Successful Classroom Management Strategies For Small Group Instruction
Are you struggling to find successful classroom management strategies for small group instruction? During my first few years of teaching, I sure was! There is no course on classroom management on the path to becoming a teacher. So much of it is learning by trial and error. Managing 18 young children on my own was challenging enough I couldn’t even think about running small groups. Fast forward a few years and I discovered the most successful classroom management strategies for small group instruction. I can’t believe I used to teach without any small groups! Small group instruction is key to student success. Did you know students are 80% more likely to participate in a small group? You can learn more about the benefits of small group instruction here.
Whether you’re new to teaching or you’ve got a few years (or more) under your belt, running effective small groups in K-2 can be intimidating! There is a lot to get done in a day and it seems like more keeps getting added every year! Good news: you can do it all and effective small group instruction is the key. Grab this free guide to map out your small group instruction for the year! From more management strategies to group creation and data collection, these 7 steps will make small groups your favorite time of the day!
Why Your Classroom Needs Small Groups
The data is clear: small group instruction is key to student success at any age, but especially in the K-2, early elementary classroom. When working in a group of 2-3 peers, children are more likely to speak up and participate more. Small group instruction creates an active, relationship-focused learning environment. While whole group instruction often allows students to slide to the wayside. Running small groups can seem overwhelming at first (can’t anything that’s new?!) but once you’ve practiced and dialed in the classroom management during your small groups it will soon become the best part of your day. I find my class runs smoother with small groups because children are engaged. When students are engaged behaviors decreases and success increases.
How Does Effective classroom management strategies for Small Group Instruction Help Students
Small group instruction helps students because it creates a personal learning experience. Research shows that 1) learning is a social task (meaning children learn more when working with peers) and 2) working in a small group increases student engagement and success. Small group instruction allows teachers to easily collect accurate data through assessment and anecdotal notes. This data allows teachers to tailor their instruction to each student’s needs and create a model that allows for fluidity in students learning.
Level Your Instruction with Small Groups
The most useful part of small group instruction is that teachers can easily differentiate tasks between student levels. Each child has their own strengths and this is nearly impossible to manage in a whole group setting! How can you possibly teach some below, at, and beyond grade level at the same time?! Spoiler alert: you can’t. Small group instruction is the key to meeting students where they are at and pushing them forward within their zone of proximal development (thanks, Vygotsky. Learn more about the zone of proximal development here.)
Avoiding Overwhelm When Thinking of Classroom management strategies for Small Group Instruction
Let me guess what you’re thinking: “Okay, I know small group instruction is important but I can’t possibly plan a lesson for each group ON TOP of my whole group plans! There just isn’t enough time!”. You’re right. There is not enough time to possibly plan a unique lesson for each group on top of your whole group instruction. So, don’t.
“Wait…didn’t you just say I need to level instruction for each small group but now you’re telling me I don’t have to plan unique lessons??”
The most effective planning strategy for small group instruction is to start with your main lesson and break it down based on student skill level. Say your target goal is short vowel sounds. You start your literacy block with a whole group introduction to short vowels, then each of your small groups should be working on a skill related to short vowels. Your level 1 students could be working on pre-reading skills, such as rhyming and letter-sound identification. Your level 2 students could be building and reading words, while your level 3 students are looking for and reading short vowel words in decodable reading passages. Looking for more ideas on how to differentiate short vowel instruction? Be sure to check out these free short vowel activities you can use in your small group instruction!
Creating Successful Small Groups
Like most teaching, creating successful small groups in the K-2 classroom is an art. It is fluid as you grow as a teacher and as the needs of your students change year to year or even day by day. The most successful small groups are fluid and data-driven. Engrain data collection into your weekly small group plans and adjust students frequently based on skill growth. As you keep your groups fluid, this increases student engagement and learning. Not sure how to incorporate data collection into your small group instruction, or need support in creating fluid small groups? Be sure to grab this free guide to create effective small groups in your K-2 classroom!
Classroom management strategies for small group instruction
As you read through these small group classroom management strategies try to envision yourself in your classroom. You, as a teacher, bring a unique style to your classroom. It’s one of the many reasons you are an amazing teacher and your students thrive in your classroom! When you read these classroom management strategies for small group instruction, be sure to try each of them as written but then tailor them to fit your personality and the needs of your students. While there are best practices and effective strategies, there is no one size fits all for effective small-group instruction!
Start Your Small Groups ASAP
Children (and many adults!) thrive on routine and structure. Why wait to start working towards your end goal? From day one of school set the expectation for independent activities and remove yourself from the learning. While you are starting your routine for small group instruction immediately, I do not recommend pulling your groups right away. Use this time to watch and learn from your class. Walk around the room. Take notes. Talk to students. Build those relationships. Use this time to establish the expectation that students work without adults (independently, or collaboratively) and model problem-solving strategies. As you walk around working with groups, discuss how you are not available to help other groups. This sets the routine and expectation for when you pull students for small group instruction.
Keep It Moving
Ideally, your small group instruction should be no more than 20 minutes for grades K-2. There should be a balance of direct instruction, guided practice, conversation, independent practice, and collaboration. To increase student engagement, change up the activities when your students begin to either 1) demonstrate the skill or 2) become disengaged or distracted. Let your students guide the pacing of the group. If the group finishes activities quickly, what can you do to level their instruction? Is there a student who needs to move groups? Or, if the group is taking longer on a specific task, what other ways can they practice that skill?
Make It Routine
Your small group instruction should be routine and predictable. When children know what is expected and understand the routine, it elevates common anxiety and questions. A visual checklist can be a helpful classroom management strategy for small group instruction. This allows students to easily see what they have accomplished, and what activities they have left to complete. An effective routine for small group instruction follows a guided learning approach. Often, small groups begin with a warm-up of a previously learned skill. This may look like quickly naming letters or sounds, counting, or performing simple equations. After a warm-up, the group is led through direct instruction or guided discovery, finally concluding with a group or independent activity.
Praise Your Students
You cannot praise your students enough. Note their collaboration. Discuss their successes and struggles. Get their opinions. Ask what they like about the small group instruction time, and what they would improve on. Get students invested in their learning and in the classroom culture. It can be motivating to show students their data. After each small group, choose one student to stay for an extra minute or two. Show them their growth! This small conversation is motivating for students as it allows them to be reflective and visualize their own growth.
Don’t Be Afraid to Stop and Restart
When teaching small groups, you also need to be able to keep an eye and an ear on the rest of your class. Not sure how to manage the rest of your class? Check out these 5 Easy Steps for How to Manage Small Groups in the Classroom. As you are teaching your small groups if you notice the rest of your class kind of “losing it” don’t be afraid to finish the group and address the whole class before beginning your next group. If you stop a group early, be sure to pull them again later. Discuss with the class the value of this learning time and when the students miss out on their small group instruction (due to behaviors), it impacts what they are able to accomplish.
Getting in the Small Group Groove
When trying new classroom management strategies for small group instruction, give yourself time and grace! It can take a bit to get into the small group groove. Don’t change it up too often. Give yourself and your students 4-6 weeks of a new routine before determining its effectiveness. Small group instruction can be challenging at first – but don’t give up! The benefits to students are numerous and, with a little support and practice, you will have the strategies to make small group instruction in the K-2 classroom a breeze!
Rock Your Small Groups Year after Year
Each year 16-20 (or maybe 30!) students walk into your classroom with their set of strengths, weaknesses, and heads filled with wonder. Your small group instruction will (and should!) look different every year. While you shouldn’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel! Download this free guide and use it year after year to reflect upon your small group instruction and utilize the classroom management strategies inside!
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