Effective Small Group Instruction
Effective small group instruction is a key component to student success, particularly in the early elementary years (ages 3-8). Research shows students are 66% more likely to participate in a small group setting, rather than whole group. So, why are many teachers unable to lead effective small group instruction on a daily basis?
Overwhelmed with Teaching Small Groups?
Running effective small groups can be so overwhelming! There are so many things teachers want to squeeze in, only to finish an activity or two and realize the time is up with that group of students. Sound familiar? You have the best laid plans for effective small group instruction but, as is a daily occurrence in teaching, nothing goes according to plan. Kids are interrupting you, the class needs help with an independent task, you’re not sure where your whiteboard ended up…the roadblocks to effective small group instruction keep popping up. So, you just don’t do it.
That’s where I can help. It took me years to master small group instruction in my classroom. Long nights awake reading, weeks practicing different techniques. You name it, I tried it. Now, I have the data to prove my small group instruction is effective, and I’m here to share it with you.
What Is Small Group Instruction?
Many wonder what is small group instruction. Barbara Wasik defined small group instruction as any instruction where a teacher is working with 5 students are fewer. While it is important to keep the number of students in a single group in mind, it is important to look at other factors when creating your groups. To lead effective small group instruction, your groups should be based on the target skill, rather than any other criteria. If you have more than 5 students needing that skill, strongly consider adding a whole group lesson or activity to reteach that particular area.
Benefits of Small Group Instruction
The benefits of effective4 small group instruction are numerous. Meeting with small groups of students allows teachers to easily clear misunderstandings, gather accurate data, and improve the overall quality and accessibility of instruction – all while increasing student participation! Effective small group instruction targets singular skills while promoting discussion and exploration among students, both which are key components in content mastery.
Strategy 1: Keep Your Small Group Instruction Short
The biggest mistake teachers make when leading their small groups is trying to do too much and keep the kids for too long. The ideal length of a small group session for grades K to 2 is 10 to 15 minutes at the ideal time for grades 3 to 5 is no more than 30 minutes.
To have effective small group differentiated instruction, your lessons should be short and targeted. Planning before you meet with your small group goes a long way. Have your materials close by and a clear vision of what you want to accomplish.
Strategy 2: Target A Single Skill in your small groups
How do you pick which skill is most important? If you can’t fit it all in you’ll need to make some decisions. Let data drive these decisions. Before starting small group instruction, you can perform skill based assessments while collecting anecdotal evidence. Take some time to review what you’ve learned. What are your children struggling with? That should be the main focus of the instruction.
Remember: to have effective small group instruction, children should be based on target skill. It can be helpful to create a chart with each skill you’ve assessed and your students names. By highlighting or circling the skill they are struggling with you can easily see which students should be placed in a group together.
Strategy 3: Establish A Routine for Your Small Group instruction
To get the most out of your small group instruction it is important to plan ahead and follow a set routine. The most effective small group sessions have one main focus and generally three to four activities. The model of introduce/review, practice, assess is a great routine to follow.
Generally, the review should be quick (2-3 minutes) and tie into the main lesson. If you are teaching sight words, review words students previously have mastered or review letter sounds that will be featured in the words you are teaching. This is also a great time to collect some data!
The teach portion of your small group lesson should be the longest, to be the most effective. Generally, you should have the students practice the skills three ways: auditory, visually, and kinesthetically (movement). When working with a new sound, you can have your students identify when they hear the sound or see the sound, and finally have them write the sound.
To wrap up your small group instruction, you should do a quick data collection based on your target skill. Are your students able to identify the word? Write the word? Read it in a sentence? Be sure to determine what you will assess before you begin your small group. This will help ensure your small group instruction is as effective as possible.
To make your small group instruction effective it is important to: perform skill based assessments, plan no more than three activities, and follow a predictable routine day to day.
Strategy 4: Collect Data Often
A key strategy for effective small group instruction is to collect data. Data is king! Without data, you cannot plan for your small group instruction. With your data you will determine skills, grouping, and instruction.
What data to you need to collect? For the most effective small group instruction, you need to collect data for each subject area. Generally, these assessments are given towards the beginning of the year so you can determine the best skills to target in your small groups.
For each subject, you may want to start with an assessment that gives you a strong picture of skills students are expected to have at the beginning of the year. This may look like a phonics assessment, a number ID, or writing prompt depending on your grade level. After you have completed the beginning of year assessment, you can give one with end of year expectations. This will help you target your small group instruction for all students – regardless of where they are academically.
After you’ve started your small group instruction, you can ensure it is effective with constant data collection. Checklists, anecdotal notes – whatever works for you! Ensure your students are growing and learning with ongoing assessment. You may also want to give a more formal assessment every other week to get a better gauge on your students skills.
Strategy 5: Evaluate & Adapt
As with any good system, the last strategy for effective small group instruction is to be reflective on your systems. Are your students engaged? How can you tell? Are your students making progress? What data supports that? What is the best thing about your small group instruction? Where could you make improvements.
As you evaluate your current small group instruction, use this FREE guide as a way to think about how you could make your instruction even more effective.
What is your biggest challenge when creating and implementing effective small group instruction? Comment below!