Successful Small-Group Instruction

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By Jeff Barger

Think about being a pitcher in baseball or softball. Your task is to make sure the batter doesn’t get a hit. How do you do this? You could throw a fastball every time. This approach might be successful at first, but soon the batters dial in to what you are doing and adjust their hitting. A great pitcher has at least three or four different pitches at their disposal. Now teaching reading in small groups is not an adversarial relationship like between a pitcher and a hitter, but like a pitcher, a teacher needs to have different small group instructional approaches in their toolbox. Here are a few that you can use in your classroom:

Guided Reading

This approach is designed to help readers at the same level move to a higher level. For example, you may have gathered a group of students reading at a level F. All of the group members are using the same text. One of the qualities of a level G text and beyond is more words that are distinct to the content of the text. You can work with this group on how to find the meaning of these content words in a text. The author may have defined the word later on in the text, given an example of the word, or provided a synonym or antonym. In a guided reading lesson, all of the students are working on the same skills in the same text as they work to get to the next level.


Strategy Lesson

In a strategy lesson, students do not have to be reading at the same level. They are working on the same named skill but in their own texts. You might be working with the group on retelling what they read. Some students in the group may not be fluent readers while others are fluent but do not comprehend. Activities for a strategy lesson for retell could include using a beginning, middle, and end graphic organizer or a story map.


Word Study

You might want to work with a group on studying patterns in words. If you have a group of students who haven’t mastered their short vowel sounds, you could teach a lesson that involves sorting pictures of items into their vowel sound categories. Or if it’s a group that needs to work on the silent e pattern, you can print words like cap and bit and add an e to show how it changes the sound of the first vowel.


Small-group instruction should take no more than 10 to 15 minutes so you can work with several children and also have time for conferring one-on-one during your 35 to 45 minutes of independent work in reading.


Jeff Barger is a K-5 literacy specialist in North Carolina. He is the creator of the NC Teacher Stuff blog and the author of three nonfiction books for children: Dropping In On Atlanta, Dropping In On Washington, D.C., and How It Works: Go-Karts.

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