Teaching Reading with Small Groups

Quite a few years ago when we became a Reading First school, our Reading Coach talked a lot about flexible grouping during small group reading lessons.  It took me a while to really figure out how to make this work in my classroom.  I kept wanting to make myself a group during small group time, but this did not allow for flexible grouping {grouping that changes very frequently, even daily if needed, based on your student’s needs}.  I finally discovered that if I take myself out of the groups I created for Work Stations (centers) then I could pull any students that I wanted over to my small group table.  
This was a great change, however, I still had a hard time figuring out which skills each student really needed to work on and I found myself always having the students read and discuss books or reviewing the weekly phonics skills that was taught during whole group instruction.  
Anyways, long story short, two years ago I created this binder.

I just changed the cover yesterday to add some cuteness 😉
Inside of this binder, I have sheet protectors with paper inserts of all of the phonemic awareness and phonics goals for my 1st graders. 
Sorry. I don’t know why it loaded sideways.

   I write all of my students names on small Post-It notes and place them on the first page, which is letter names.  I start off the year by calling small groups over and making sure that my students know all of their letter names.  Once a child knows all the letter names, I move their post it to the next section of phonemic awareness (rhyme and alliteration). I have now created a new small group that I will work on these skills.  If a child has mastered rhyme and alliteration, their post it will be moved to the next section (sentence segmenting).  You will find that many of your students will move quickly through the phonemic awareness sections, but others will get stuck at one or two.  This is why this is so helpful, because now you know what to focus on for these particular students and you also know that those that have moved on, truly have these skills mastered.

These students have mastered all of the phonemic awareness sections and they have moved onto the phonics sections.

This allows me to pull over 4 or 5 students that all need to work on words with short a, for example.  Usually during small group time, I will work on a phonemic awareness or phonics skill and then we will do some guided reading or some other type of reading work.
Also, behind each sheet protector with the skill, I have 3 hole punched a two pocket folder that contains materials that I need in order to teach that particular skill. 

Another sideways picture

Here are the progression sheets that I used. (These were based off of the 1st grade Treasures Reading Series, so they may not fit your needs.)  If you have a different set of phonics skills, email me the progression of your phonics and I can get those made for you.

Click to download

The download also includes recording sheets for letter names and letter sounds.  For example:

Reading back through this post, I’m not sure that it was all clear enough.  Feel free to ask questions if you have them.

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  1. Oh my goodness, You are a genius! I have been trying to figure out how to keep track of what skills students need and how to keep them moving and you did it. I teach 2nd grade but I think I can use the same concept and just change the skills to what we do. Thanks!!!

  2. This is absolutely amazing!!! You are one smart cookie. I love the post it note idea, too. We use Houghton Mifflin but I think your progession is the same. I may be getting back to you on that one, though. Thank you so much for sharing!!!!!!! I can't wait to show my team!
    A Teeny Tiny Teacher

  3. Awesome!!! Love the post-it idea! I will adapt this for kindergarten. Hopefully, it will help me improve flexibility with my small groups and keeping better track of students' progress. Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. WOW! We are a Literacy First School. We became a Phase IV school just this year, and it's about to eat my lunch! I have found that it's easier to make myself one of the stations. I group the kids by what skill they are on (if there are several on a variety of phoneme blending, isolation, etc. I go ahead and put them together because I'm going to hit all the problem areas). It works really well for me. It's great to see some downloads that will work for my needs. Thank you!

  5. Thank you!! I am def going to try this. This is my first year of teaching and I'm in first grade and small groups is what I have been having problems with. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! If you could post again and explain a little more, that would be even more helpful!!

  6. Can I just tell you how stressed my first grade team has been the last month? We have a new reading coach that wants us to reduce the amount of time we are spending on individual reading conferences (which I love) and start doing more skill based, flexible small groups.
    I haven't been able to get past the assessment aspect– how long does it take you to assess these groups to see when they move to the next skill? What assessment do you use?
    All I have been able to see is the extra amount of work I will be doing (assessing, grouping, planning tons of small group lessons). I love your binder idea. I really needed to see my reading coach's "vision" in a real life classroom.
    Can you write another post about what you actually teach in your group– how long is the lesson, what materials, content, assessment? Another couple of questions (I'm sorry!)– Do you have time for reading conferences, or do you mainly spend your time doing small groups? How long are your groups, how frequently do you meet with them? Do you do Daily 5 or something else?
    I'm so sorry to have so many questions. It just seems like you're doing reading the way we are expected to change and do reading. I'm sending my team to your blog to check it out. Thank you!!

  7. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your ideas. I "use" Treasures, also, and have struggled with my MTSS groups and small flexible grouping as far as documentation and keeping track of where everyone is. I am curious, too, about what activities you use and assessment, etc. Thank you so much. I love your blog!

  8. Wow, what a great idea! I always struggled with reading groups like this… so much to keep up with and figure out who knows what, etc. This seems like a great organization tool to help with that! Like others, I would love to know more about what activities and assessments you use. Thanks for sharing this idea!

  9. if anyone has ideas for assessments or activities that can go along with this notebook please share as I totally love the concept but am a first year first grade teacher.

  10. OH WOW!!!! This is amazing!!!! I love this idea and you know how I feel about sticky notes…. 🙂

    Thanks Jodi!!!!

  11. I love this idea:) can you also add what types of activities the rest of your class does during group time? I have taught 1st grade for 10years now and this year I am really struggling for some reason with reading. I do small groups almost daily but have a hard time with the other darlings in my class:) Thanks so much:)

  12. I love this idea:) can you also add what types of activities the rest of your class does during group time? I have taught 1st grade for 10years now and this year I am really struggling for some reason with reading. I do small groups almost daily but have a hard time with the other darlings in my class:) Thanks so much:)

  13. I love this idea! I am a first year teacher in a struggling school district in AZ, and our principal wants us to do more small group work, now that it is the middle of the school year. I would love to know what skills/materials you also store in your binder. This could really help me in organizing my small groups!
    Thanks so much for sharing!

  14. Why didn't I think of this!? As a reading intervention teacher, I work with almost 40 students daily, in small groups. I'm forever making lists… this will simplify my task. Thank you!

  15. I understand this completely. I am a member of Angela Watson’s 40HTW and found your link included in last month’s materials re: Streamlining Small Groups. I looked through many links she provided and yours has helped me the most. I teach kindergarten and am going to be starting flexible groups at the end of this quarter. The post it system moving through skills is genius. Now, I just need a notebook with the progression of skills and materials gathered to teach those skills as needed.

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