Small Group Instruction: 4 Absolutes for Mastering Lessons

4 Non-Negotiables for Reading with Emergent Readers will guarantee all students have the best instruction.

Small Group Instruction is important. Really important.

I am a control freak when it comes to many different things, but I am REALLY a control freak when it comes to small group.  I have a passion for readers and writers and truly believe this foundation is more important than ever.

I would be willing to say it to any parent, any administrator and anyone making education decisions would agree resources and routines in the foundational levels are most important.

That being said, there are a couple of non-negotiables in teaching reading to our earliest readers.


4 Non-Negotiables for Reading with Emergent Readers will guarantee all students have the best instruction.

That’s what I mean…EVERY day! 

Students not only need lots of exposure to lots of text, but they need it consistently. 

My hour of small group instruction and literacy centers is not only a given, but it is a guarantee. 

The centers are set up to create independent learners, so that my small groups are pulled every day. 

I prefer 3, twenty minute groups every day.

There is safety in routine…safety in predictability…safety in knowing! After a full day field trip to the zoo, we were back in the classroom to figure out buses and parents and signing students out correctly with ten minutes before the afternoon announcements and a student came to me and asked when centers were going to start. I giggled and said, “Not today, sweetie. We’re getting on the bus soon.” She was not happy, “But Mrs. Collier, we do centers and reading every day!”

Fix-it Strategies

When I was teaching at a previous school we adopted the school-wide fix-it strategies to the right.

Students used their toolkit to read.

At my current school, we adopted fix-it strategies used throughout the building.

Every student in the school hears the same words for the same skill. 

When they leave kindergarten the first grade teacher doesn’t have to reinvent the “fix-it” wheel…they can expand on what they already know. 

Small Group Instruction: 4 Absolutes for Mastering Lessons

Teachers have the posters on their wall and they were sent home on bookmarks for the parents. We also made desktop fix-it strategies that are taped to my small group instruction table. 

As the students get stuck on a word, I can point to the strategy to remind them how they can fix it.  Students can also use Fix-it Bookmarks for independent self-correcting.

We introduce each strategy and practice how to use that strategy. When students come to a roadblock I can simply point to the strategy silently, while they use the strategy to decode the word and keep reading.

It is far more powerful for students to learn to fix the interruption in their reading rather than rely on a teacher or parent to help them. Regardless, this is valuable. 

read the whole text

4 Non-Negotiables for Reading with Emergent Readers will guarantee all students have the best instruction.

After small group instruction, students must be afforded the opportunity to read the entire text in an uninterrupted format. 

This is not Round Robin reading.  Round Robin has its own special soap box and the many problems it creates for readers are clearly avoidable. 

Reading the entire text is important for fluency, comprehension, and practice with reading strategies. 

Using the diagram to the right, I would ask students 1 and 2 to start reading the text by reading the cover and title page.

As they finish those pages and continue to read the story, I ask students 3 and 4 to begin. Finally, when they are through with the cover and title page, students 5 and 6 will start.

Quite honestly, I typically have my two slowest readers start. The routine in my classroom is to read the book over and over until I tell them to stop. 

This is typically when the last child reads the book 2 times.  The students read in a soft tone a bit higher than a whisper. 

As the students read at their own pace, they are reading for understanding.  You can quickly turn your attention to that child and help the child make corrections for the mistake. 

Practice Reading

Small group instruction should be carried after the table.Students must be given the time to practice reading. 

We wouldn’t expect to become a prima ballerina, professional athlete or concert violinist without practice, so we cannot expect students to become prolific readers without practice. 

Having the time scheduled is just the start.  Students need to be encouraged to read when they finish early. 

Students in my class have a bag of books, cards, and stories that include know vowel patterns. 

Mastering Small Group Reading: 4 Non-Negotiables for Lessons
4 Non-Negotiables for Reading with Emergent Readers will guarantee all students have the best instruction.

Let them read to a “buddy” (stuffed animal) or a friend.  Teach good routines for reading to a friend.  Set norms for taking turns and providing feedback. 

Kindergartners can do anything when expectations are demonstrated and allowed to be practiced.  Sending home known books is another debate. 

Some schools allow it, some don’t.  There you have it, must haves for small group instruction. Would you add anything else?

Cathy Collier

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