As a teacher of young readers, you know receiving small group instruction on their level is essential to their academic growth. Planning and managing reading groups can be overwhelming, especially when you have a class with a wide variety of reading needs. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at ways teachers can plan and organize differentiated reading instruction with ease. We’ll give you tips on how to plan and organize your reading groups with ease, “easy peasy lemon squeezy”.
Plan Your Literacy Center Schedule
One of the biggest challenges when planning reading groups is “What will the other students be doing?”. Setting up your students to work independently is half the battle. Do not rush into reading groups! It will take patience and practice to set expectations for independent literacy centers. The best method, in my opinion, for doing this is rolling out the centers one by one. Practice whole group so everyone is on the same page. Then, slowly add a second, third, or fourth center.
Here are the literacy centers I typically use:
- iReady reading
- Word Work
- Writing Journals
- Independent reading activity*
- Listening to Reading
- Raz Kids on iPads
*I only assigned independent work to students who were reading on or above grade level.
Notice I don’t have a “read to self” center. This is because I found students had a very difficult time focusing on reading while their classmates were working on other activities. Instead, we have a whole-class read-to-self time each day.
I use these Literacy Center Slides to indicate where my students should be. I love that I have the option to display just one center at a time (some years I found students were distracted by seeing their entire reading block schedule). Some days when we don’t have time for groups, there are just must-dos/may-dos so I love having that option too!
Organize a Reading Group Binder
Keeping a reading group binder will help you stay organized. In addition, it is a great tool to have when attending meetings or conferences. This wonderful tool keeps me organized by neatly storing all pertinent information in one place. It also allows me to keep track of what each student is reading, making it easier for me to customize my teaching approach for each group. Having this binder on hand not only saves me time but also ensures that I am always on top of my game.
What to keep in the binder:
- flexible grouping list
- lesson plans
- scope and sequence
- running records
- assessment results (such as from this free decoding survey)
- assessment calendar
- student goal sheets
Create Your Reading Groups
This is a big step and will rely on a variety of factors. What is your class size? What length of time is your reading group blog? How many students will be in each group? How often will you meet with each group?
The answers to these questions begin with evaluating assessment results. Once you identify your students’ strengths and areas for growth, you can accurately place them in flexible groups. It’s important to revisit your groups every few weeks and make changes based on students’ progress.
First, determine which students are at a similar point in their reading journey based on skills. That will be your starting point for instruction. It might look like this:
- phonological awareness/short vowels
- blends and digraphs
- long vowels
- r-controlled vowels
While these are the skills students need most, this won’t be the only thing you work on in your groups. Comprehension and fluency will be woven into your instruction but these foundational skills will be the focus.
By creating targeted groups in this way, teachers can make sure that each student is receiving the attention they need to make further progress and improve reading fluency. This approach not only helps students grow as readers but also enhances their confidence and motivation to learn.
With limited time, it’s important to use every minute–especially with struggling readings. Having intervention materials prepped and ready to use is crucial. With your lower reading groups, you want to specifically focus on the gaps in their skills. Here are a few ways to do that:
Decodable passages and books
Decodable passages are a key component in reading intervention programs and have been shown to effectively boost progress in struggling readers. Not all decodables are created equally. What makes something decodable to your students is that they have been explicitly taught the phonics skills to apply to the text. Whether your school provides decodable texts or you find some on your own, these resources will be an essential element in filling the reading gaps.
With One Page Phonics Intervention, students will work on their phonological awareness, encoding, and decoding. This is a helpful tool for identifying the breakdown while practicing these foundational reading skills. I love that you can print in black and white or color and slip into a sheet protector to use over and over again! Read more about how these one-page intervention activities work.
Have you used AI technology in the classroom yet? This is probably my favorite way to incorporate ChatGPT. Whenever I need a list of words that align with a phonics pattern, I simply type in my request, and VOILA! I love using word lists for dictation, progress monitoring, and fluency practice.
Syllable Types Activities
Keeping no prep materials handy will help planning reading groups feel simple. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel. Quality reading instruction doesn’t need to be complicated as long as it is focused! These worksheets are a great tool for Science of Reading-aligned instruction. They break down the rules of each syllable type and include plentiful opportunities for reading, writing, and identifying words with different syllable types.
Reading Progress Monitoring
Once you are reading to begin literacy centers and start reading groups, it’s important to keep in mind that this is always a fluid process. As your students grow, you will want to make adjustments. Keeping tabs on their growth is a crucial part of the cycle. Maybe your school has an assessment system in place. Or, maybe you want to use your own tools. Whichever you decide upon, determine a consistent routine for assessing student progress.
It can be overwhelming to think about how to plan and organize reading groups–especially given the number of different skill levels present among your students. Fortunately, there are now numerous tools available to help make organizing and running effective skill-grouping sessions easier than ever! Don’t forget to adapt and change things up to fit your classroom’s needs and preferences, and you’ll see how reading groups can help improve your students’ reading skills while also keeping them engaged and enthusiastic. Happy teaching, everyone!