A New Way of Looking at Small Groups


We know that small groups in literacy and math are where the true magic happens.  But how do we continue small groups while socially distancing?  Guided reading and math groups are so very important in differentiating instruction and meeting the academic needs of our students.  They have become a core part of the educational day, and so we must find a new way of looking at small groups in order to keep them.

Our colleagues in the Fearless First Grade group have offered some of their ideas, and we are sharing ours as well.

Social Distancing Dividers

teacher created Plexiglas dividers for students to use when in small groups
Photo courtesy of Sharon Thornton

“I made table barriers from plexiglass and plastic photo holders. This summer, I am teaching summer school in person, so I am trying to figure some things out with them in advance of the school year.  I bought the plexiglass at Home Depot.” ~ Sharon T.

“We’re getting 5 plexi-glass dividers for guided reading.” ~ Chelsea F.

“I saw one teacher that made a screen from the plexiglass in a poster frame. Light weight and cheaper than regular plexiglass.” ~ Kristin B-K.

Classroom Rearranging

“Group them in the same area with their desk and just roll around to them to listen to them read.” ~ Melissa W.

“I really want to have centers outside under a covering.” ~ Vonda C.

“Maybe grouping kids by their desks.  You sit on a tall stool and teach them.” ~ Karen C.

“I am planning on having each of my small groups (3-4 kiddos) sit in the same area.  My seat will move around the room to each “grouping” of students.  I have a small basket of items that I will use with my groups.  (Of course I will be the only one touching them.) ~ Janessa F.

Face Masks Are a Must

“We can meet in small groups with masks. I plan to wear a clear shield during small group reading so they can see the movement of my mouth.” ~ Shannon P-S.

“We’re allowed to do small groups, but everyone must wear a mask at my table.” Bethany B.

Smaller Groups

“Some thoughts I have are 1 on 1, only 2 kids side by side with me in the middle with masks.” ~ Melody M.

“My school’s “solution” is small groups of up to 3 students – guided reading is still required.” ~ Missy E-T.

Individual Materials

using individual bins for student materials in small groups
Photo Courtesy of Sharon Thornton

“I also added a book bin to each seat to hold their books and journals.  Some tables set for 2 and some for 3 kids. I love that the plexiglass is so clear and doesn’t block the kids, or me, from seeing everything.” ~ Sharon T.

“I have created “individual kits” for each of my students.  In these pouches they will find independent work while I am meeting with small groups, as well as their small reading group materials.  This way, we are touching less items.  At the end of each week, I will be leaving out their “readers” and sanitizing them over the weekend before putting them away.” ~ Janessa F.

Teach Small Groups Virtually

“My school is using a hybrid plan this year (2 days face to face/3 days at home).  The plan is to do guided reading groups during the home days.  My students will go home each week with their readers and practice materials.  Since I have to stay at school on “virtual” days, I can meet with each of my small groups through different “meet sessions”.  I am hoping that this works and is less distracting for my kiddos.” ~ Pamela S.

Can’t Do Small Groups?  Use Whole Group

“My district is not allowed to conduct small groups this next year.  I am planning on doing some small group skills during whole group.  After the curriculum lesson, I am going to have them get out their fluency passages, sight word flashcards, word work activities, and phonics word cards.  Even though all of the kiddos will be doing the same type of activity, it will be differentiated for each student.  Going to be more work for me, but better instruction for my students.  I will be able to travel around and “listen in” while the kiddos are working on their specific activities.” ~ Jennifer H.

           Fluency Passages for all Levels
Interactive Phonics Booklets – More Than 100 to Choose From
Sight Word Practice Pages – 300 Sight Words Included
Spelling Word Practice – Word Work With Any List of Words

Innovative Partner Work

“I have decided that I am going to have my students work in pairs on many of their small group activities.  They will still have their own set of materials, but my plan is to strategically pair them (high/med, med/low, etc.) so they can help each other.  Obviously, we will practice social distancing, but this way they get some social interaction and dialogue.” ~ Susan B.

“My students will complete literacy and math small group activities with partners.  They will each have their own set of materials for the activity, but will work together to do the tasks.  I am going to socially distance them by using pool noodles.  (Each kiddo will sit at one end of a long pool noodle.)  I grabbed a bunch from the Dollar Store the other day.” ~ Becky F.

pool noodle being used as a social distancing measure while students do small group centers

Teaching with small groups is definitely going to take some innovative thinking this year.  We have offered a few ideas here.  If you have one that you are planning to use, please share it in the comments below.  This is definitely a topic that is on many teachers’ minds as we return to school or distance learning.  Just know, that we are here to support you and we are all in this together. ❤️

-Written by Janessa Fletcher

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