Teachers who work with early readers know that these students need lots of encouragement, support, and feedback as their skills develop. A balanced literacy program includes opportunities for that type of engagement through quality whole group teaching, in small groups, and with individual reading support.  Small group literacy instruction is a crucial component of this balanced approach because it gives students a low risk environment to practice and apply new skills. 

Teaching small groups and guided reading isn’t as easy, though, for teachers who are teaching fully remote or hybrid.  On top of the challenge of supporting these emergent readers from a distance, the reading opportunity gap continues to widen because of the lack of access and the decrease in face-to-face interactions.

Being dedicated to helping your students build literacy skills means you have to take advantage of the time you do have with them.  Here are some tips on how you can get the most out of your small group instruction whether you are in person or remote.

  1. Have a routine.  A routine helps assure that students are building on prior skills and connecting those with new concepts.  Here’s an example.
      • Warm up 3-5 mins. Review prior skills.
      • Introduce students to new concepts through direct teaching and modeling
      • Support students while they apply the skill by trying it together
      • Provide encouragement and feedback while students try it on their own
      • Check for understanding and close. 
  2. Try different grouping strategies for guided reading groups. Work with small groups that are at the same instructional reading level, or pull students who need reinforcement of a particular strategy.  Pair students with their classmates in the classroom, or experiment with breakout rooms.  Whether you are in person or remote, use independent reading to build reading stamina.
  3. Balance your instruction.  Small groups shouldn’t concentrate only on introducing a new leveled reader.  This time is an opportunity to provide literacy intervention for a variety of skills including: 
      • Decoding
      • Acquiring new vocabulary
      • Understanding Science or Math through literature
      • Increasing Fluency
      • Building Comprehension
  4. Document what happens during your small groups.  Assess and track student progress and achievements. Using a tool like BookNook, you can build assessments into your routine and easily monitor progress overtime.  Keeping track of students interests can also help you know your students as readers and suggest books that you know will foster their love of reading.
  5. Find good digital text.  If you’re teaching remotely, you still need to choose good literature, but you also have to think a bit more practically about the books you use.  Ideally, you want to be able to display it easily while teaching and provide access for students afterward the lesson so they can build their fluency.  Also remember, any good library collection provides quality literature at a variety of levels and both nonfiction and fiction text.   

Small group time can be a powerful intervention for any reader.  These tips can help you get the most out of your teacher-led groups.  However, it isn’t just an opportunity for literacy instruction, it’s also an opportunity for you to build relationships with your students.  Take advantage of this smaller setting to give you and your students a break from a hectic schedule or Zoom calls.  Then tackle reading.