Classroom Management During Small Group Instruction
Are you struggling with classroom management during small group instruction? Teaching is small groups is critical for student success but how the heck are you supposed to keep 15-20 children busy, independently so you can focus on the 5 students at your table? It seems impossible! I hear you. I’ve been you. And, I’m here with some tried and true tips to help you succeed at classroom management during small group instruction.
You’ve read the research. You know best practice. Kids learn better and are more focused during small group instruction for any content area. You have the best intentions, but you never seem to meet with all of your small groups like you planned. Classroom management during small group instruction is key to the success of small groups in your classroom.
Most days go like this. You sit down at the table, call 4 kids over and begin the first activity. You think, “this is going great!” Then, you look up. Tommy dumped his bag on the floor, Sarah can’t find her scissors, Ben and Savrone are hitting each other with the fly swatters instead of playing the game. You get up from the table, losing the attention of the small group you are working with, to go and manage the rest of the class. By the time you get back, their time is up so you make the difficult decision to keep them and finish your lesson or call the next group over. It’s a lose-lose situation.
I was there. During my first year teaching my classroom management during small group instruction was a disaster! I will never forget the day I was running Math small groups and as my principal walked in I had students sitting on the tables, materials all over the floor, and pure chaos around the room. No one was learning and, in that moment, I was the last thing from an effective teacher.
Since that day I have read every article and tried every method to engage students during my small group instruction. Some things worked GREAT, other days were TERRIBLE, and some were so-so. I went through the fire so you don’t have to! You have the ability to have amazing classroom management during small group instruction. You can have your students working, and learning, independently, while you provided targeted, differentiated instruction at your table.
So, what are the steps to classroom management during small group instruction? Like any classroom management technique, changes won’t happen overnight BUT if you follow these simple steps I can guarantee you will see a difference in your classroom management during small group instruction. Kids will be more focused, there will be a working buzz around your room, and you can easily meet with your students to provided targeted small group instruction or to perform assessments! With these 5 steps, you will find yourself with more free time during your day because your students are in charge of their own learning and need little support from you once you’ve sent them off with their tasks.
Here are the 5 steps you need to master for classroom management during small group instruction!
- Be clear, consistent, and specific with your classroom expectations.
- To have strong classroom management during small group instruction, first you must have clear expectations for your students. My classroom follows three rules: Be Safe, Be Kind and Take Care of Our Things. Each student is held accountable to these expectations. If a student does make a mistake, we discuss how they can apply these rules in the future.
- Create a firm, but loving classroom environment.
- Once the rules are established, hold your students accountable and guide them to hold themselves accountable. They need to know your response will be the same every time. If they aren’t doing an activity correctly, they’ll need to redo it later on. If they aren’t taking care of materials, they aren’t able to use the materials anymore. Support your students and help them understand mistakes happen, but you are there to love them and teach them no matter what. Encourage your students to make the right choices. A good phrase to use is “you are the only person in charge of your learning”. Put the power in the hands of your students and be amazed at what they can achieve.
- Mix in Play and Choice with Independent Small Group Work
- This is arguably the most important step in the process to mastering classroom management during small group instruction. In order for you to focus on your small group instruction, the rest of the class needs to be able to complete the activities Having 5 centers of worksheets or academically challenging work is going to lead to behaviors and breakdowns. Wouldn’t you need a break after working straight for 50 minutes?
- Research shows children ages 5-9 learn most in 8-10 minutes before their brain goes elsewhere. Try setting up your independent activities so they alternate: play, academic, play, academic. This serves several purposes: a) students can practice social-emotional skills like turn taking and sharing, b) increased independence and c) increased compliance as students get built in breaks.
- Choice is possibly one of the best classroom management strategies during small group instruction. If you have a worksheet targeting sight words, provide two versions and let the students choose which ones they complete. Maybe your center is a math matching game. Have the group pick if they want to match as quick as possible, or if they want to take turns and whoever gets the most matches win. The more choices you can work into your classroom management during small group instruction, the more successful this time in your classroom will be.
- Have Realistic Expectations
- To be successful with classroom management during small group instruction you first need to really know your students. Don’t attempt routine small group instruction until 4-6 weeks into the school year and after you’ve completed baseline assessments. This allows you to provide academic activities that your students can complete fairly independently. The goal is not perfect work, the goal is completed work. This is also helpful for ongoing assessment as you can see which students understand the concept you are working on and which students may need more support.
- Some students may need more guidance than others. Encourage them to “try their best” and you’ll check on them later. You can also create a “break” system for students who tend to get off topic. This should be non-verbal so you can continue to focus on your small group instruction. You could have students who need a break show 2 figures, you nod your head, they go to a break area and set a timer, then you can go back to focusing on the students at your table. Whatever process you create, ensure it is independent so you can focus on the students you are working with.
- Give Yourself Grace
- Mastering classroom management during small group instruction is a marathon, not a spring. Give yourself 2-4 weeks with a new method before you try a different one. Each class has different strengths and weaknesses and it takes time to figure out what works for both you and your students. If you follow the steps above, with time and perseverance you will master classroom management during small group instruction.
Mastering classroom management during small group instruction is no easy task. These short vowel activities are perfect for independent or small group work in the elementary classroom!
Small group instruction is key to student growth and success. When working with smaller groups of students, you can target specific skills, correct misconceptions and build stronger relationships. While meeting with every child in a small group may sound overwhelming, with practice and perseverance you will be able to master classroom management during small group instruction!
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