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20 Tools to Include in Your Guided Reading & Math Baskets

August 24, 2021 by Janessa Fletcher




Guided reading and math groups are where all of the magic 🪄 happens. You get to hone in on the specific skills your students in that particular group need. You can do quick checks and explicitly reteach skills in new and innovative ways. But how do you ensure you maximize the time that you have in those guided reading and math groups? By making sure you have all of the tools you need to help your students achieve success! ✅ Check out these 20 teacher-recommended tools to include in your guided reading and math baskets.

Small Group Tool 1 – Flashcards

Flashcards make a great warm-up to the start of your guided reading or math groups. Use alphabet, sight word, CVC, or other phonics skills cards, numbers, addition or subtraction facts to get your students in the right mindset for what they are working on in the group. You can also create a routine in your guided groups where your students sit down and use the flashcards with a partner. This way, you can make sure the rest of the class is on task and starting their next center activity correctly.

2 – Whiteboards, Markers, Erasers

Your students will always get excited when you bust out with the whiteboards. For some reason, everything seems more fun when it can be done on a whiteboard with special markers. 🤣 Not to mention, you are able to run through skills really quickly. Whiteboards also allow students the opportunity to take risks with their responses. Changes can quickly be made if the answer needs to be revised. I have also seen teachers try dry erase table spots that stick to your small group table and word just like a dry erase board. They cut down on the amount of time it takes to pass out the boards.

Small Group Tool 3 – Sentence Strips

The possibilities are endless with sentence strips! 🤩 You can use them to write letters of the alphabet on, sight words, words with a specific phonics skill, phrases, numbers, math facts, and much, much more! I like to play a game called “Pass the Page” in my guided small groups. Students read through the strip and then pass it to the person on their right. We continue passing until they get their original strip back. It’s another great warm-up to get the group started.

Small Group Tool 4 – Magnetic Letters & Numbers

Run 🏃‍♀️ to the Dollar Store and grab a couple of packages of magnetic letters, numbers, and cookie sheets. These tools for your guided reading and math groups will allow you to dictate different words and problems to your students and watch their thinking while they work through them. Use these to build sight words or phonics words, answer math facts, create number patterns, etc.

5 – Elkonin Box Mats

Okay, so I gave myself away as a kindergarten teacher with this one. 😉 Every kinder teacher owns a set of Elkonin box mats. LOL You use these to help your students segment words into sounds. You can do this in a couple of different ways. If you are solely working on phonemic awareness (hearing the sounds in words), I recommend having your students push a double-sided counter, cube, or other manipulative into each box as they say a sound in the word. If you want to include phonics in the mix, grab those magnetic letters and have your students build the word using the sounds they hear.

Small Group Tool 6 – Number Lines

Number lines are a must-have for guided math groups. You can use them in so many different ways. Your students can practice counting forward and backward on a number line, identify the number that comes next or before a given number, fill in the missing numbers, add numbers together, and subtract numbers from one another. You may want to add in small animal erasers your students can use to “hop” to the different numbers. 😊 They just make the learning so much more fun!

Small Group Tool 7 – Hundred Charts

Like flashcards, I use hundred charts as a warm-up for the students in my guided math group to do while I am making sure the rest of the class has rotated and is on task in their small group centers. Similar to the activities we discussed above with number lines, you can also use hundreds charts to work on counting up to or down from 100, as well as skip counting.

8 – Alphabet Cards

Alphabet cards are a must in a preschool and kindergarten guided reading group. We spend the start of the school year working on letter names and sounds and then we can use the alphabet cards to build words with later on. They can be used as flashcards, you can play memory or uppercase/lowercase letter match. I sometimes bring in objects and have students choose the letter that is the beginning sound of those objects. You can also play “I Spy” by saying letter sounds and see if they can choose the correct alphabet card.

9 – Leveled Readers

Each guided reading group that you have will have its own leveled reader based on the needs of that group of students. Many of my other activities revolve around the leveled reader my groups are reading that week. I grab those sight word cards used in the text, focus on that particular phonics skill, and create comprehension questions based on the story.

Small Group Tool 10 – Fly Swatters

Hear me out on this one… what makes learning sight words, phonics words, letters of the alphabet, numbers, and math facts fun?! Swatting them with fly swatters of course! 🤩 Make cards with the target skills on them for practice. Have your students ‘swat’ the word, sum, letter, number, etc. that you call out. It is also a fun center that you can use after they’ve practiced it in your group. This way, you can set the guidelines and expectations for this activity so everyone stays safe.

11 – Cubes, Counters, Pattern Blocks

You can never have enough manipulatives for math. They can be used to count, create patterns, model word problems, and equations, create shapes, and compare quantities. It is also a great way to keep their attention. Your students will like the novelty of having new manipulatives to use every few weeks. ☝️ Note to Remember… let your students ‘play’ with the manipulatives for a few minutes before using them as learning tools. It will definitely save you time throughout the lesson reminding them to stop playing. 😉

12 – Sight Word Cards

Sight word cards are great for warming up your students prior to reading their leveled reader or as a short game at the end of your guided reading group. Students can practice the words with a partner, or you can play FLIP. (Lay a card face down in front of each student – when you say “flip”, they flip the card over and read the word; if they are correct, they keep the card, if they aren’t you get the card back, slide it into your stack and deal out new cards again. The student with the most cards when the deck has been dealt wins.)

Small Group Tool 13 – Games

Your students will love being able to play a game once in a while during your guided reading and math groups. This can happen if they’ve been working really hard if you are between leveled readers and want to give them a break for the day, or as a way to ‘sneak’ some academics in without them knowing. You can play games like BINGO (there is practically a BINGO version of any type of skill you want your students to practice; alphabet, numbers, shapes, addition/subtraction, sight words, etc.), Spot It – a great eye-hand coordination game, or “I Have, Who Has?” that focuses on a variety of ELA and Math skills. Gameday is definitely a favorite for my students and they work hard all week to earn it.

Small Group Tool 14 – Fluency Passages

Teachers use fluency passages in many ways. Some choose to use them as a quick assessment tool to track reading fluency and comprehension skills. Others like to have students read the passages in a guided reading group and then send them home to practice or have students continue practicing while working independently. Most fluency passage sets have tons to choose from, so it is easy to differentiate for your students.

15 – Sand Timers

Going along with fluency passages… if you are using them as a quick assessment, you may also want sand timers in your guided reading group basket. This way, your students can practice timing their own fluency progress while you may be monitoring another student in the group. They quietly time themselves and practice until it is their turn.

Small Group Tool 16 – Pointers or Other Finger Items

Okay, tattling on myself again as a kindergarten teacher with this one… 🤣 Young learners who are just beginning the process of reading track print with their fingers. Why not make this fun?! You can use special pointer wands (small of course, so they don’t cover the words), those finger eyeballs that rest on your index fingers. During Halloween, you can use witch fingers, or any other items that get your students excited to track print and begin to read. (I also like to use these when my students are practicing counting to 100 on a hundred chart.)

17 – Ten Frame Mats

Ten frame mats are so versatile. We can use them to help our students subitize (think 10 frame flashcards). Students can model given numbers by placing objects on ten frames. They can count completed ten frames and write or choose the correct number that represents how many in the ten frames. They can use ten frames to begin learning about place value, counting on or back from a given number, adding two numbers together (use double-sided counters for that one), and much, much, more.

18 – Cars

Are you lifting an eyebrow right now? You must think that I have lost my mind and am just trying to reach the magic number 20. 😉 So, I’ve seen teachers use cars to help their students learn to blend letter sounds together to read words. Give your students a word card and have your students “drive” their car from letter to letter as they blend the sounds together to read the word.

Small Group Tool 19 – Reading Strategies Cards

Once your students have gotten a little bit better at their blending skills, you can start introducing reading strategies. If they come to a word that they don’t know, they will need to try different strategies to help them figure out the unknown word. You can have large posters behind your table to use as a reference or small desk cards that your students can flip through and find the strategy they want to try.

20 – Student Growth Chart/Incentive

You may want to keep your students pumped about the success they are having in your guided small groups. I’ve seen teachers have sticker charts on the front of student folders where they earn a sticker each day in the guided reading and math groups when they work hard and do their personal best. There are also some teachers who choose to give out small rewards every day or week based on student work and effort.

As I said before, guided reading and math groups are where you really get to dive into the individual needs of your students. They are grouped based on skill level, so you are able to tailor your instruction to match. Not to mention, having only 3 or 4 students to teach is much easier than 20-25. You definitely get a lot more done and can offer the intervention or extension individual students need.

So, scan your classroom and grab these tools for your guided reading and math baskets, and get to work! 🤩 I can’t wait to hear about all of the wonderful things you are doing with your students in those small groups. Please share your ideas and success stories in the comments below. 😍

Written by – Janessa Fletcher

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