • Autofill Student Data Trackers and MORE!!

In addition to helping you group students, these screeners can be used as a diagnostic tool at reading benchmark periods (BOY, MOY, EOY), for report cards, or as a pre-assessment and post-assessment to measure student growth.

Click here to take a closer look at everything included in the K-2 Phonics Screeners Bundle !

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
  • Decoding and Fluency
  • Comprehension
  • Word study/spelling

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

My printable and digital Word Mapping Resource  has EVERYTHING you need to get students mapping words in your classroom. This resource also includes mapping boards and word image cards for your small-group instruction.

small group lesson plans

Phonics Word Sort s

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

My digital and printable phonics word sorts include  two levels  of sorts: whole words and words with the missing target spelling pattern to assign to your students. Students will look for common spelling patterns, sort, then communicate what they notice and have learned about the words they’ve sorted. You can take a closer look at them here .

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

Dictation Practice

Dictation is a whole or small group activity that offers students guided spelling practice. It is a systematic way for you to connect the skills you teach in reading to student writing.  Just as decodable texts allow students to apply the phonics skills you have taught to their reading, dictation practice allows them to apply the skills to their writing.

Dictation is not an assessment. It allows you to check students’ understanding of sound-spelling correspondences. Your dictation exercise will contain the sounds they are just learning, as well as review words from previous weeks.  Dictation gives them the extra practice they need to reach mastery.  When there are errors, provide immediate corrective feedback.  

If you are looking for a simple way to bring dictation practice into your small groups my  Yearlong Dictation Resource  for Kindergarten, first and/or second grade is all you need!

small group lesson plans

This resource follows a research-based scope and sequence and includes dictation practice activities for each week of the school year.

small group lesson plans

Each week includes 2 teacher guides that highlight the week’s focus skill and previously learned phonics skills. In addition, students get practice with heart words (irregularly spelled high-frequency words) in the sentence portion.

small group lesson plans

A lesson outline for teacher guidance and sample lessons are also included. The resource includes a variety of student dictation recording sheets so you can choose the one that works best for your students.

Take a closer look at this Yearlong Dictation Resource  here .

“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, 2nd Grade Phonics Screeners - Spelling Reading Assessments

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small group lesson plans


Teaching resources.

small group lesson plans



small group lesson plans

Small group lesson title

Teaching a Small Group Lesson

You’ve organized your small group supplies , pinpointed the skill you want to work on, and decided how to group your students. Now it’s time for teaching a small group lesson!

Planning a Small Group Lesson

Small groups are a personal, more intimate way to teach so start the planning process by considering the needs of each student in the group. 

Ask yourself these questions as you plan:

  • Do I need to reteach something first?
  • Is there a skill the children need BEFORE I teach this lesson?
  • Will all groups be doing the same activity but on different levels?
  • What book, game, or song might be a good introduction to the lesson?
  • Do I have the materials I need for this lesson?

Warm-Up Activity

Once you’ve established your plan for the small group lesson, invite a group of children over to the teacher table. As teachers, we’re eager and want to jump quickly into the actual lesson, right? But you’ll better serve your students if you begin your small group time with a quick warm-up.

A good warm-up activity will help the students get engaged, excited, and focused.

Warm-ups can be familiar activities from a prior lesson. You can pretend it’s a game show with a quick round of questions to review what students have learned. Next, you could do a warm-up where the kids sort a bowl of pattern blocks by their shape. Finally, you can have them snip paper pieces for a patterning exercise. Use different hands-on activities for warm-ups to keep your students interested.

But warm-up activities don’t have to always be done at the teacher table. Have students get up and gather art supplies, math manipulatives, letter magnets, or poetry journals for your small group activity. Have the class search the room for hidden game cards they’ll be using today at the teacher table.

Remember, warm-ups should only take a couple of minutes. The purpose of the warm-up activity is to get everyone ready for the small group lesson.

Introduce Your Small Group Lesson

After the warm-up, you’re ready to introduce the lesson. Simply tell they children “Today we will learn” or “Today we will work on” and say the skill you are teaching. You might tell them “why” they are learning it, too. For example, “Today we will learn about the beginning sound of the letter P. Knowing letter sounds helps us learn how to read.”

Next, it’s your turn to teach, model, and demonstrate. Have props to help you teach the lesson and to make it memorable for the students. So, if you’re teaching the beginning sound of letter P, you might have a small toy animal pig, a paper plate, a pom pom, and a purple marker.

Teaching a small group lesson should only take several minutes. If you’re teaching longer than 5 minutes, try to be more specific about the purpose and narrow down the skill to cut the time.

Practice the Skill

The bulk of small group time should be spent with the children actively practicing the skill. Vary the activities in your small group lessons. Play seasonal alphabet games , practice counting , do matching tasks , illustrate poems , sort shapes and colors . A wide assortment of hands-on activities will help your students master skills much better than only using worksheets. 

Review What We Learned

Review what the group practiced and talk about what they learned. You might even model the skill again using the same demonstration and props you used to teach it. Ask questions for comprehension and invite students to show you what they learned. Encourage them to tell their families what they did at the teacher table.

Preview What's Next

In conclusion, as you end your small group lesson, you’ll want to give students a preview of what’s coming next.

You might say:

  • We will work on this skill.
  • Next time, we will practice this.
  • Tomorrow, we will learn how to do this.

You might even want to share a quick peak of the next activity. The purpose of the preview is to keep kids excited about your small group lessons!

Successfully teaching a small group lesson is easy when you follow this planning process!

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How to Implement Effective Small Group Instruction

Dr. felicia bolden.

  • March 16, 2020

Small group of young students sitting at a table working on a project high-fiving each other.

Small group instruction is a strategy mostly utilized in the elementary school setting. The sole focus of small group instruction is to grow students’ academic skills. Many students enter school with learning gaps several years behind their current grade level. Teachers are expected to provide instruction to students and grow their academic competency within one school year. Therefore, educators implement small group instruction to best meet the needs of their students to ensure their success.

What is Small Group Instruction?

The purpose of small group instruction is to address learning deficits. Students are placed within groups of two to six by providing direct instructional support. Small group instruction is especially beneficial for special populations of students such as English language learners, special education students, at-risk students, and students of poverty.

According to J. Kendall’s Small-group instruction for English language learners: It makes sense, “small group instruction provides an environment in which students can feel comfortable practicing and receiving feedback and teachers can offer additional teaching and modeling of content.” Knowing students’ instructional levels is necessary to effectively plan and implement small group instruction.

Determining a student’s instructional level includes reviewing and analyzing multiple assessment data . Once the instructional levels are determined, students are grouped homogeneously to provide targeted instruction based on their individual needs. Progress monitoring data, formative assessment data, and standardized assessment data are a few sources that can be used to identify student deficits on learning targets and state standards.

After analyzing data, teachers should plan specific lessons to address the learning targets. During small group instruction implementation, learning is scaffolded by utilizing visuals, graphic organizers, supplemental aids, note taking assistance, reading supports, technology, and manipulatives. Small group instruction can be implemented in any content area. However, most teachers implement small group instruction in reading and math due to the pressures of state accountability and the need to grow students’ skill sets in a short amount of time.

What are the Benefits of Small Group Instruction?

There are many reasons why small group instruction is important, but the biggest benefit to students is the setting allows for more individualized support and yields great academic success for students. “ Instruction of children in small groups affords children and their teachers invaluable and unique opportunities, that may not be possible in large group activities. ” Teachers are able to diagnose students’ learning deficits and cater specific learning plans to meet their needs in content areas.

For example, if a group of students is struggling with multi-step word problems in math, the teacher can provide support on operations and reading comprehension. Being in close proximity to students allows the teacher to address misconceptions immediately that would not have been possible in whole group instruction. Students can ask specific questions and receive feedback without fear or judgement from peers.

If the majority of the students in a class struggle with a particular skill or concept, the issue lies more with direct instruction on the teacher’s part rather than individualized learning deficits of the students.

When is it Appropriate to Use Small Group Instruction?

Small group instruction should begin for students after the first 6 weeks of school through the remainder of the school year. It is appropriate to use at least 3-5 times per week to reinforce skills for students. The first 6 weeks are used to collect data and pre-assess students’ reading and math levels. The data is also used to determine specific learning targets students need to be successful. The first week of a new unit of study can also be used to collect data and regroup students.

The small group instruction learning cycle includes pre-assessment, direct instruction while progress monitoring, post assessments, and reteaching of concepts for mastery. The cycle should happen for every concept unit that aligns to the local and state curriculum.

Implementing Small Group Instruction in the Classroom

Implementing small group instruction in the classroom should be highly structured. Planning in advance is key to ensure effective small group instructional learning cycles. During the small group instruction learning cycle, access to manipulatives, visuals, graphic organizers, technology, and lesson plans are necessary for students to grasp concepts.

In their 2008 book , Educational Leadership professors Dr. Nancy Frey and Dr. Douglas Fisher explain that lesson plans should include ‘I do’, ‘We do’, and ‘You do’ activities to scaffold learning for students. Lesson plans can also include inquiry to address gaps in students’ thinking and to provide clarity to any misconceptions.

Anecdotal notes should be used to track students’ progress and write down ideas for the upcoming lesson plan the following week. Instructional adjustments must be made on a weekly basis to ensure students are successful in learning content skills.

The biggest challenge for teachers when implementing small group instruction is deciphering how to engage other students in the classroom while working with a small group of 2-6 students. Classroom management is necessary to effectively implement small group instruction. Teachers should utilize differentiated instruction and have a variety of learning stations that challenge and engage other students in rigorous activities that are aligned to learning standards. Some examples are project-based learning , computer-based applications, instructional games, writing workshops, investigation stations, book studies, skills practice, etc. All learning stations must align with grade level standards to ensure further learning gaps are not created.

Teachers should also find natural breaks during small group instruction to check in with other students who are working in learning stations for a few minutes to ensure they are on task and successfully completing assignments. During the check-in times, teachers should take quick anecdotal notes on any student that is struggling to address the deficits in small group instruction. If most students are unsuccessful in learning stations, teachers will need to explore other effective instructional strategies to address the deficits during whole group instruction.

Small group instruction allows teachers to ensure students have an equitable learning experience and can be just as successful as their peers in the educational setting. It provides the opportunity for all students to learn content at a pace and level they understand. Implications for further studies should address the effect of small group instruction in the middle and high school setting. Most studies address the importance of small group instruction in the elementary school setting. Without effective instruction, underprivileged students will continue to be at-risk, have learning gaps, and experience missed opportunities to learn academic content in a meaningful way.

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Small Group Lesson Plan Template

Small Group Lesson Plan Template

Lesson plan templates are great tools for planning small group instruction. This ready-to-use small group lesson plan allows you to identify key skills and areas of focus, plan what lesson materials you’ll need and how you want to structure the lesson. Best of all, you can download and print this lesson plan template for free!

This free sample is from our Teacher Planner 2022-2023 - a customizable, editable planner for teachers, to help with all your planning and organization needs for the 2022-2023 school year. It includes must-have customizable tools for planning managing the school year, handy templates for lesson and unit planning, customizable calendar templates, and over 40 forms and templates.

Like what you see? The Teacher Planner 2022-2023 is available to purchase for $17.95 or join us as a Premium subscriber to access the planner and much more!

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April 16, 2022

Free reading small groups guide with the science of reading in mind.

When it comes to reading small groups, one common question I get from teachers is “Now what?” You have assessed your students, now what? You have grouped your students based on skill need or reading level, now what? Knowing what to do with your students once you know where they are in their reading journey can be overwhelming. To help you be able to easily plan your small group reading lessons, I created the Reading Small Groups Guide.

small group lesson plans

This FREE guide for kindergarten, first, and second grade teachers answers the question, “Now what?”. It walks you through behaviors to support, phonics skills to practice, and comprehension skills to develop for the whole year for each grade level. You’ll want to keep this handy resource at your fingertips so you can move readers forward all year long. Let’s jump into how to use this tool and what’s inside!

How to Use The Reading Small Groups Guide

The main purpose of the Reading Small Groups Guide is to help you navigate planning your reading small group lessons no matter where your students are in their reading journey. First, after assessing your students , you will use the guide to help you find where to begin. You’ll turn to the section with your students’ grade and the time of the year to start. Then you’ll move forward or backward to meet each student’s needs.

Next, you’ll use this bank of ideas when it comes to phonics skills to focus on, behaviors to support, and comprehension skills to help develop. You’ll be able to see what skills students have just recently mastered, what they need to work on now, and what they are working towards next. This will help you successfully deliver a differentiated reading small group lesson that meets the needs of each student.

What’s Included?

The Reading Small Groups Guide is organized by grade and then by skills for the beginning of the year, middle of the year, and end of the year. With the color-coordinated labels and easy-to-read section titles, you’ll easily be able to see where you are in the guide and stay organized.

small group lesson plans

Behaviors to Support

The first section in each grade level is Behaviors to Support. For our youngest kindergarten readers, knowing where and how to best support them on their reading journey is crucial. From learning concepts about print to problem solving using syllables rules, you’ll easily be able to support each reader.

Teaching concepts about print is an important early literacy skill to be mastered. The skills are necessary as students learn how our language works and looks in print. See how this teacher weaves it into her day and assesses her little learners.

Then as we look to help support reading behaviors in second grade, we want to watch for things like maintaining fluency over longer texts and processing complex sentences with little difficulty. This guide serves as a checklist for each student, no matter where they are or what level they are on.

Phonics Skills

Next, the Reading Small Groups Guide has phonics skills readers need from kindergarten through third grade. Building a strong foundation in reading begins with phonological awareness. These skills are used as the base for reading growth. Then as readers grow, they become stronger decoders with better accuracy.

After assessing students, you’ll be able to pinpoint which phonics skills students need to work on. Then, follow this guide to be sure they are no gaps in their phonics skill sets as they grow.

small group lesson plans

You may find some students are behind on phonics skills. If so, you can easily flip to the previous section for a bank of skills to practice. Some students may be more advanced in reading. If that’s the case, you can flip forward in the guide to help them continue to grow stronger decoding skills with better accuracy and comprehension.

Comprehension Skills

Finally, each grade level has a guide to comprehension skills. The guide has skills students should be working on at the beginning of the year, middle of the year, and end of the year. Even with the youngest readers, we need to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of reading is to understand. We want to make sure we are teaching readers how to think deeply about the text.

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Get Your FREE Reading Small Groups Guide

Are you ready to get your hands on this ultimate Reading Small Groups Guide? Just leave your email address below and I’ll be sure to send it to you right away. Be sure to check your spam folder if you don’t see it!

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You can print it out and put it in your guided reading binder , print it out and have it bound, or keep it on your computer in a digital version. I hope you’ll find it super helpful so that you can boost your readers, help students develop strong decoding skills, and ultimately help them understand what they are reading.

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Happy Teaching,

  • freebie , reading , guided reading , Literacy


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Want to use the latest research to boost your readers during small groups? This  FREE  guide is packed with engaging ideas to help them grow!

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Hi, I'm Amanda

I’m a K-1 teacher who is passionate about making lessons your students  love  and that are  easy to implement  for teachers.  Helping teachers like you navigate their way through their literacy block brings me great joy. I am a lifelong learner who loves staying on top of current literacy learning and practices. Here, you’ll find the tools you need to move your K-2 students forward!

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Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

How Small-Group Instruction Benefits Your Teaching

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(This is the final post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here ; Part Two here , and Part Three here .)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are your recommendations for how best to set up and organize small groups in classroom instruction?

In Part One , Valentina Gonzalez, Olivia Montero Petraglia, Jenny Vo, and Jennifer Mitchell provided their suggestions.

In Part Two , Irina McGrath, Ph.D., Cindy Garcia, and Serena Pariser offered their commentaries.

In Part Three , Julia Stearns Cloat, Nancy Garrity, Laura Smith, Christina Krantz, and Luiza Mureseanu shared their ideas.

Today, Laura Robb, Kimberly Ann Rimbey, Ph.D., Debbie Diller, and Paul Tarasevich wrap up the series.

‘Reteaching & Extra Practice’

Author, teacher, and consultant Laura Robb has taught grades 4 to 8 for more than 40 years and continues to coach teachers in elementary and middle school. The author of more than 40 books on literacy, Robb writes blogs; creates podcasts with her son, Evan Robb; and speaks at national and state conferences:

Ms. Wilton, a 6th grade math teacher, assesses students’ progress with algebraic equations. All but five students can solve equations for an unknown, and Ms. Wilton creates a plan to support the group of five over three consecutive days by setting aside 15 minutes of her 45-minute class. She plans to reteach and provide extra practice, so she can monitor the group’s thinking as they solve equations. The remaining students are in three groups that watch a Youtube video to review the process and then complete enrichment or extra practice by teaming up to help one another.

Ms. Wilton explains: “It’s worth taking time to support small groups, as most students improve with reteaching and extra practice. I observe how they problem solve through their think-alouds and use this information to adjust how I support them.”

This numeracy story illustrates that besides the guided- and/or strategic-reading groups ELA teachers organize, there are other pressing reasons to pull small groups together and provide supports and interventions for students in all subjects. Helping students understand a challenging concept or process early in a unit can result in enhancing understanding and in all students experiencing success.

Finding the Time

Teachers often feel pressure to move on with a topic even when one to six students require additional support. “I don’t have the time,” or “If I stop, I won’t complete all of the required units,” are comments teachers repeatedly share. However, it’s possible to pull small groups to ensure that your teaching reaches all students, especially when you target interventions and take no more then 15 minutes of class time over one to three consecutive days. I suggest consecutive classes as this provides focus for your modeling and concentrated practice for students.

You can find more time to support students by flipping the learning. Create a video of the lesson you teach and have students watch at home. Doing this allows you to model, think-aloud, show how you solve specific problems, interpret texts, compare, contrast, etc. At home, students can watch the video many times and come to class with specific questions, allowing you to clarify a concept and/or process. In addition, students have class time to practice with you as their guide and supporter as well as collaborate with peers to deepen their understanding. Moreover, flipping your class provides opportunities for you to observe students at work, interact with them, hold impromptu discussions, and assess their progress.

Formative Assessments Monitor Students’ Progress

You can monitor students’ progress using a variety of assessments throughout a unit of study. It’s best to assess often so you can catch small misunderstandings before they transform in big learning obstacles. When the purpose of assessments is to inform your knowledge of students’ progress, tell them that these are checkups that help you support their learning. Be a careful listener and observer during mini-lessons and when students practice independently with a partner or in a small group. Consider using the seven assessments that follow as guides to your instructional decisions:

Listen to questions students have during mini-lessons and while they practice during class. Do questions reveal confusion or a need for clarification?

Observe students’ body language while you present a mini-lesson and think aloud to model a process. Do students avoid watching the lesson or are they engaged in another activity?

Observe students’ practice following a mini-lesson. Circulate among them. Are they able to complete the task using your demonstration notes independently?

Learn from homework. Did students successfully complete homework or does it indicate a need for extra help?

Have a brief meeting to discuss what students feel confuses them or the kind of help they believe they need. Can you group students with similar needs or do you feel the entire class need reteaching?

Ungraded assessments can be used for frequent checks on the level of students’ understanding. Can you move to the next concept or part of the process?

Exit slips show what students remember and understand after a lesson followed by student practice. Would students benefit from extra practice at this point or can you move forward?

Listening to and observing students occurs throughout class and enables you to identify those who might require immediate support. Avoid overusing quizzes or exit slips. Instead, continually circulate as students work and offer on-the-spot help, which can clear up many confusions.

Closing Thoughts

Keep the primary reason for using small groups for interventions during a unit of study at the forefront of your mind. Knowing your why and acting on it by providing support can increase every student’s knowledge and understanding of the concepts, literary elements, text structures, and notebook writing in your units of study.


‘Guiding Questions’

Kimberly Rimbey, Ph.D., serves as the chief learning officer for KP Mathematics and as the director of mathematics for the Buckeye Elementary school district in Buckeye, Ariz. Kim co-authored the Mastering Math Manipulatives books, co-published by Corwin and NCTM:

We all know that teacher-led, small-group instruction can be a powerful strategy for meeting students where they are. And yet one question tends to stop us in our tracks: “What do I do with the other students while I’m working with small groups?”

This question illuminates two different plans that must be attended to: the small-group plan and the rest-of-the-class plan. Whether you’re implementing guided-reading groups, heterogenous math groups, book studies, or other small-group types, the following three principles may be the just-right ingredients for bumping up your small-group instruction to the next level.

1) Anticipate and plan for multiple means of engagement. The way you launch tasks matters! Consider how you will launch a task in 90 seconds or less, avoiding too much upfront teacher talk. For example, if your class is working on identifying main ideas, start with a simple question such as, “What happened in the story?” Provide two minutes for students to sketch, write, or list all the things that come to mind. Invite them to listen to one another’s ideas and add to their own lists/sketches. Provide analysis time where you ask guiding questions to derive a main idea. And finally, think about how you can create parallel activities that mirror your small-group lesson so the rest of the class can work independently or collaboratively.

2) Anticipate and plan for multiple representations. When working in any content area, student learning skyrockets when they create and connect multiple representations. Let’s say you’re planning for a small-group math experience centered on simple linear equations. Provide your students with a basic scenario and then give them the choice to represent the situation by sketching a graph, deriving an equation, plotting points using pegs on a coordinate board, or describing with words. And then ask them to connect among representations.

3) Anticipate and plan for multiple modes of expression. Student strengths often emerge when they have multiple options for expressing their thinking. Ensure students have access to a variety of pencils, pens, colored markers, different kinds of paper, note cards, graphic organizers, thinking maps, manipulatives, and other tools. For example, if your students are in the beginning stages of a writing project, provide them with several options for brainstorming: Draw a story board, design a thinking map, or write a bulleted list. Again, think about how your teacher-led small-group task can be mirrored in the independent and collaborative rest-of-the-class experiences.

Guiding questions for your small-group plan:

  • How will you launch with a brief question (again, keep it under 90 seconds)?
  • How will you avoid show-and-tell teaching while maximizing students’ thinking, talking, and showing?
  • How will you ensure that the student-to-teacher-voice ratio is at least 2:1?
  • How will you activate students in creating multiple representations?
  • How will you use guiding questions to encourage connections among multiple representations?
  • What materials need to be placed in your small-group area ahead of time?
  • What examples or anchor charts should be posted nearby?

Guiding questions for your rest-of-the-class plan:

  • How will your parallel activities encourage students to express their thinking in a variety of ways? What materials will you provide?
  • Where is the folder/basket where they find their “think sheets,” and where do they place their finished work?
  • How will you set up your class so that students know how to get started?
  • What materials will you put out to encourage multiple representations connected to the small-group experience?
  • Where will you place the materials so students have easy access to them?
  • What anchor charts or guiding questions will you post to facilitate independence?
  • How will you prepare students to solve their own problems when they don’t have access to the you (e.g., ask three then me, parking lot, etc.)?
  • How will you organize and place materials so that cross-room movement is minimized?

Using these three principles as a way to organize your instruction provides you with a structure for ensuring that your teacher-led small groups and your rest-of-the-class experiences flow smoothly. Furthermore, planning with multiple pathways of engagement, representation, and expression provides scaffolds for students to work within their strengths. It’s a win-win for everyone!



Debbie Diller has been an educator for over 40 years, working as a classroom teacher, Title I reading specialist, literacy coach, migrant educator, and national consultant. She is well-known for her work with literacy stations, small-group instruction, and classroom space and has authored numerous books for Corwin Literacy and Stenhouse Publishers :

The better organized you are, the easier it will be to maximize the time you spend with students in small-group instruction. Spend some time before school starts to think about the space you’ll set up for small group. I recommend using a large piece of paper and small sticky notes to make a simple classroom map. Draw built-in items (e.g., doors, windows, boards, cabinets, or shelving that can’t be moved) around the perimeter of the plan first.

Then use sticky notes to label the follow areas in this order: whole-group instruction area, small-group instruction area, classroom library. Work with colleagues to look at space and help each other place classroom furniture only after mapping out your room and being intentional about organizing specific areas for learning and instruction. Planning saves time later, so you don’t have to move your furniture around after a rough day!

Set up a small-group teaching space where you can see every child in the classroom. This will help you monitor learning expectations for the rest of the class when you’re working with a small group. Having a table for home base for small group will provide a dedicated learning space where kids can focus as they work together. Choose a spot that is away from distractions, so students don’t look out a window or into the hallway during small-group time.

Provide ample space for each student at the table. If possible, have a seat for each child so they don’t have to drag chairs from their desks to the table. You might use placemats or adhesive colored table spots to define spaces and help young learners focus. Keep a caddy containing sharpened pencils, sticky notes, scissors, and dry-erase supplies, so everything needed for small group is at your fingertips.

You’ll want shelves for small-group storage in this area, too. Set up your small-group table near built-in shelving if you have this option. Or place shelves behind your table to organize your books and other small-group teaching materials. You might have a colored bin for each group’s books. Or use a clear vertical file holder with a colored folder for each small group containing their materials for the next lesson.

It’s handy to have blank wall space or a bulletin board or a dry-erase board behind your small-group space. That way you can post reminders for small group, such as your weekly schedule or anchor charts you might use for reference during small-group lessons.

Try to keep your small-group area organized. This will help you and your students focus during small-group meetings. Keep a tabbed binder with small-group lesson plans at the table.

Teach routines well, beginning the first day of school. Set up a classroom system for expectations (e.g., bathroom procedures, Kleenex use, sharpening pencils), so kids can learn to manage these things without your permission.

Be sure you’ve taught and modeled well in whole group, so children are working with familiar materials and tasks at literacy stations. Introduce stations, one at a time, and establish clear expectations for students practicing independently of you during small-group time.

Use the first few weeks of school to assess students and monitor their literacy stations to establish a strong foundation before starting small-group instruction. Be sure to listen one-on-one to every child read as you form small groups. Build upon what students can do and look at their developmental-literacy stage to meet them where they are and move them forward. Small group is the heart of differentiation. Plan wisely, and your students will sow the benefits!


Station-Rotation Model

Paul Tarasevich began his teaching career in 2016 at Martin Middle School in East Providence, R.I., teaching 8th grade English/language arts. Collaborating with his team and content-level partner, he works to create differentiated assignments that best support each individual student. For his work, Paul was named a 2021 Extraordinary Educator by Curriculum Associates:

If I had to recommend to a teacher how to best set up small-group instruction, it would be to utilize the station-rotation model and project-based-learning strategies. In our classrooms, we set up three stations for the students to rotate through during the week. Each station includes a collaborative station for them to work with peers, an independent station, and small-group instruction. Students are grouped and put at the stations with use of formative assessments. At the beginning of each class, students will create a goal for themselves and write it on a sticky note. At the end of class, students will either put a check minus if they didn’t meet their goal, a check if they met their goal, or a check plus if they met their goal and then some. For the next day, students who put a check minus on their sticky note will be put at the small-group instruction station for us to meet their needs.

Throughout the year, we will also do projects in class that are set up with “checkpoints.” Each checkpoint- is worth either a 0, 1, or a 2. A 2 represents that a student completed the checkpoint and is ready to move onto the next one. A 1 means that the student might have completed the checkpoint but needs to go back and fix something in the project. Finally, a 0 represents that the student did not complete that checkpoint or needs small-group instruction to fix the checkpoint. This is an efficient way to organize small groups because you can see, as students are progressing through a project, who is mastering the skills and who needs more targeted support.


Thanks to Laura, Kimberly, Debbie, and Paul for contributing their thoughts.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

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Differentiated Instruction

How to Implement Small-Group Instruction in the Classroom

Kayla dyer

With a tightly-packed teaching schedule, how do you find the time to address the needs of all students? In my time as an elementary teacher, I’ve found that small-group instruction is a surefire way to carve out time for individualized instruction in my classroom. Through small-group instruction, I’m able to address my students’ needs through focused and targeted lessons that help them confidently master new concepts and skills.

In this article I’ll explore the benefits of small-group instruction and focus on small-group instruction for the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom. I will also make note of strategies for grouping students, tips for classroom management, steps for implementation, and best practices for small group. I’ve even included a lesson plan template for small-group instruction to support you in implementing this powerful teaching approach in your classroom.

What Is Small-Group Instruction?

In small-group instruction, the classroom teacher pulls a small number of students aside to teach a particular skill or concept. The group size can range from two to six students. The teacher will bring students to an area in the class designated for small-group instruction. Typically, teachers will seat students at the teacher table, which may be a kidney-shaped table where the teacher sits at the center of the table while the students are seated around the table. In this area, the teacher might have manipulatives and instructional tools, like pointers or dry erase boards, readily accessible to use during a small-group lesson. The image below shows a possible small-group area set up.

small group lesson plans

As the teacher is leading the small-group instruction, the rest of the class is engaged in independent work or centers. A small-group lesson can be anywhere between 15-45 minutes long depending on grade level and students’ needs. Small-group instruction usually takes place after whole-group instruction. A teacher can meet with multiple small groups in a day and have the small-group instruction be part of the daily center rotation. Small-group instruction can be implemented during the ELA block as well as during other subject areas, like math . In some instances, small-group instruction may serve as Tier 2 intervention in the RTI process .

Note, having students engage in group work is not the same as small-group instruction. During group work, students are working collaboratively while the teacher oversees the activity. Small-group instruction, however, is teacher led and directed.

How Does Small-Group Instruction Help Students and Teacher

The structure of a small group provides more opportunities for differentiated instruction, therefore offering numerous benefits to both students and teachers.

For students, small-group instruction can be a confidence booster. During a whole-group lesson, some students may feel intimated to share a thought or ask a question, especially if they aren’t understanding the concept at hand. A small-group setting can make students feel more at ease to participate.

Small-group instruction allows teachers to observe and work with students more closely. Due to the smaller teacher-student ratio, teachers have more time to evaluate strengths and challenges and provide tailored lessons to meet students’ needs. Additionally, small-group instruction makes it possible for teachers to pre-teach and reteach concepts or skills, plus provide extra practice to students who need it.

How to Group Students for Small-Group Instruction

When planning small-group instruction, you might be thinking “How should I group my students?” For grouping students in the ELA block, I use literacy assessments for phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, or reading comprehension to identify students’ specific literacy needs. Form flexible and fluid small groups based on formative and summative assessment data, grouping students based on academic interest or needs. But allow students to move in and out of these groups using observational data from your lessons as well. Some students may be focused on word recognition skills like phonemic awareness or phonics, while others are working on becoming more fluent with these skills. Your more advanced readers may be working on vocabulary and reading comprehension.

When determining where to place students in small groups, identify what students need and create goals by thinking about how students progress in the following areas, which are ordered in the process of how students learn to read:

  • Phonemic awareness (K-1)
  • Comprehension

Tips for Classroom Management During Small-Group Instruction

Effective small-group instruction calls for effective classroom management. Consider the following classroom management tips when implementing small-group instruction in your class.

Set a Schedule

Create a schedule that supports differentiation in the classroom. You want to make time for both whole- and small-group instruction. Allocating time and resources for small-group instruction is an obstacle for many teachers, and by building a schedule with time built in for grade-level whole-group instruction, and opportunities for differentiated small-group instruction, you are setting yourself up for success. Generally, elementary ELA classrooms have anywhere between 90-120 minutes for ELA instruction. Below are sample schedules to use with HMH Into Reading that support ample time for whole-group and small-group instruction, as well as time for students to work independently and collaboratively. Remember that being flexible with timing is important as some days a specific instructional component may warrant more time and attention.

WF1819771 Inline Image 2

Establish Expectations and Routines

The first six weeks of school is an ideal time to set classroom expectations and establish instructional routines for whole-group, small-group, and independent work time. Plan and discuss how students will move within the classroom, how they will access materials, and even how they will interact with other students. You’ll want to think through all the moments in your ELA block, and how you want that to look in your classroom. Remember to include routines for whole-group as well because if your entire ELA block runs smoothly, you’ll have sufficient time for small-group instruction. Doing so will ensure you foster an environment where students are actively learning throughout your ELA block, including your small-group instruction. Some examples of routines and procedures to implement during the first six weeks of school to ensure effective and efficient small-group instruction are:

  • How we meet at the carpet for whole-group instruction
  • How to gather and return dry erase boards for whole-group instruction
  • How to come to attention
  • How to turn and talk with a partner
  • How to move from center to center during center rotations

Steps for Implementing Small-Group Instruction

Setting up for small-group instruction requires having a plan of action. After all, you need to be ready to meet the needs of each group. I’ve detailed seven steps to help you smoothly run small-group instruction.

Step 1: Assess Student Needs

To be able to provide targeted instruction, you need to first and foremost know where students are. Make use of pre-assessments and formative assessments to identify students’ needs and to determine how you will support your students.

Step 2: Establish Learning Goals

Each student will have a unique set of needs. Utilize the data recorded to establish clear and measurable learning objectives for each student.

Step 3: Plan Instruction

Develop targeted lessons and activities that align with students’ learning goals and cater to students' needs and abilities. Further down, you can find a lesson plan template to use to plan your small-group instruction. When you are planning instruction, make note of any supplies you may need,such as letter tiles for students working on phonics or dry erase board and markers for students working on comprehension.

Step 4: Group Students

The data you’ve recorded will also help you group students. Refer to the grouping strategies mentioned earlier to organize students into small groups.

Step 5: Provide Instruction

Deliver focused and differentiated instruction to each group, targeting the skills students need support with.

Step 6: Monitor Progress

Be sure to continuously assess student progress; this can be done through formative assessments. Adjust instruction as needed and provide students with personalized feedback.

Step 7: Reflect and Refine

Regularly reflect on the effectiveness of small-group lessons. You can even ask feedback from students to adjust and improve upon future lessons.

Small-Group Instruction Best Practices

Follow these best practices to successfully implement small-group instruction in your classroom.

Be Flexible

Flexibility is key to successful small-group instruction. Lessons may need to be adapted to best meet students' needs. And, as mentioned before, groups may change based on how students improve throughout the year.

Take Notes When Teaching

Small-group instruction is a perfect time to observe and learn about your students. When teaching, be sure to jot down notes on how students are progressing and what areas they need more support in. You could also collect information when students are engaged in a small-group instructional activity, like word building. In these moments, students might reflect on their learning and give additional insight on what to include in future small-group lessons.

Assess Students Regularly

The data you collect is vital to small-group instruction and will guide what skills to cover and how to group students. So, take the time to periodically assess students. Use different types of assessments, like quizzes, exit tickets, or a benchmark exam, to gather evidence of student learning. From there, you can best provide targeted instruction to your students.

Find additional small-group reading strategies here .

Lesson Plan Template for Small-Group Instruction

When I’m planning small-group instruction, I use data to drive decisions, define clear goals for each small group before planning instruction, and align these goals with grade level specific literacy outcomes. I specifically draw from Anita Archer’s explicit instruction model as well as the gradual release of responsibility model, also referred to as “I Do, We Do, You Do.” Using these models, I’m able to give students the opportunity to see me model, participate in guided practice, and practice a skill with my feedback. Check out this small-group lesson plan template that I use, which supports explicit instruction and incorporates the gradual release model.

small group lesson plans

By integrating best practices, classroom management techniques, and drawing upon evidence-based strategies, we as teachers can create a classroom setting that fosters student growth through agency and empowerment. Our end goal is to create skilled learners who can make meaning and build their knowledge of the world around them. Effective small-group instruction will empower our students with the necessary skills to succeed.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.

HMH Into Reading has everything teachers need in one place to facilitate systematic and explicit whole- and small-group reading instruction.

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small group lesson plans

A Streamlined System for Differentiated Learning–Guided Reading

small group lesson plans

[Looking for a small group Guided Reading structure that's easy to use AND accelerates students' achievement? You're in the right place!  Stay tuned to a free lesson plan and insights to help you Do Less. And Accomplish More!]

When I was a new teacher, I came home tired.  Dead tired.  My husband wanted to support me, to treat me, so he would offer to take me out to eat for dinner.  

He would innocently ask, “Where would you like to go?”

Then I would despair.

Yes, dear readers, the thought of even having to choose between one of 5 choices of restaurants in our small town Overwhelmed me. First world problem, yes.

But why did I react so strongly?

Decision fatigue.

An instructional day with a constant stream of choice after choice.

Choices about instruction.   (We had no curriculum! Have ya been there?)

Choices about student behavior.

Choices about grading.

Choices about copying.

To copy or not to copy, that was the question.

I feel for today’s teacher even more than I emphasize with my old teacher-self.  I didn’t have Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers to contend with.

These platforms are dreamy in terms of possibilities.  They can also feel deathly when we have too many decisions to make.  Indeed, a recent study calculated that teachers have to choose among at least 205 trillion instructional options.

That, ah, could be, ah, considered challenging!

A Small Group, Guided Reading Structure to Combat Decision Fatigue

To combat decision fatigue, AND to help you accelerate all of your readers’, I propose a small group, guided reading structure that has served me well for nearly 20 years.  

I’ll then describe how one teacher might use this structure to plan lessons for 2 different groups. 

I’ve used this structure as a tutor with hundreds of children, ages as varied as 3 to 15. It’s also similar to the structure of an early intervention called the Targeted Reading Intervention I developed at the University of North Carolina that had significant impact on all reading measures (decoding, word identification, spelling, and comprehension) as reported in these studies: ( study 1 , study 2 , study 3 , & study 4 ).  

(This structure is generally fitting to any student at a K-3 reading level or any student of any age needing decoding, word identification, or fluency remediation.)

These are the 3 critical components of a strong, comprehensive small group guided reading session:


Re-Reading for Fluency is just like it sounds.  The students re-read a book or selection of text several times until they have expanded their knowledge of high-frequency words, quickened their reading rate, and gained confidence and motivation in their reading.  To help them succeed, the teacher models fluent reading while the students follow along. (We fade out this component when students are above grade level and fluent at about middle school reading levels.)

Word Work is the time for focusing on sound-based decoding and spelling for the end purpose of rapid acquisition of word identification. Here at Reading Simplified we recommend only a handful of activities that integrate multiple reading sub-skills simultaneously:

  • Concept of the alphabetic principle (that our written language is a code for sounds),
  • Left-to-right directionality,
  • Phonemic awareness (perception of individual sounds in words, i.e., “much” = /m/  /u/  /ch/).
  • Letter-sound knowledge (i.e, that “c” is usually /k/, “ow” is often /oa/, and “tch” is usually /ch/,
  • Decoding strategies, such as Blending As You Read and Flex It,
  • Spelling strategies, such as Say It the Way It Looks, and
  • Multisyllable strategies, such as Blend As You Read by Chunk.

These reading sub-skills are integrated into just these handful of activities:

  • Search for It

(For advanced readers, Word Work can also morph to emphasize vocabulary meanings and Greek and Latin roots.)

Guided Reading

Guided Reading is when the students take turns reading aloud a challenging text that builds their decoding and word identification skills.  The teacher offers word-level support and comprehension support where necessary. Finally, students conclude the small group session summarizing what they read and preparing to work independently with their targeted sound (such as /oa/) and texts for re-reading practice.

That’s it.  🙂

The mission of this small group structure is to move ALL students to rapid acquisition of independent reading.  Once kids can reading independently and enjoy reading for its own sake, then other structures may be beneficial, such as literature circles, genre study, book clubs, research studies, etc. But that’s a post for another day.  Most K-3 students, as well as struggling students, however, would benefit from the above structure to efficiently advance their reading skills and enjoyment.

Thus, a teacher using this structure doesn’t have to decide what to do at the beginning, middle, and end of every 20 minute interaction with every group.

Sigh of relaxation.

Instead, she has a framework that hits the most important tasks of early literacy and adapts them to each group’s particular needs.

How One Teacher Plans Her Small Group Lessons–Group 1

Imagine a teacher. We’ll call her Ms. Peregrine.  Ms. Peregrine teaches 1st grade and has 5 groups of students for her small group guided reading time.  She sees 2 of these groups every day; two of these groups every other day; and the final group 1-2 times per week.


She begins making notes in her small group planner for Group #1, AKA the “gymnasts.”  Based on her initial assessments of their reading achievement, they are at the Kindergarten reading level.  She has placed them at the earliest CVC step and have just been exposed to short a and short i.  

They have good comprehension of text read aloud to them.  Her main objective is to rapidly provide them the foundation of strong decoding skills so they can learn to recognize words easily, become fluent, and learn to love to read independently.

So, on the Reading Simplified Streamlined Pathway for Kindergarten level readers, this puts them at the first CVC level.


Background:  The Reading Simplified Streamlined Pathway is a kind-of scope and sequence for teaching anyone who is a young reader or a reader who is struggling. The Streamlined Pathway incorporates:

  • Phonemic awareness,
  • Letter-sound knowledge,
  • Decoding strategies,
  • High-frequency word knowledge, and

Using the Streamlined Pathway, coupled with the simple structure I’m presenting today for small group guided reading, a teacher can diagnose and plan small group and independent work more easily and with less effort.

Despite this time savings, she can also expect to see students reading achievement outcomes accelerate!

How 'bout them apples!

So as Ms. Peregrine begins thinking about her lesson, she’s already grounded by the 1st CVC level–the letter-sounds, Fry high frequency words, and decoding strategies that are emphasized there. Specifically, over the course of 1-2 weeks, she will focus on these:

  • Short vowels      a    i   
  • Consonants      c m p t s n h d w
  • Consonant digraphs     th ch wh ll tt

Then she moves on to the specifics of her lesson:

Re-Reading for Fluency with Group 1


Quick decision.


Word Work with Group 1

Second, Word Work?

A little more time to think.

Yesterday Ms. Peregrine observed that everyone was much more reliable with their knowledge of the short a sound but they were still only 50-50 with the short i sound.  And, phoneme manipulation (practiced in activity Switch It ) with 3-sound words was still mostly a struggle.

So, she opts for “ Switch It ” first and chooses a word list that targets short a and short i (the only short vowel spellings they’ve been exposed to.)  But they can usually phonemically segment 3-sound words already and know essentially all consonants, so she can skip Build It from now on.


She also noted yesterday that Frank had advanced in his 3-sound word blending, but he still wasn’t independent without her coaching.  The rest of the students still needed her support about 1 time during the lesson.  So, Blend As You Read with CVC words should still be a goal for this group.

Thus, using the Streamlined Pathway to guide her, she writes in Read It words: has will with this.


She won’t take the time for Write It yet either since getting them to be confident with Blend As You Read is uppermost in importance.  (Also, a typical lesson with students like the gymnasts usually only includes 2 Word Work activities so sufficient time is left for Guided Reading.)


Guided Reading with Group 1


Now she’s ready with a great plan for her most struggling group of readers.

Less than 5 minutes of effort to plan and…

Sigh of pleasure.

guided reading lesson plan example

How One Teacher Plans Her Small Group Lessons–Group 2

Now our brave heroine is ready to plan for her other daily group, the Swimmers.  This group tested at the early 1st grade level, so Ms. Peregrine has placed them at the second step of the 1st grade Streamlined Pathway.


  • These students are familiar, but rusty, with their short vowels, and
  • Their Blend As You Read strategy is developing well with CVC words.  
  • They know several high frequency words, too, but not all that would be expected for her school for early 1st grade.  
  • Comprehension of text read aloud to them is good.

(All students are sorted into 1 of 3 Streamlined Pathways: K, 1st Grade, or 2nd Grade and Up.  Yes, I’ve even taught struggling high school students and an adult who was functionally illiterate with a pathway like the 2nd Grade and Up one. By just having 3 Pathways to choose from, Ms. Peregrine minimizes The Overwhelm.  These 1-pagers are a lot simpler than endless standards, basal scope and sequences, district guidelines, etc., that she used to stress over.  And, yet, students learning to read quickly will be more likely to happen with this approach.  

Given that Ms. Peregrine selected Level 2 on the Streamlined Pathway, she knows she’s focusing on:

  • The long o sound and its various main spellings, o o_e ow oa oe, as well as 
  • High frequency words from Fry’s top 100 list that target the long o sound go more so no

Re-Reading for Fluency with Group 2

Like with the gymnasts group, Ms. Peregrine easily chooses the Re-Reading for Fluency text from yesterday’s Guided Reading selection, “Joe and Joan” from the Reading Simplified Academy.  

Search for It oa sound

The swimmers just began Advanced Phonics instruction, specifically with the long o sound and its major spellings.  They read “Joe and Joan” yesterday with her support and then she read it to them twice as they followed along.  They also read it as partners during literacy stations.  So, they should be pretty fluent at this short story by now.  


Word Work for Group 2

Next up, what will she do for Word Work?

At the Advanced Phonics level, her decisions are pretty easy for planning Word Work.  She aims to practice the long o sound all week, during Guided Reading as well as literacy stations, and for homework reading.  Since they just got started learning the Sort It activity , it’s good to reinforce it with a new list of words.

Sort It example page

  • Learning the various spellings of the long o sound: o o_e ow oa oe,
  • Reinforcing their Blend As You Read approach to decoding,
  • Practicing their phonemic awareness (especially phonemic segmentation) as they Say Each Sound As They Write Each Sound.

In addition, Ms. Peregrine is still concerned about their inconsistencies with their short vowel knowledge and their phonemic manipulation.  They are pretty successful at the CVC level but she wants to challenge them with CVCC words.  

Switch It image example rich which

lamp lump limp lip lisp lip lop lot lost list last past pest pet pelt

Example of Switch It with different word list:

Guided Reading for Group 2


She’ll send her swimmers group off to the computers to practice re-reading “Soap Boat” on their own. They’ll enjoy it and find re-reading easy.


Just like with Group 1, the gymnasts, Ms. Peregrine has again swiftly planned for another small group guided reading session.

Prepped and ready.


Now she has time to watch This Is Us !

Would you like to simplify your guided reading instruction, too?

Imagine if you were to plan like this.  What might be the biggest benefit to you or your students? Please comment below so we can continue the conversation!

29 thoughts on “ A Streamlined System for Differentiated Learning–Guided Reading ”

How do I do guided reading with J.k. Students who don’t know the names of the letters or their sounds?

Rachel, a great question! I do 2 Word Work activities with these types of students:

1) Build It and 2) Read It

I also Buddy Read simple, mostly decodable texts. In other words if they just began learning the sounds for “m,” “a,” “t,” “s,” and “p,” I would let them read words with those sounds such as “map,” “mat,” “sat,” etc., in every sentence we encountered. But the rest of the sentence I would read to them, encouraging them to read along.

The biggest trick with the newbies is to dive right into teaching them letter-sounds and phonemic awareness and decoding all at once, in the context of words, with the 2 activities above. Good luck!

Could you suggest how to use these techniques in a rotation sequence? I teach a combined 1st and 2nd grade class so I need to be able to work with one group while others are doing independent practice. Much of the build it, switch it style activities require a teacher, so I can not do those as I also meet with a reading group. Any suggestions for independent work for 1st or 2nd while I meet with the other grade to work on either the reading group or the build it, switch it style activities?

Great question, Courtney! I’m going to be writing about this very soon.

In the meantime, here are a couple of the centers/stations I recommend that relate to Build It / Switch It / Read It :

Word Work games –picture word building. Students find a picture and build the word themselves using letter-sound cards. The back of the card could have the “answer” for self-correcting. –Picture word match. Same as above except students match the picture with a word on a card –Charades. Draw a card; read it; act it out; see if your team can guess what it is (Choose action words like run, swim, jump, sit, etc.) –Build a chain. Cut slips of papers for building a word chain. Have a scrambled list of words that could make a chain of 1 switch per word. Let students Write and Say each word as they write it on the paper slip. Then they put them in order and make a paper chain.

Apps/Computer games — starfall.com — Teach Your Monster to Read — Montessori Crosswords app (target key vowel sound group is working on) –Ready Set Read by Lupine Learning (this one actually has a version of Switch It, with 2 different phonemic difficulty levels)

For Independent centers/stations, choose word difficulties slightly below where you work with them for guided reading. For instance, if they can Switch It with CVCC words but not CCVCC with you, then the center should probably mostly be CVC level words.

I would have these centers be constant in the classroom. Each group would choose different level of words or levels on the apps, depending on where they were along the Streamlined Pathway. Hope this helps, Courtney!!

I’ll have more energy to help teach & guide my students while ensuring I am covering the essential activities to accelerate their reading!

Love it, Joanne!! 🙂

I have a group of intensive and a group of strategic third grade students that are on level G and K. I would like to bring their reading levels up to M/N what can I do?

Barbara, I’m sorry to hear about these challenges but glad you’re here for a solution! I know with the Reading Simplified system, you can do it.

I suggest our classic lesson plan format:

Re-Reading for Fluency Word Work Switch It using CCVCC+ words Read It, initially to learn Blend As You Read Sort It, one new sound a week Guided Oral Reading, using texts that target that week’s sound

Please ask more specifics inside the Teachers’ Lounge and we can coach you through day by day…

Oh my goodness! As a special ed. teacher, I cannot even imagine how much time and stress your academy could save for me! I teach 3rd and 4th Grade students, but their reading/spelling/writing levels vary from preprimer to 4th Grade. I have a huge caseload this year and feel like I am drowning! ? I have kids coming and going from different classrooms and specialists, so I rarely have the same groups of kids.

Julie, that IS an impossible job with traditional methods. 🙁 I DO believe we could help streamline your instruction and give a clearer vision for where everyone can be.

We’re hosting a special challenge this week and will open up the Reading Simplified Academy to all at the end of that challenge. If you’re not already signed up for the challenge, join here: ReadingSimplified.com/level-up If you aren’t doing the challenge, keep an eye out for an email from us on Fri. (if you’ve gotten any gift in email from us you’re on our list).

I am not really that surprised that decoding texts are more beneficial than repetitive texts! That makes so much sense.

How long would you spend with each group? I only have about 60 minutes for all literacy instruction but would love to follow something like this!

Ginny, it really depends on how much time you have. I’d like to get 20 min. at least for my most in-need group. Some groups could get by with 15 min. some of the time. The main principle to remember is how to optimize the time with students reading text with your support. Some groups may meet with you daily, some every other day, and some every third day, if that helps get the practice into the laps of those who need it most.

I’m looking for suggestions for what my students should be doing during about 40 minutes of non-teacher time for centers. In addition, we are trying to keep the non-teacher time down to 20 minutes in grade 1. Ideas?

Hi Becky! Check out these articles about Literacy Centers:

https://readingsimplified.com/differentiating-literacy-centers-wk-1/ https://readingsimplified.com/differentiating-literacy-centers-wk-2/ https://readingsimplified.com/differentiating-literacy-centers-wk-3/

Loved this and any suggestions at a Kindergarten Level how to set up a weekly schedule for 15-20 group. Ex: 10 minute book read, 5 min switch it, 5 min read it.? I am still learning about write it and sort it and not sure if all these should be switched during the week?

Megan, I’m so glad this sounds like a doable plan for you! We have more training about implementing small group instruction and literacy centers in the Differentiate It and Extend It units of the Main Course. We also have an Advanced Workshop about starting differentiated literacy centers in 3 weeks.

I’m not sure I get your question, though. In a typical Reading Simplified lesson, we choose 2 to 3 Word Work activities. So we might rotate among the various options that are relevant for a student at his given developmental level. However, we almost always include Switch It.

I’m working with a small group of kindergarteners who like to memorize instead of read. Would switch it be a good activity to use with them?

Yes! Switch It will help them build better sound-based decoding–learning how to match sounds and symbols. Also, we recommend Read It as well to support your students to decode words in their first stage of learning. Here’s more on that.

By following your lesson planning template, I will save myself a lot of time, energy, and stress. My students will benefit directly because instead of so much winging it and being slightly scattered and inconsistent during my small group time, every minute will be intentional and effective.

So glad to hear of your successes, Maria!

Love this time-saving prep model. Easy to change skills according to the needs of the children. Having the stream-lined pathway right in front of me will help remind me of the most important skill to emphasize with different groups at different levels.

I completed your Academy program and love the resources. I currently have a grade 2 student who went through the grade 1 program. We completed that, but I am not sure where to go from here. Should I restart at grade 2 level? It is mostly the same resources, but I don’t think she is ready for the level of texts in the grade 2 program, nor the MS materials. Not sure how to proceed. I would appreciate any ideas you have.

Assessment data would be good now to determine next steps. What phonics spellings has she not learned yet? If there are a few of one sound (or more), then reviewing those could be smart. Typically, we begin Read It and Write It with Multisyllable Words when we start the /er/ sound. Was that too much of a struggle? We would have expected MS words to be doable at this point, at least easier ones.

We also move towards more and more Read It and Write It with MS words when the child is still not fluent but we’ve finished the Pathway. And/Or, fluency becomes more of the Most Pressing Need. It just really depends on what skills she has and which she lacks. A back-and-forth conversation inside the Teachers’ Lounge with our Reading Simplified experts would be a good help now.

Our district is moving to a four-day week next year. I’m slightly terrified. However, it should give me about an hour each day to do groups. I should also have a para in my room during group time. I like the simplified planning and think it will help with planning group instruction. I appreciate the concept of not working with every group every day. I’ve generally rotated the groups through each activity. Do you think it is better to alternate teacher and para with the daily groups? For example: Teacher with Group 1 on Monday and Wednesday and Para with Group 2. Then, Teacher with Group 2 on Tuesday and Thursday and Para with Group 1. Also, is a group of six workable?

I’m so excited to see what reading growth you can see with this model Lesa!

I would use the TA for teaching during centers and holding kids accountable during centers. But work with each small group myself. We suggest a mixed pattern of rotations such that the lowest reading group is served every day; some are served every other day; and the high flyers are served every 3 days or less. For those you meet with less frequently as a group, have a checklist each week to note when you’ve checked in with each reader to ask at least a summary question of what they’ve been reading. We teach our rotation and small group system in the Differentiate It and Extend It units of the Main Course of the Reading Simplified Academy.

We also have an advanced workshop called, Launching Differentiated Literacy Centers.

A group of 6 is very hard unless the students are readers already. For struggling readers, we suggest groups of 3 to 4.

Does Reading Simplified have assessments or check points to gauge where to start in the program and when to move to the next set of set of activities or level? I am thinking of switching from Reading Reflex with my second grade homeschooler because she needs help with fluency.

Hi Marcie, great question! Yes, we have an informal Snapshot Assessment that includes basic code knowledge, phonemic segmentation, and nonsense word reading (which helps identify blending skill, too). We also suggest the San Diego Quick Assessment for word ID. The San Diego is a quick proxy for reading level. Inside our advanced workshops, we have one about how to tutor and we discuss other norm-referenced assessments that one could buy, as well as informal reading inventories to get a reading passage test.

I found this very helpful, as I struggle a bit with knowing what to choose when planning lessons.

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small group lesson plans

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Organized instruction yields organized young minds..

small group lesson plans

Small Group Lesson Plans to Drive Instruction in Preschool Literacy

The best way to differentiate learning for all students is to incorporate small group instruction . This enables the teacher to tailor each lesson to meet students at their developmental level. While it does require a little more work, it’s so worth it! I’ve tried to make it a little easier for you to implement small groups with your preschoolers by making a lesson plan template that will guide you through each step in a small group lesson. Check out the small group lesson plans below!

Alphabet small group activities include pictures of little reader books, sentence strips, an alphabet chart, and sound sorting houses.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you by linking to Amazon.com. See the full  disclosure  here.

Lesson Plan Template

Small group lesson plans.

Small group lesson plans template for preschool small literacy groups with spots to record letter knowledge for each student.

In order to simplify the amount of time involved in planning for small group literacy instruction, I’ve created a lesson plan template that is seriously so easy to use. All you do is check the box ! Literally.

You’ll notice there are columns to write the students’ names that are in the group. Underneath, I simply use a plus (+) or minus (-) to show if the students have the skill mastered or not. Also, in letter activities, I write the letters that I notice students have not mastered yet.

In shared reading, there’s a spot to write the book title of a Level A book. This set of books from Scholastic is a great price and includes that repetitive structure for our little learners. Believe it or not, my newly three-year-old picks these books up and “reads” them by herself because of that simple, repetitive text.

At the bottom of the lesson plan, there is a spot to write your sentence for interactive writing. I always use the repetitive text from shared reading to write a sentence stem to tie our learning together.

  • Small Group Lesson Plan Template (included in the Alphabet Bundle)
  • Level A books

Letter Activities

Letter activities for preschool small groups that include pictures of fluency letter strips, letter mats for tracing, a visual alphabet board with pictures for each letter, and letter cards.

For letter activities, choose one or two from the list, and it should take about 1-2 minutes each day. Here is a list of letter activities that you can do with your small group:

  • identify letters on ABC cards (this is where we reinforce our ABC It cards that were taught during whole group)
  • sing the alphabet song pointing to the letters on an ABC It chart
  • match uppercase to lowercase letters (each kiddo in the group has a letter bag with both uppercase and lowercase letters to match)
  • match letters to an ABC chart (again, we use magnets on our ABC IT chart)
  • name letters left to right (we use Fluency Strips - which you can grab for FREE)
  • find a letter/sound on the ABC chart
  • name the letter that begins the word
  • Letter Mats
  • Fluecy Strips FREEBIE
  • magnetic letters

Initial Sound Activities

For preschool literacy groups.

Sound activities for small group lesson plans that include pictures of I Spy sheets filled with initial sound pictures, hands clapping syllables, beginning sound cards, and sound sorting houses.

Next, for sound activities, choose one from the list, and it should take about 1-2 minutes each day. Here is a list of sound activities that you can do with your small group:

  • clap the syllables (I choose words from our shared reading book or that connect to the book)
  • name a word that rhymes with ___ (I choose a simple CVC word that we can take turns naming rhymes)
  • identify initial sounds (we use one of the sound activities - you can read more about them here)
  • Sound Cards
  • Sound Sort Houses

Shared Reading

Preschool small groups.

Shared reading for preschool small groups with Level A books to incorporate into small group lesson plans.

For shared reading, use Level A books that include simple, repetitive text . I got this set of 25 books for a great price from Scholastic . Keep in mind that this set only includes one of each book. It would be ideal if each child in your group had their own book to work on one-to-one matching.

When planning for shared reading, choose one or two skills from the list, and it should take about 4-5 minutes each day. Here is a list of skills that you can do with your small group:

  • one-to-one matching (point to each word)
  • find a letter on a page
  • find uppercase or lowercase letters
  • locate the period
  • find the first or last letter in a word
  • point to the first or last word on a page
  • describe (or talk about) the illustrations

First, take a picture walk and talk about what the book is going to be about. Then, read the book aloud to your group, modeling how to point to each word. After reading, go back and find the text features from the list above.

Interactive Writing

With sentence strips.

Interactive writing for preschool small groups include pictures of a blank sentence strip, one with a simple sentence, and one cut up into words.

Finally, for interactive writing, you will actually do all of the skills listed. It should take about 4-5 minutes.

  • say the sentence stem aloud (I choose a sentence that ties into our shared reading book) and finish the sentence with input from your students
  • make dashes on a sentence strip for each word in your sentence
  • write the sentence with help from the students, stopping to focus on letter formation for a certain letter, and stopping to work on letter sounds for letters that have been introduced
  • talk about punctuation
  • cut the sentence strip apart and give a piece to each student
  • put the sentence back together, saying it aloud
  • sentence strips

You might also like...

More alphabet activities for preschoolers.

Letter Identification Activities that You'll Ab-C-Lutely Love

After completing all of the small group activities and taking note of which skills students need more instruction with, the next lesson plan will be a breeze . Hopefully, you can simplify your small group lesson plans with some of these ideas and with the small group lesson plan template, which is included in this Alphabet Bundle as a bonus! And don’t forget to check out all of these alphabet activities in action by clicking the buttons above!

Alphabet activities for preschoolers with pictures of the letter identification activities, letter formation activities, initial sound activities, and small group lesson plans.

Discover More themed Activities

small group lesson plans

Meet Bethany

I am a former elementary school teacher and reading specialist, now stay-at-home-mom to my two beautiful, charismatic girls, Addison and Aria.

I’ve created engaging preschool learning activities grouped into themes to make it easy for you to implement teaching with play with your little learners, too!

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Simply B Teaching

Effective Small Group Instruction

guided math small group lesson plans

Create guided math small group lesson plans by using predictable routines, providing time for exploration, and keeping students engaged through various challenges.

Successful K-2 Math Small Group Lesson Plans 

A fact family to 10 activity lays on colored paper to show a guided math small group activity.

Creating guided math small group lesson plans can be so overwhelming. Math is filled with discreet skills, how do you know which skill to start with? While your curriculum provides a general guideline, students tend to live in an area of grey. To add more confusion while math is filled with discreet skills the application and deeper understanding of specific concepts is what leads to mathematical success. Teaching math in small groups makes the daunting task of guiding your students to deeper understanding manageable. Small group instruction is only one component of guided math in the classroom but it is the most informative on student growth and learning. Be sure to grab this guide for effective small group instruction. Read on to find out how to create a successful math small group lesson plan!

A blue, orange, and green data collection grid lie on a teacher desk to help her organize small group instruction.

Math Small Group Instruction

Why should you use math small group instruction? The research is clear. Students learn best through social, personalized instruction that can be achieved through small group instruction . Math small group instruction should be conversational based and guide students to new discoveries through their zone of proximal development. Unsure of what your students’ zone of proximal development is? Read more about it here.

Math small group instruction should be fluid. It adapts based on student growth and the needs of the class. There are two theories on math small group instruction: it can be teacher-directed, or student-guided. Now before you jump to conclusions, I will say both types of instruction have their place and times when teaching math .

Numbers 1 to 5 sit on a table for students to count and stamp building one to one correspondence

Teacher-directed math small groups most likely align with how you already envision math groups. The teacher sits around a table with 2-4 students and has a set of activities or tasks to lead the children through. It may follow a predictable “I do, we do, you do” model to gradually release the skill from the teachers’ knowledge to the students. This model is best for explicit instruction and supports students whose understanding of language may hinder their knowledge of math skills. Use this model as a guide for your guided math small group lesson plans.

Feeling overwhelmed with keeping your students engaged in meaningful learning while leading math small groups? here you can learn about classroom management strategies in the K-2 classroom to get the most out of your small group instruction. 

Teaching Math in Small Groups

Like all learning, math is collaborative. Teaching math in small groups allows students to work together and learn mathematical concepts through discovery. Utilizing small groups in math doesn’t have to take over the teacher.

First, begin with the end in mind. What are you hoping your students gain during the lesson? Extra practice or solidifying a previously taught concept is a perfectly acceptable goal.  Sometimes, I think teachers get caught up on having this grand learning target (which, don’t get me wrong, is also important) but small steps lead to big change . Students need repetition to practice and achieve target skills.

Text over a number line reads: make a plan for your math small groups and a strategy for your classroom management

Second, decide what you want your small groups to look like. Are you beginning with a whole group task, then all children work on the same task within small groups? Are you running centers or a math menu model, where children float between math activities and teachers meet with students as needed? Or, maybe you have the entire class working on a single activity and you pull small groups to a teacher’s table to work on isolated skills. Each method has its own pros and cons. Try a few different methods for teaching math in small groups to figure out which one is the right fit for you. Your guided math small group lesson plans will evolve to meet the needs of your students, and as you grow as a teacher.

The beauty of math small group instruction is it allows the teacher to personalize each student’s learning while keeping the learning social and collaborative. Utilizing small group instruction during your elementary math time creates opportunities for hands-on learning and self-discovery. Staying consistent with your small group instruction can be so challenging! Here are my best tips for keeping on track with your math small groups.

A teacher works with two preschool students putting numbers in order during math small group instruction.

Math Small Group Rotation

I’ll be honest – I’m not a fan of math small group rotations. I prefer to incorporate student voice and choice by students choosing what they want to work on during that block. However, I have had several years that, from a management standpoint, I had to utilize a math small group rotation in order to keep sanity within the room. There is nothing wrong with having a rotation, it’s a strategy you can utilize to keep your students on task during their math small groups. If you’re looking to have a math small group rotation, keep your activities open-ended . Think about roll and play games, matching activities, growing towers, and comparing attributes…the worst thing for a math center is to be “one and done” because if it’s not time to rotate, you will lose your students. Pro tip: keep worksheets out of your math small group rotation. 

One tens rod and 5 cubes sit next to the number 15 to show a worksheet free math small group activity.

Math Games for Small Groups

Games are a must-have in your math small group lesson plans. A deck of cards is your best friend. You can target more/less concepts, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division…seriously almost any math concept can be targeted through a card game. If you have access, traditional games are perfect math games for small groups. Some of our favorites include: Trouble, Chutes and Ladders, and Yahtzee Jr. These games are a collaborative way to teach math in small groups! Low on time? Grab some proven math games for small groups in the first-grade classroom here!

Math Small Group Template

Okay, you’ve stuck with me this long explaining why you need a math small group lesson plan, along with some great components of math groups. Here’s a general math small group template!

A template for teaching math in small group reads: 1) whole group 2) student work time 3) teacher led small groups and 4) self reflection time.

Whole Group Introduction 

When teaching math in small groups, begin with the whole group instruction. This is generally the instruction in your teacher’s manual if you are following a scripted program. These lessons range from practice problems to introducing new strategies or concepts, to discovering mathematical concepts through various activities.

Student Work Time

After you’ve finished your whole group instruction, it’s time for student work. This looks different in each elementary classroom as you meet the needs of your student and your teaching style. This is a teacher free work time . Struggling with how to build a teacher free work time in your classroom? Grab your free guide to effective small group instruction here.

Leading Math Small Groups

Start by reviewing the target skill (typically the whole group lesson), then dial back to the previous skill or preview the next skill based on the needs of your group. Allow time for conversation among students. During your math small groups, ask questions and observe. See if students can correct misunderstandings based on their own conversations. When leading math small groups, I often start by reviewing the skill and then engage in math conversation while working on practice problems. This often allows me to clear up any misconceptions. Then, I present the group with a challenging problem for the students to solve together. This naturally leads to exploration time and they continue working on the problem as I begin working with the next group of students. 

An example of a k-2 math small group routine flow chart reads: review skills, student conversation, challenge problem, and exploration.

Teaching Math in Small Groups Online

Teaching math in small groups online can make your head spin – but it doesn’t have to! As with any change in the classroom do your best to keep the routines the same . If you begin with a practice problem in the classroom, begin with the practice problems online. If you typically end with a challenging problem, be sure to do the same. In my experience, the main difference between teaching math in small groups in the classroom and online is pacing . Online instruction has to move quickly because students are more likely to zone out. 

If you’re looking for creative ways to teach math small groups, be sure to check out these Boom Cards and other printable activities! 

Text above a butterfly fact family to 10 activity reads: math small groups are a great way to practice the same skill in multiple ways!

Looking for more math small group ideas? Check these out!

How to Run Math Small Groups Effectively in K-2
Small Group Math Instruction
Kindergarten Math Groups Made Easy PLUS a FREE file!!!

Kindergarten kids work on sorting numbers at a table in a successful small group math lesson plan.


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Engaging Resources for Teaching Literacy

small group lesson plans

Making Connections Small Group Lessons and Passages

Do you ever struggle to find resources to help you teach your students how to make meaningful connections while they read?  With these 5 ready-to-print small group lesson plans, you will have everything you need to teach your lessons on Making Connections!  Each lesson set includes everything you need for an effective small group reading lesson. You’ll get scripted teacher lesson plans, student reading passages, a strategy card (aka mini-anchor chart) for your lesson objective, and a response sheet with a graphic organizer and comprehension questions connected to the focus for your lessons on making connections.

Filed Under: 4th , 5th , Anchor Charts and Posters , Homeschooler , Lesson Plans , Literacy Center Ideas , Printables , Reading , Reading Passages , Small Group Lessons , Text Structure , Under $5 , Worksheets

More about this resource

*This resource is included in the Stellar Literacy Collective. Click here to learn more*

Do you ever struggle to find resources to help you teach your students how to make meaningful connections while they read?  With these 5 ready-to-print small group lesson plans, you will have everything you need to teach your lessons on making connections! Each lesson set includes everything you need for an effective small group reading lesson. You’ll get scripted teacher lesson plans, student reading passages, a strategy card (aka mini-anchor chart) for your lesson objective, and a response sheet with a graphic organizer and comprehension questions connected to the focus for your lessons on making connections.

These strategy lessons work great for your small group instruction , but you could also use them for the whole group lessons you plan on teaching during your lessons on making connections. From helping students learn the different types of connections to helping them make deep and meaningful connections… These lessons will help your students become more confident in their ability to make relevant connections to what they read.

This set of lesson plans makes teaching this important reading strategy super simple. All the planning and prep work has been done for you. All you have to do is print and teach! Think about all the time you’ll save not having to hunt for reading passages or come up with comprehension questions related to your lesson. Each small group lesson includes everything you need.

⭐️⭐️⭐️ This resource is included in the Stellar Teacher Reading Membership. If you are a current member, you can find it in our resource library. If you aren’t a current member, you can learn more here .


  • 5 Scripted out teacher lesson plans (perfect for small group instruction)
  • 5 Passages to use with each lesson
  • 5 Response pages (includes graphic organizer and response questions)
  • 5 Strategy Cards (mini-anchor charts)
  • Digital Version
  • Teacher Guide

Check out the preview to learn more about this resource.


  • Scripted Teacher Lesson Plan  – The small group lesson plans provide you with the exact language you need to say to make sure your students are mastering the objective for the lesson. It also provides you with a really easy-to-implement lesson framework that works great for small group lessons.
  • Strategy Card  – Each lesson also comes with a strategy card (like a mini anchor chart). This strategy card works great as a visual support during your lesson and students can take it with them at the end of the lesson.
  • Student Passage  – Each passage is short (less than one full page) so it can quickly be read during a small group lesson.  It is also written in a way that makes it really easy for the students to practice and apply the focus skill. You won’t have to worry if the text you give your students will work for the lesson objective.
  • Response Page  – If you want to extend your lesson or give your students an extension assignment, you can give them the response page which includes a graphic organizer focused on the lesson objective and three comprehension questions.
  • Digital Version  – There is also a digital version created using Google Slides so this resource will work during both face-to-face and virtual instruction.
  • Answer Key  – An answer key with possible answers is included for all passages.


Here is a list of all the objectives/focus skills for each lesson.

  • Lesson #1 – Making Different Types of Connections
  • Lesson #2 – Making Deep Connections vs. Surface Connections
  • Lesson #3 – Using Prior Knowledge to Make Connections
  • Lesson #4 – Using Connections to Make Predictions
  • Lesson #5 – Sharing our Connections

You’ll love getting everything you need to teach a small group lesson on the reading strategy making connections.  Just think of all the hours you’ll save not having to type out your lesson plans, hunt for a passage that matches your lesson objective, and then come up with response questions/activities for your students to do after the lesson.


  • Use these lessons during small group instruction to reinforce the importance of making connections.
  • Use as part of your guided reading lessons and spread out the reading and writing over multiple days.
  • Use as part of test prep to help your students get ready for their end-of-year test.
  • Use passages during the intervention to help support students who struggle with making connections to the text.
  • Use as part of your whole group lessons on making connections.
  • Leave as part of your sub-plans – the scripted lesson plans make these resources really easy to follow.


→ Your students will love the reading passages included in this set focused on making connections. The passages are high interest and will hold your student’s attention during the entire small group lesson.

→ You’ll love how quick and easy it is to prep your small group lessons. All you have to do is print the materials for the lesson you want to teach and you’re all set to teach. No more searching for reading passages or guided reading books or trying to find a passage that matches the skill you want to teach.

→Your students will love the “bite-sized” objective for each lesson. They won’t feel overwhelmed by what you are trying to teach them. They will feel confident in their ability to practice the one focus skill for each lesson.

→ You’ll love how easy the lesson structure is to follow. Each lesson follows the 4T model (clearly explained in the preview and lesson set). You can be confident that you will be using your small group time in a way that will actually move your students towards reaching their reading goals.

**Resource is also in The Stellar Literacy Collective **


→  Root Word of the Week Routine

→ Prefix & Suffix of the Week Routin e

→  Context Clue of the Week Routine for 4th Grade


Copyright © The Stellar Teacher Co. LLC www.stellarteacher.com Permission to copy for single classroom use only. Please purchase additional licenses if you intend to share this product.

We’d love to see this resource in action! Tag us on Instagram @thestellarteachercompany .

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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

Availability of data and materials.

Not applicable.


Peer Assisted Learning

Objective Structured Clinical Examination

Outcomes, Activities, Summary

Case-based learning

Problem-based learning

Team-based learning

Structured, Clinical, Objective References, Problem-based, Integrated and Organised

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About this supplement

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. https://bmcmedicaleducation.biomedcentral.com/articles/supplements/volume-20-supplement-2 .

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Christie van Diggele

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Annette Burgess

The University of Sydney, Faculty of Medicine and Health, Sydney Health Professional Education Research Network, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

The University of Sydney, Sydney Medical School - Central, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Craig Mellis

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van Diggele, C., Burgess, A. & Mellis, C. Planning, preparing and structuring a small group teaching session. BMC Med Educ 20 (Suppl 2), 462 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-020-02281-4

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small group lesson plans

Math Professional Development Information

small group lesson plans

Small Group Math Instruction

small group lesson plans

When I launch Guided Math, I set a personal goal to begin small group instruction by October.  This allows weeks of setting expectations, setting up positive peer relationships, and getting to know student needs.  Right as the first quarter comes to a close, I feel ready to fully release the workstation time so I can meet with students for small group instruction.  As we do Guided Math year after year this happens perhaps more quickly, but a great goal is beginning small group instruction in October.

small group lesson plans


Plain and simple, teacher-led small group math instruction is when students take a new skill and directly apply it in close proximity to the teacher.  In a guided math classroom, this happens daily or as close to daily as possible.  We conduct math mini-lessons in a whole group format and follow that up with meeting with students in small groups where they directly apply the math learning in a way that is developmentally appropriate to their specific needs.  Students are at the center of the learning rather than being passive observers of someone else doing math.  The way we carry out the math differs from group to group based on the skill and the range of abilities.

small group lesson plans

This year more than ever we see a gap in skills and abilities that is expansive.  The more we teach, the further we feel the ones who are not ready fall behind, but the standards don’t stop.  One way we can work through this pandemic recovery is to give students this time in small group instruction.  Filling in the prerequisite skills may not be fully attainable for every student, but we have a much greater ability to support students and teach to those areas of concern when we see them in small group daily.

small group lesson plans

This Math Milestones download is a free guide of the stages of math development and prerequisite skills that can come in helpful when we see a student struggling and perhaps don’t know which skills to fill in first.

small group lesson plans


Being able to sit down and become invested in small group instruction means a lot of small variables have been handled.  To keep it simplified, for each expectation I want to have in place for my students not with me in small group, we make a pattern of procedures and then practice it.  Over those first few weeks of practice, these patterns become our normal way of behaving.  When you feel the autonomous pulse of the room taking shape, it makes it easier to let go of the control of whole group and allows students to be independent.  Students will always have great days of peer interactions and learning and days where it feels like we all just forgot what to do.  Don’t let this derail your morale.  Provide that feedback during class meetings and try again!

small group lesson plans


While management of student expectations is one aspect of running small group instruction, the other is having the materials and lessons for the guided math classroom.  This involves both teacher-led lessons as well as student workstation materials.  Having the planning and materials at your fingertips allows you to focus on teaching the individuals in the room and addressing those math needs as they arise.  When I prep materials for guided math instruction, it gives me the assurance that my students will have great things to do for years to come.  The time and effort spent now allow you to grab and go next year.

small group lesson plans


Over the last six years, I have worked to create standards-aligned whole group and teacher-led small group math instructional materials.  These materials are used in school districts as both the main instruction and as supplemental resources.  Guided Math provides all of the teacher-directed lessons with materials for both whole group and small group instruction.  Having the lesson plans and materials to teach both in the whole group and small group setting allow the teacher the freedom to focus on student need rather than designing lessons that adhere to the standards.

sample guided math

Kindergarten Guided Math Materials

First grade guided math materials, second grade guided math materials, third grade guided math materials, fourth grade guided math materials, fifth grade guided math materials.

In each Guided Math grade-level bundle, there are nine units covering nine math strands.  Every lesson is standards-aligned.  Each unit contains the following:

  • Math Warm-Up
  • Whole Group Mini-lesson
  • Teacher-Led Small Group Lesson
  • All Materials
  • Pre- and Post-Assessments

small group lesson plans


If you have attended a Guided Math workshop with us, you may be familiar with my method for workstation time called Math STACK®.  The acronym simply consists of the five types of workstations I choose to have going during the independent workstation time for students.  I stay at the S for teacher-led small group table while students visit all five choices during their workstation time.  This doesn’t have to be done in one day.  Some teachers choose to have less than five stations.  Perhaps your classroom runs on three stations.  Whatever the case, maybe you can get some ideas and resources for the following workstation choices.  For grades K-5, we have materials for each one of these workstation choices for the entire year.

small group lesson plans

These math stack links contain the guided math bundle above plus all of the STACK bundles for workstations as well.  It’s a large number of materials, but each workstation bundle can also be purchased separately.  This is the best way to help you find the materials.

Kindergarten Math STACK

First grade math stack, second grade math stack, third grade math stack, fourth grade math stack, fifth grade math stack, math intervention.

When it is time for math intervention , I can admit that I struggled.  I never felt the materials matched the student needs.  Using the precious moments effectively hinges on having the right resources at my fingertips.  This not only includes the remediation and enrichment lessons, but the progress monitoring tools too.

small group lesson plans

No matter where you are in launching Guided Math, I hope I can encourage you to keep on going.  Teacher-led small group instruction is vital for meeting student needs.  Students may struggle with being independent, but given the right amount of engaging materials, structure and expectations, and your invaluable time and teaching, it is such an effective way to run the math block.  I am passionate about how this structure can really change how students feel mathematically and create a happy and effective learning environment for both teachers and students at the same time.


small group lesson plans


If the idea of small group instruction is new or you have not yet tried to set up the structure of Guided Math, I have a free Guided Math LAUNCH GUIDE .  This guide can shed important information and provides your first 20 days of setting expectations and introducing workstations.

small group lesson plans


Below are some other related posts that may help on your journey of Guided Math.  Feel free to always reach out through comments here or the contact me on the side panel of the website!

How to set up Guided Math K-5

Guided Math Grades 3-5

Scheduling your Math Block

Math Rotations

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How to plan and teach small group phonics lessons

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small group lesson plans

TRT Podcast#71: How to plan and teach small group phonics lessons

How should you form your phonics groups? How often should you meet with each group? What specific activities should you include in your lessons? We’ve got the answers in this week’s episode!

Listen to the episode here

Full episode transcript.

Hello, hello! Anna Geiger here from The Measured Mom, and today we're going to talk about how to form your small phonics groups, how to schedule your meetings with those groups, and what to do when you're meeting with the group. We're basically looking at the nuts and bolts. We're really dialing in to see how we're going to apply all the things you've learned about the science of reading and structured literacy to your day-to-day teaching.

I know we sometimes get really excited by all the things we get to learn, but when it comes down to actually applying it, it gets very tricky, so I want this to be a really practical episode for you. Please remember that anything I'm sharing can be found in the show notes, themeasuredmom.com/episode71. You're definitely going to want to head there because there's a lot of useful links and materials you're going to find.

Now, first thing, why small groups? Why can't we just teach the on-level phonics skill to the whole class? While plenty of teachers do this, it is not my preference because your students, as you know, are at so many different levels. What some teachers do is they teach the on-level skill to the whole class, and then they differentiate in small groups, maybe they meet with kids who are struggling and give them extra support.

But to me, it doesn't make sense if you have someone who is still struggling to read CVC words, but then you're trying to teach them long vowel teams with the whole class. To me, it makes more sense to meet with them in a small group with other kids who are struggling with the same skill so they can get lots of practice on that skill.

I also don't like the idea of having kids who are advanced in their phonics skill being part of a lesson every day that's something far beneath what they're capable of. I would much rather see those students challenged in more advanced phonics skills, multisyllable words, and so on.

In their book "How to Plan Differentiated Reading Instruction," Sharon Walpole and Michael McKenna promote this model where you assess students and then you group them by their needs and that's their main instruction. Their main instruction is not whole class, it's in these small groups. They said that the benefit of this approach is that "no students who have already mastered foundational skills for their grade level will receive redundant time-wasting instruction."

This was brought up in a Facebook group I was a part of, and someone said, "Is it really so bad to be bored for twenty minutes a day?" But I don't think that's the point. I think the point is that we're not giving them what they need. They don't need the same thing over and over that they've mastered at least a year ago. They need to be challenged and move into the next stage of phonics knowledge.

That's my philosophy, I do think it's important to group students by level. First, you're going to give them a phonics assessment. I have one free on my website and I will link to that in the show notes, themeasuredmom.com/episode71. After you've given that assessment, you're going to look at the results and group your students into four groups.

Now, you're going to look at the results and you're going to want to group your students into ten groups because they're going to be all over the place, it's not going to be evenly divided. It's okay though to have some students move back a little bit to review. It's still, when you think about it, way better for them than having them be doing the same skill with the whole class. The groups will not be perfect, that's not possible, but you're going to be doing a much better job than if you're teaching everyone the same thing every day.

The reason I recommend having just four groups is that you'll be able to meet with them enough times per week to make a difference. If you have too many groups, you're not going to be able to see your advanced readers very often. We want everyone to be meeting with you as much as possible, so I recommend meeting with three groups per day, each group for twenty minutes. Fifteen minutes is a little short, and I think you'll find yourself stressed out if you try to do it in fifteen. Thirty minutes would be awesome, but that's really unrealistic because then you're trying to keep the rest of the kids busy and engaged while you're meeting with a small group.

Now, if you're in a really ideal situation where you have other teachers of your grade level doing the same approach that you are, one teacher could do the lowest level group, one could do the next highest, and so on all at the same time. If you did that, you could meet with all the students every day, but I totally understand that that's not realistic. So assuming you're not in that really exciting situation and you're doing all the teaching, I would meet with three groups per day, twenty minutes per group.

Now, you might be thinking, "Okay, but we have four groups. How does that work?"

Here's what I recommend. I recommend meeting with your lowest group every day. In fact, I would just start always with them so they know when phonics time starts, they go to the table. It's a routine they can get used to.

After that, I would recommend meeting with your next lowest group four days a week. One of those days you're not going to see them, maybe on Wednesday, but they meet with you four days a week.

Then you're going to meet with your second highest group three times a week and your highest group also three times a week.

I actually have a visual chart that would show you how this could look. I'll put it in the show notes for the episode, themeasuredmom.com/episode71.

Now the question is, "Okay, I've got these groups, and I know the skills I'm going to teach them, but what do I do with them in those twenty minutes?"

That is a really good question, and I want you to know that in the show notes, you're going to find a link to a PDF where I'm going to give you a layout of what those lessons could look like and what things you could do within those twenty minutes. I'm going to go through it right now also, but you don't need to write this down, just make sure you check the show notes at the end of the episode, themeasuredmom.com/episode71.

So let's say that you teach each skill for three days. That means that your lowest group is going to get through one skill a week plus two parts of another, whereas your highest groups are only going to get through one new skill each week. That's totally fine. They're advanced, and they're probably going to learn much faster. You could maybe move ahead and get to another skill sooner than you might think or it's okay because they are far above grade level and they're going to be doing just fine. But you can see that in giving more instruction to your lowest readers, they have a better chance of getting up to grade level.

In those lessons, the first day of the new skill, you're going to do some kind of warm-up. A warm-up could include a visual drill like flashcards. It could include a kinesthetic drill where you say the sounds and they write the letter that makes the sound in a tray. You could have a little poster, an individual poster for each child, where they point to the letters when you say the sound. There's a lot of things you could do to review previously learned skills. That could also include practicing high frequency words that you've taught. It could include a phonemic awareness activity that gets them ready to learn the phonics skill. Those are all really good things you could do during the warmup.

Then on that first day, you're going to teach the new skill. You're going to explicitly tell them what you're teaching them - what the new sound-spelling is. Maybe it's that the letter A represents /ă/. Maybe it's that "sh" represents /sh/. Maybe you're teaching them that there's two very common ways to spell /ē/, "ee" and "ea." Whatever it is, you're going to teach it very clearly and explicitly. That would probably take about five minutes.

After that, you're going to do some blending or word work. As they're getting ready to read connected texts later in the lesson, you're going to help them practice for that by reading blending lines.

So let's say that the skill that you've taught your students is that "ee" says /ē/, you're going to have lines of words for them to practice that include words that have the "ee" spelling in addition to lines that are review - previously taught sound-spellings. Then at the bottom, you could have some advanced words that could challenge them, words with "ee" that have inflectional endings, for example, like "ed" or "ing."

Also during that blending or word work time, you could do something like word building with letter tiles. You could have them cut out a certain number of tiles that go with that day's lesson, and then you're going to tell them words to spell, and you'll watch them build the words. You're going to say, "Change one letter to make the word..." So it's word building and switching of those letter tiles.

You could do word sort. Let's say you've taught that "ee" and "ea" spell the sound /ē/. You might have two headers, one with "ee," one with "ea," and a bunch of words. They practice reading and then moving those little slips of paper into the different columns.

You could do a word ladder, which is where you've got something prepared in advance. They've got a ladder on a piece of paper. On the bottom there's a word that they start with and you maybe give them a clue or tell them to switch one letter to spell a new word and it goes all the way up to the top.

There's a lot you could do in blending word work. Of course you wouldn't do it all in one lesson.

Next you could do some high frequency word instruction where you introduce a new high frequency word, perhaps one that's going to appear in their decodable text coming up. Always remember that when we're teaching new irregular high frequency words, we focus on the phonemes and the graphemes and give attention to the tricky part of the word.

The one that's usually talked about when we're giving examples for this is the word "said." When you're introducing the word "said," you could have them count the sounds, separate the word into its sounds (/s/-/ē/-/d/), talk about the spelling for each sound, and give special attention to that "ai" in the middle since that's an unexpected spelling in the word "said." They could practice writing the new high frequency word. That would probably take at least three minutes of your lesson.

Then you want to spend some time reading connected text, that could be word lists, it could be a paragraph, a passage, or a decodable book. That is what you're going to do for at least the next five minutes, and that is going to be where you're going to really get started with the new decodable book if that's what you're using.

The second day of your new skill, again, you'll start with a warmup. You'll revisit the new skill and review it a little bit. Again, you're going to do some blending and word work and review those high frequency words, and you're going to spend a little bit more time with that connected text today.

So maybe the first day you did a choral reading, or maybe they read it through one time. This time you might have them read it in pairs, or you might take a closer look at that text and highlight words that have the featured phonics pattern, or maybe you're going to spend more time discussing the story, but always you want them to practice reading it first. You want to give them opportunity to gain fluency with the text.

The third day you're going to, again, review the new skill and high frequency words, but probably not spend as long, maybe about two minutes. Again, you're going to do blending and word work, but not as long. You'll do the connected text, maybe about six minutes, and then I recommend saving the bulk of your lesson - about ten minutes - for dictation. This is when you are going to dictate words with the sound-spelling that you've taught. With this new skill, they going to practice writing words and possibly sentences featuring that new sound-spelling.

When you first start doing this, dictation is going to take a lot longer than you think it should, especially if you're with kindergarten. It may be that needs to be the whole lesson, but eventually you'll probably want to work to making that just be about ten minutes long.

So that was a look at how to form your phonics groups, a schedule for meeting with them, and what to do with them when you do meet with them. I know this is hard to get in your head when it's just audio, so please do check out the show notes. I'm going to have charts there to help you see how this all works, as well as a download where you can have specific items for things to work out in each part of the lesson.

Thanks so much for listening. I'll talk to you again next week!

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small group lesson plans

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Related blog posts .

  • Blog post: How to teach small group phonics lessons
  • Blog post: What order should you teach phonics skills? (with a free phonics scope and sequence)
  • Blog post: Free phonics assessment

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Reader Interactions

March 25, 2022 at 2:07 pm

Hi! I have been a K teacher for 16 years. I love your podcast and so many of your suggestions ring true for me. Differentiating has always been a struggle. I often do small group work, but haven’t been able to do it for 60 minutes every day. I have plenty to do with the group I work with, but really have a hard time with planning and prepping what students can do independently. They either need a ton of help and keep interrupting me or are done well before time is up. How do you handle students working independently for that long? Thanks!

Anna Geiger

March 26, 2022 at 4:55 pm

That’s a great question, Meghan! You do have to work up to it. And another trick is to make sure that the activities you give your students are very similar in format from week to week; you just change up the skill. I recently published a post on what to have them do at literacy centers: let me know how this sounds.


Another tip: Break it up. So you can do two groups at one point in the day (40 minutes of centers) and then do the third group later in the day (20 minutes of centers).

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