This is the third post in a series of three I have written about small group instruction. As I complete this series, I’m taking a quick pause and thanking my daughter Larkin for her fabulous artwork on all three posts–thank you, Larkin.
My first post was about some of the different ways we can decide on and form groups. The second post was about some of my go-to tools for making these instructional moments run efficiently and effectively, and this post is about some of the pitfalls I stumble into and some ways I’ve found to avoid them.
A lot of the times, especially when my life is feeling overwhelmingly busy, I rely on sticky notes, lists, and coffee to keep my focus. Larkin knows that I end up looking like the lady in her picture, (although I’d like to believe that my hair is more stylish.) Reminders are always helpful to me, so I’ve developed a list of them regarding small group instruction.
Important Reminders about Small Group Instruction
- Keep the focus as clear as your minilesson! Get in the habit of beginning small group instruction with “I have the group of you together because…”
- At any point in the lesson, someone should be able to ask one of the students what they are learning and they should be able to tell them. If that wouldn’t happen, you are probably teaching too many things, too much, or too long.
- Consider using a timer. Your explanation should only take a couple of minutes.
- This is a time to really think about who is doing the talking and remember that your teaching will stick more if students are doing more talking about it.
- Have a task for students to do that relates to the teaching point of the small group lesson.
- Discipline yourself to walk away from them while they work on the task.
- Try to keep small group instruction an even number of students–four is the ideal number.
- This one relates closely to #3. Small groups work well when there are 4 students because you ask them to speak in partnerships and leave them to work in partnerships. If you have 5 students who need the same teaching point, consider breaking up the group and teaching a similar lesson twice. You could teach it as an individual conference, and then as a small group lesson; you might find ways to tweak it after doing it once as a single conference!
- Remember that less is usually more.
- If you teach them one thing and their writing changes, you’ve accomplished more than if you teach them several things and nothing changes.
Done well, small groups are powerful for reaching and teaching students, maximizing instructional minutes that are precious in the lives of teachers and learners.