The Unicorn In Reading: 5 tips for making small groups happen

A unicorn happened in reading guys. What's a unicorn you may ask?

It's that moment when you can't believe your eyes. The moment that you plan and prepare for but are not even remotely confident that it will happen. The moment when the stars all aligned and BOOM! Unicorn!! Any guesses yet?

I had an actual "mini" lesson followed by not one, not two, but THREE small groups! All within our 60 minutes reading block. Even more, this is day 3 of this happening! So what's helping me make this happen (because if I'm honest, small groups is definitely an area of weakness for me)? Let me share a few small changes that have helped me big time.

1. Set a timer.

I'm trying to make my lessons just that, mini. A lot has changed over the last 5 years of me teaching reader's workshop and one major shift is how important it is to keep this lesson actually mini. I'm focusing in on a set skill and teaching point, modeling, thinking aloud, having students practice and then PEACE OUT! To help me keep the pace, I've been setting my timer to about 12 minutes. Once it goes off, I need to wrap up and get to small groups.  If this happens, it gives me about 40-45 minutes to work in small groups and my kiddos a huge chunk of independent reading time.

2. Show your students your plan of attack.

On our Smartboard, I put a slide that includes my student's job during independent reading as well as my plan for meeting with groups. I put 3 boxes up there and that's my goal- 3 groups. When my students are expecting me to meet with them, it forces me to stay focused and get to each group- they often look forward to our small group work time and I don't want to disappoint them.

3. Use formative assessments to create strategy groups.

Sometimes it's a post-it I collect during our interactive read aloud. Sometimes it's a short text with some questions. Sometimes it's from conferring or observing. I have post-its out constantly and when I start seeing 2-3 kids needing help with a certain skill, I start to form a strategy group. Sometimes, I might have 10 students who need work on one skill, but I might have different strategies to show them to help them get to the next level. So I'll analyze what they are already doing and where they need to go next and further split kids up on my post-its into more specific strategy groups. I've tweaked a lot of planning pages and this one has been my current go-to. I simply slide them into a clipboard and I'm good to go for the day. When I add a student to a group, I cross their classroom number off on the bottom to help me see who still hasn't been met with.

4. Plan and pull your resources together.

One of my go-tos is Serravallo's book. If I know I have a need, but don't know exactly what to do with it, this book swoops in and saves me. The lessons are short and to the point, the charts are amazing, and I've found them to be super successful in terms of helping to scaffold skills for my students. I also have been using more task cards as practice in our strategy groups before students try in their own just right books. I'll also use our read aloud as a common text to practice before they give-it-a-go in their own books.

5. Reach out and ask for help!

I made it quite clear to my new team that small groups is an area I struggle with. I can give formative assessments and put kids into groups, but I struggled with implementing them. I often felt like things had to be "perfect" in order for me to pull them, and if I didn't have a super clear plan, I would put them off and wait until I felt confident. But as I shared this with my instructional coach, she reminded me that meeting with them and it not being perfect is better than not meeting with at all (of course I would meet with groups, just maybe 1 or 2 a day and spend the rest of the time conferring, which has its benefits too, but you don't get as much bang for your buck). One of my new teammates also helped motivate and guide me to help me dive in this year and just go for it. Because of this, I've never felt more confident in creating and leading small groups. And even though they still aren't perfect, I'm meeting with most of my readers multiple times a week, and that is huge.

I'm hoping that this phenomenon of getting 3 groups a day will go from a unicorn sighting to just a normal day in the classroom. The reality is some days will be better than others, and I have to be ok with that.

Want to try my planning doc for yourself? I added a few slightly different versions in a download. Click below!



  1. You are right that really is a unicorn! Great advice I think it also takes a lot of training!

    1. I think training is HUGE! I also think seeing teachers in action is the best training of all- you see so much in a short period of time and you can see how others make it work for them. I think it's also important to allow yourself to try different things until it works for you and your students- and that comes with comfortability and time. Thanks for the comment :)

  2. Do you implement this everyday? Is this just for reading??

    1. This is just for reading. This is the goal and what is expected of us. However, some days, I only do 2 groups and do a BAS on a student or some shorter, individual conferences instead. But we do the mini-lesson, small group, share workshop model everyday for reading. :)


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