My Small-Group Instruction Journey

Happy Summer!

I've been off for 3 weeks now, and have managed to spend only 4 of those days cleaning/packing my classroom and doing other PD-related things...woo! Yes, I've got a few classes I'll be working on this summer, but my main goal is to blog, create, and share my resources. I plan to start by sharing pieces of a presentation I created for a small-group instruction workshop I'm leading in my district.

I know MANY teachers out there already use the Daily 5 system, and some may even teach math in small groups. I've created many of my own adaptations to these system, and since we as teachers are always tweaking and adjusting, there may be some new ideas floating around in this post and the ones to follow. However, we as teachers are also always learning from each other, and many of my practices were inspired by other awesome educators. I will try to give credit where it's due!

On that note, the lovely graphics in the presentation are from I Teach. What's Your Superpower? and the adorable fonts are from Graphics from the Pond and Rowdy in Room 300.

In my workshop, I focus on 3 different subjects in which I use small group instruction: math, literacy, and writing. I plan to share how those work for my class in future posts. Today I'll share the basics of how I implement and organize small group instruction in my classroom. But to start, I just want to share a bit about my experience, starting with this question:

It was frustrating. Math was particularly aggravating—I had one group of students who understood the lesson before I taught it and completed the work instantly, one group who understood the lesson after a few examples and had just enough time to complete the work, and one group the didn’t understand the lesson and needed help.

Reading was also a challenge. My district used a primer (eek!), so students weren’t reading books at their just-right level. Getting around to hear pairs of students read was inefficient and ineffective. Creating “centers” was labor-intensive, chaotic, and often confusing for students. And, I didn’t know where students were at with their reading or comprehension.

What I Did


So, I spent the next summer reading. I read teaching blogs and discovered what other teachers were doing to solve these problems. I learned about the Daily 5, and read the book. I read about how to run small-group math, why students needed to read just-right books, and created materials to help myself organize those systems the following year.

Small group instruction allowed me to differentiate effectively and efficiently. It allowed students to always be on-task, and eliminated the “I’m done. Now what?” conundrum. It also maximized everyone’s time: students had independent work time to practice skills and teachers/paras had time to meet with small groups of students.

Who Can Use Small Group Instruction?


As a public school teacher, I have always had students with special needs in my classes. Though I've had support in the form of a special education teacher or paraprofessional at points during the school day, I had the experience of a coteaching format this past year (and will again this year). This meant that most students with academic special needs at the second grade level were placed in my class, and the special educator and I cotaught the class. Although this wasn't a seamless transition (students qualified for services throughout the year from other classes, meaning my coteacher was not in the classroom for about 30-40% of the day), it did allow us to teach all of our students IN the classroom for most of the day (i.e., very little pull-out instruction for students with special needs).

Although small-group instruction works well in this format, I was using it successfully before I started coteaching. Small group is wonderful for whatever support setup you have in your classroom. A special ed teacher could lead a small group (with any mix of students), a para or tutor could lead a small group or oversee a particular activity/station, a reading specialist, ST, or OT could push in for instruction, or a classroom teacher could run instruction alone. It’s all possible!

While this extra instructor's ultimate goal is to provide support to specific students, (s)he is also coaching independence. The student(s) receiving support per an IEP don’t typically need full-on, teacher-right-next-to-him/her assistance. With that in mind, the models I’ll be sharing about have room for those teachers/paras to play a role in the classroom where they can support all students while also encouraging independence from them.

A word about classroom management here: 


I find it’s important for any people who will be working in my classroom to know, understand, and use my classroom rules and management (and hold students to the same standards I do). When kids are given an inch, they’ll take a mile, and if they realize a way they can get away with things, they’ll take advantage!




This was my schedule this past year (the gap from 9:10-9:50 was our specialist block), which was far from ideal. Morning special AND first lunch was tough, and put most of our instruction in the afternoon--yuck. However, the students were incredibly flexible and we had a lot of success with this schedule, a true make-it-work moment.


 Among things to prep ahead are signage (such as anchor charts, board displays for assignments, grouping signs, bookmarks/schedules, bingo boards, a reading strategy menu, and labels), centers/activities (such as monthly math centers, fact practice materials, and word work materials), and other items (such as checks for understanding, a listen to reading setup, book bins, reading group baskets, teacher time bins, and reading conference forms and/or other record-keeping systems).
Read to Self anchor chart is from Creekside Teacher Tales, labels are from 3rd Grade Thoughts, and the inspiration for the reading strategies MENU comes from both Gail Boushey and Joan Moser's The CAFE Book and 3rd Grade Thoughts' adaptation of the system.

Organization Advice


Set aside a time to plan each week and be faithful to it. Have a planner (I use paper for my draft, and type final plans and groupings) and ensure that you have (and refer to!) your year-long plans.

Remember: Differentiation is fluid! Using small group instruction, you'll create groupings for everything: learning partners, reading groups, math groups, writing groups. Include these as part of your plans and change them regularly.

Stick to your schedule, especially if you are coteaching or receive any kind of scheduled support! For students on IEPs, it is crucial that they receive every minute of instruction that their IEP promises, be it from the classroom or SpEd teacher. Managing para schedules in addition to their own is daunting for SpEd teachers, and we need to respect that work.

Teach what you plan. Reteaching or revisiting can always be done down the road, but you put time and thought into your plans, and scrapping them should only be done in extreme circumstances. The amount of content we’re responsible for means that every minute counts. Long-range planning and pacing guides exist to keep us on track!

A typical week in my Erin Condren Teacher Planner, stickers from 3rd Grade Thoughts!


Easy and quick accessibility is key in classroom setup. Students need to be able to easily and independently get to their book bins, centers, word work materials, folders/journals, etc. Additionally, materials need to be organized and labeled, and students need to be held accountable for keeping them that way. Checking on this could be a classroom job.

An Ode to Rainbow Tables: I am a HUGE believer in having at least 2 “teacher” tables in the room. This doesn’t always mean teachers are at them—in math, students sit at one for math centers. However, 2 teachers tables gives you options for instructional setup, spreading kids out, running multiple groups, etc.

Thanks so much for sticking with me through this post! I hope the information was helpful, and I'm looking forward to sharing more about how Daily 5, Math Rotations, and Writing Groups work in my classroom!

- Lisa :)


No comments

Back to Top