At the start of the school year there seem to be so many assessments. It feels like a relief when your students are ready for small group instruction. I remember my very first year teaching wondering what in the world I was supposed to do during that time.

My school district used a guided reading approach, but I noticed that many teachers spent an entire session doing picture walks and guessing about what was happening in the story. I also noticed that there was very little phonics instruction during the reading process. I had a feeling I could organize my groups in a way that would meet students needs (Update: Now that I have learned more about the Science of Reading, this all makes much more sense to me!)

While we used the DRA at the time to develop our reading groups, I realized that different students sometimes within the group needed help with different skills.

Here’s how I organized my time with groups in order to best meet the needs of my students with 20 minute group sessions. You could also use decoding skills as a way to form your groups.

3 minutes fluency- Students choose and read a familiar text, select a favorite or important part to read, text on a sentence strip, decodable cards, or even reread a poem I have introduced to the class. This is great to have ready so that when students transition to the meeting spot they get started with this right away.

8 minutes- Phonics/Phonemic awareness-  Depending on what students need, and the skill in the book/ decodable they are reading, I engage in some targeted instruction. For example, Writing on white boards, building words with letter tiles or magnets, examining spelling patterns in words/ sight words, Oral segmenting/ blending tasks.

1 minute- Book introduction- This is QUICK… maybe even less than a minute. We’ve already warmed up with words. Depending on the quality of the decodable (my prefered text for early readers), I sometimes do a word walk where I point out and we discuss a word or name that may have unknown spelling patterns if I did not address this in the phonics portion of the lesson. (“Can you find the word “said” on this page) to get them ready to read. I then give the students a one line “hook” to get them interested (“I wonder if they will ever find Spot”).

5 minutes reading- All students are whisper reading to themselves during this time. This is when I take a quick running record of the student in the star chair.  It is a little noisy, but it is more distracting to me than it is to my students.  While the students are reading, I place a reading comprehension discussion card in the center of the table. When the students are done reading the book, they look to the card, and find a page that helps them to answer the question. They practice rereading the page they chose until all readers are done reading.

3 minutes comprehension discussion- I use comprehension discussion cards for students to respond to. These are generic prompts. Students read the page they chose and their ideas reasoning in regards to the question/ prompt (great for finding text evidence and building oral reading fluency as they reread their evidence out loud).

For more about my comprehension routine, check out this set of discussion cards which includes prompts to informational and narrative text.

I have always found that, if possible, groups of a maximum of 3-4 students is ideal.

Formatting my reading groups this way helped students:
  • Develop and apply strong decoding skills
  • Develop reading fluency
  • Develop confidence as readers 
  • Love and be excited for reading group
  • Become more accurate, fluent, and thoughtful readers
  • Expect to read lots of books, and build reading stamina

Note When I first wrote this post, I used the terms guided reading and balanced literacy. These terms have been updated, as I have learned more and come to an understanding that balanced literacy and guided reading were something different to most people than I had been taught. Balanced literacy, I now know, is sometimes (maybe even often) associated with a lower emphasis on phonics and phonological awareness, skills that we know are crucial to the development of literacy for students. The study of the Science of Reading helps us to understand that these focuses are critical and cannot be overlooked.

What are my other students doing during this time? Check out this post for more!

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