Small Groups Made Simple: 5-Step Daily Routine


“Anyone use a small group routine they love?”

“What do you do in your small groups?”

“I need help during small group/center time.”

Targeted small group instruction is where you get the most bang for your buck. But you don’t have to create a different lesson for each of your small groups. You can use this 5-step small group routine daily for each one. All you have to do is change the decodable depending on the phonics skills each group is working on.

Small Group Routine Step 1. Turn Their Ears On

Start with a phonological awareness activity. This gets your students listening for the sounds and words they will be working with during the lesson. Some possible PA activities you can do with your students include:

  • Sound Isolation: ask your students what sound they hear at the beginning, middle, or end of a given word. (Ex. What sound do you hear at the end of ‘tap’?)
  • Blending Sounds: when given sounds, students will blend to say the word (Ex. What word do we say when we blend the sounds /d/ /a/ /d/?)
  • Segmenting Sounds: when given a word, students will say all of the sounds they hear in the word (Ex. Tell me the sounds you hear in the word ‘Sam’.)
  • Sound Manipulation: ask your students to create a new word by changing a sound in a given word (Ex. What new word do you create when you change the /r/ in ‘rat’ to a /b/?)

It is important to note that these are LISTENING exercises and nothing should be written down at this time. When I do PA lessons in whole group, I turn off the lights in my classroom, as we are “learning to listen” and do not need our eyes to hear the sounds. If your students do need a visual assist as they are struggling with “hearing” or “producing” the sounds, I recommend using a sound desk card to cue them into the proper mouth formation of sounds.

Step 2. Word Warm-Up

It is always wise to introduce your students to some of the words they will see in their decodable prior to reading. This allows them time to practice decoding those words and helps to build confidence in word recognition.

You can practice these words through word mapping activities. Using picture or word cards of the vocabulary from the decodable, your students can “map” their sounds onto mats. Students will say the name of the picture, segment the word into sounds, and write those sound spellings on the mat. Finish the row by writing the word. If a particular group needs sound spelling support, I highly recommend having them reference a sound wall.

Once they’ve had a couple of days mapping these words, they can practice reading them in isolation. I like to have them “think and read”. They put their finger under a particular word, give them think time to blend the word in their head, then read the word aloud.

Small Group Routine Step 3. Fluency Building

Now comes the decodable or leveled reader. Depending on the fluency skills of the group you are working with, you can read the decodable with your students in different ways. It is important to read the book multiple times to build fluency and allow your students the opportunities to practice their decoding skills.

You can create another small group routine within your instruction by following a series of ways to read with your students. Choose from any of these strategies or come up with your own. It is very important that you are listening as your students read, no matter which strategy you use.

  • Echo Reading: The teacher reads first and then the students repeat that sentence. Reading continues this way.
  • Choral Reading: The teacher starts reading and the students join in as everyone reads together.
  • Buddy Reading: Pair your students up and have them take turns reading to each other.
  • Whisper Reading: Your students can quietly whisper read to themselves as you lean in and listen.
  • Independent Reading: Once you are confident your students can read the book, they can practice in a center on their own.

Remember to read the book with your students more than one time before having them read independently. It is their opportunity to practice becoming a more fluent reader. And your opportunity to provide valuable feedback on their word decoding.


Step 4. Understanding What You Read

After your students have read their book a few times, you can check for their understanding of the story by asking some comprehension questions. It is important to differentiate the level and type of questions depending on the abilities of the students in the group that you are working with.

For younger learners, when you ask comprehension questions, allow them to answer orally, draw a picture, or point to an answer. If you have older students, they can write responses to questions but please note that classmate discussions are equally important. I like having small group discussions because they easily lend themselves to hearing others’ opinions and thoughts.

You can discuss the comprehension questions during small group and then have your students write their answers in their books during one of their center rotations.

Small Group Routine Step 5. Beyond the Book

Now that they have practiced a phonics skill within the text, through phonological awareness activities, and word mapping tasks, it is time to extend the small group routine into your other centers. You can do this through a variety of activities and in many different ways. Using an activity specific to the target phonics skill within the decodable, your students can “show what they know” in centers, as independent practice, a follow-up to your guided small group, or for homework.

As an added accountability measure, they can turn the printable in to you for credit, or work in pairs and have a partner check their answers. It is an easy way for your students to apply their phonics knowledge in an engaging way. And it’s also a nice quick check for you to know that they are ready to move on to the next skill in the scope and sequence.

Planning for and prepping your small groups can become very time-consuming. Especially when you want to be thorough and get the most out of that targeted instruction. By incorporating this small group routine into your literacy groups, you will be able to save yourself time, while still providing high-quality differentiated instruction.

As you create each phonics skill set, organize and tuck away the picture cards and word mapping mats, and keep a master of each specific phonics skill independent practice activity. This way, everything is at your fingertips when you are planning your small group instruction. You only need to make copies of the books, so your students can read them with you during the week and then take them home to share with their families.

Students thrive on a routine, and your small groups are no different. Follow this 5-step small group routine and have impactful literacy groups each day for your students. It will definitely lead to a classroom of strong readers!

Written by: Janessa Fletcher


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