Six Easy Ways to Manage Small Group Instruction

Six Ways to Manage Small Group Instruction
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Differentiating for students through small group instruction in both math and reading is important for all students’ success. Kids who struggle need some remediation, and children who are ready to fly need extension. How in the world do you manage the rest of the kids while you work with a small group? Here are a few ideas.

Keep Small Group Instruction Short

You can do quite a bit with students in a short period of time. K-2 students may need just shy of 15 minutes while older kids may last for 20 or so. When you rotate groups often, you can get up and move to check on the rest of the kids and make sure they are getting the most out of their independent work.

Create High Quality Independent Assignments or Centers

Have students work on activities that support what you are doing in the classroom. Busy work just isn’t engaging. One center could revolve around independent reading when children are older. Littler kids could have a center where they could write a sentence or two, draw a picture to go with a book you are reading, or work in a STEM bin. Whatever you choose for your students to do independently can be easy to maintain and engaging.

Create a Simple Rotation Procedure

There’s no need to make rotations during small group instruction complex. Group kids based on the needs your universal screeners say they have. Number each group. Make a chart with time slots at the top. Plug in groups for each slot. You could make this on poster board and display it or on your computer and project it. I would always make a poster and Velcro the numbers into the slots so I could change them around. I usually projected something that I wanted them to do independently on the screen. Either way works, though.

Teach Routines and Expectations Beforehand.

Let students practice how to rotate through your centers and teach them your small group procedures explicitly. Give them examples and non-examples of what appropriate behavior looks like during independent time. You could use the format I described here to help them. Practice often during your first days of small group instruction so students know what you expect.

Stand Firm on Interruptions

When you only have a short time to work with students, you need it to be intensely focused. Constant interruptions from students with questions about what to do during independent time will completely ruin your group.

You could use the “three before me” rule, where kids with questions have to ask three other students or try three other things before they ask you.

I used to tell kids they couldn’t interrupt me during small groups unless they were bleeding, throwing up, on fire or if Sting or George Michael walked in. Lawd, I’m aging myself on that one aren’t I?


Make sure you get up and move around the room when you change groups. This interlude between groups should stay five minutes or less, but it’s critical in keeping your friends focused. Visit each station or center to make sure kids are doing the work. Give children a chance to ask quick questions during this time, and they will be less likely to consider interrupting you during your small group instruction.

Providing small group time in reading and math is so beneficial to both your striving and advanced students. Keeping the rotations simple will make your life easier. Hopefully, these simple solutions will help make your small group time go smoothly.

Before You Go–

Need lesson plan ideas for your small reading groups? Michael McKenna and Sharon Walpole have written an excellent book for K-3 teachers called How to Plan Differentiated Reading Instruction, Second Edition: Resources for Grades K-3. Here is my affiliate link to purchase this book!

These authors have written another version of this book for grades 4-5. Check it out with my affiliate link!

Here are a few more links that might interest you:

Need to teach a weather unit? Need to prepare your students for some crazy weather? Here are a few products centering around my favorite twin characters, Tasha and Tio, that might help!

Tasha and Tio have some other adventures in the following products:

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