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Small Group Instruction Ideas For Middle and High School Classrooms

Small group instruction looks different in every classroom - sometimes it is a structured intervention program, other times it is the teacher working with a small group of students on a focused task like guided reading or writing. Several great strategies are shared on how to make small group instruction meaningful in the secondary classroom from the 2 Peas and a Dog blog.

Effective small group instruction is a key tool to use in any classroom. It is essential in the ELA classroom to help all students achieve success.

Small group instruction looks different in every classroom – sometimes, it is a structured intervention program, and other times, it is the teacher working with a small group of students on a focused task like guided reading or writing.

Whatever your purpose for small group instruction, we have useful ideas from great #2ndaryELA teachers.  Read the curated Twitter chat on Small Group Instruction below to add some new ideas to your teacher toolbox.

Q1: Have you tried small group instruction in your ELA classroom? For what purpose?

  • I use small group instruction regularly after my whole group lesson. I try to meet with all of the students at my guided reading table. Since everyone comes to the guided reading table at some point during the week, students do not feel like they are getting centred out. Even my highly able students come and have a quick check-in at the table. 
  • Small group used for guided groups and remediation 
  • Right now, as a Response to Intervention (RTI) specialist, small group instruction is all I do, some pull out, some push in 
  • My classes *are* small group instruction… they’ve ranged in size from 2 students to 8 students
  • Small group instruction is at the core of my workshop classroom. Groups are always flexible and change based on students’ needs. 
  • I have tried small group instruction when I needed to re-teach. I did this during centers time
  • I use it to re-teach, conference or work on guided writing/reading
  • Yes, with blended learning! Nice way to see all students in a small setting
  • Yes, so much easier to do formative assessment in a small group setting
  • I usually use, but not always, the gradual release of responsibility. I DO, WE DO, YOU DO
  • Small group instruction works well for short targeted lessons with students who share a learning goal or need the same info at the same time 
  • Formatively assess during the “you do” and those that can’t I place in the guided group for remediation 
  • I made room for my guided reading table by giving up my teacher’s desk. It has really fostered good collaboration
  • Small instruction can be a little challenging because some kids don’t like to be seen as the “don’t know kids” I carefully select students for small instruction, that way kids feel more comfortable
  • I love using small group instruction! Esp. with writing & grammar. Blended learning is the magic wand that helps it happen!
  • I was using small group today to work on opening paragraphs of essays
  • Small group instruction can be done online using breakout rooms.

Q2: How does small group reading/writing fit into your ELA instruction? Do you use reading/writing conferences instead? 

  • I use a program called @ReadNaturally w/grades 3-6. Each S works independently on the iPad. I check in with them on fluency, comp. writing instruction is more tailored to students’ individual needs/weaknesses. Some work on organization, others on mechanics
  • Small group reading works in my BL centers. I do writing conferences.
  • Small group reading is not part of my MS repertoire and I have only dabbled in small group writing
  • I call everyone back to meet at the guided reading table. I also bought fun chairs. Students now like small group instruction.
  • Conferences – 1:1 Small group great for scaffolding skills when students are at different places. Groups change depending on skill
  • I like the idea of doing writing conferences but am not sure how that would look in a group
  • I use individualized writing goals for each student and group them accordingly during the writing workshop. Editing & Crafting
  • My classes are multi-grade so sometimes I split up based on grade level
  • Conferences are also at the heart and soul of my workshop. A valuable way to gain so much information
  • Students ask me all the time if they can work at the table and for my feedback on their writing
  • Here is my Google Form and Reading Conference blog post. Figured it might be helpful

Q3: How do you plan your small group lessons? Can you share your lesson template? 

  • I use “I do, WE do, You do” all the time! I even put that on the board/in our books or on worksheets!
  • Work with students in 8-week cycles and set a goal and frequency of intervention for those 8 weeks, then plan lessons for each meeting
  • After I have taught a skill then I see who needs more time and direct teaching. Then make my groups. I also work in small group conferences so the students sign up for a time to meet with the teacher.
  • Looking at student work at the end of the day and have the students revisit the objectives during small instruction
  • Each class has its own clipboard with my lists & rubrics/checklists.

Q4: How do you assess students during these lessons or conferences?

  • Each week students take a mini-assessment that aligns with a set goal to measure progress toward that goal
  • I formally assess using anecdotal notes, checklists, checkbrics and rubrics. It all depends on the task we are working on.
  • Not all small group instruction needs to be formally assessed each time. We KNOW our learners and what they need
  • This is where tech comes into play. I use @Seesaw as their digital portfolio, provide feedback, and next steps
  • Checklists and anecdotal notes on post its make it easy to collect observations during small groups and conferences
  • Sometimes through a short writing prompt or give them picture scenarios linked to content taught/ objectives
  • Using my checklists and/or rubrics. Later, I like to use @Socrative for assessment
  • I’ve found it helpful to have both me and students come up with goals for our conference too. That way, we both are accountable
  • I use individual revision goals for blended writing units. I’ll share a doc with some activities. It is so helpful to have it all ready

Q5: Share any tips, ideas or resources you have for small group instruction. 

  • My favourite small group ideas are manipulatives or games – anything to make it fun to be with me! 🙂
  • Non-fictional articles are great to use for small group instruction. Check out this set which has two different levels of the same article as well as MP3 audio files for each article.
  • For high schoolers, be very clear with what you expect them to do and hold them accountable so it isn’t just chatty time
  • I LOVE this blog by @Kasey_Kiehl full of great ideas.
  • I pin lots of great ideas from other teachers here:

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