agency · collaboration · small group · student engagement · Student ownership

Increase the Number of Teachers in the Room with Student-Led Small Groups

Title of post with cartoon kids sharing their writing.

I’m lucky to have a teaching assistant in my classroom during our writing block. An extra teacher is always a gift, especially when working with young authors. But what if we looked for teachers within those tiny writers? What might they bring to our workshop if we passed them the microphone?

I began asking myself these questions last year after I sat down to confer with a second grader, “Alex,” about her opinion writing. I noticed Alex had highlighted sentences and words with different colors , and asked why. She replied, “Well, I wanted to make sure I got all the pieces I needed. So I underlined my lead in blue, my evidence in green, and my transition words in red. I only had one transition word, so now I’m going back to add more.” 

Of course, upon hearing this, my teacher heart swelled with pride. What a smart strategy, and she developed it herself! I immediately thought of other writers in the room who might like this visual strategy to help them revise. As I prepared to rush over to them with Alex’s paper in my hand, I stopped myself. Alex could explain the “what” and “why” behind this strategy better than I could. Why not let her teach? 

So, after getting permission from Alex, I announced that she would be introducing a cool revision strategy for whoever wanted to join. I invited interested students to bring their writing and some markers to the carpet. Then, I went back to my conferring. I knew if I joined the lesson, I might jump in and interrupt. Five minutes later, I checked in with the group. Alex was beaming with confidence, and the others were motivated and engaged in trying the new strategy. After that day, I decided that student-led small groups should become a daily part of our writing routine. 

I decided to call the groups “mini-sessions,” which made students feel very professional! To ensure this routine is well-managed and actually beneficial for the participants, I devote several minilessons to modeling and teaching expectations. The following chart helps the leader and listeners understand their roles.

A chart outlining the teacher's job in the minisession:
1. Tell what you want to teach
2. Give an example
3. Get them to try it!
This chart helps the group leader and participants understand their roles (Click to enlarge).

To streamline the sign-up process, I created a Google Form that students access by scanning the QR code in our writing center. (Click this link to make your own copy!) The Google Form automatically emails me anytime someone signs up.

A QR code with the caption, "Do you have something to teach in writing? Scan this code!"
Students use this QR code to access the Google Form Sign Up.

At the beginning of each writing period, I notify the student who will be teaching and invite them to reread our chart to ensure they’re prepared. Then, mid workshop, I announce the start of the small group and continue conferring separately. Attending sessions is optional because I believe students should dictate what they need as writers. 

A sign up form in which students input their name, title of session, and a description of session.
Students sign up to lead a group via Google Form (Click to enlarge).

My favorite part is reading the topics students sign up for. It reminds me that everyone is a writer, and my way is not the only way! As a teacher, it’s important for me to highlight the other voices and processes in the room. Here are some of the creative small groups students led last year:

  • How to come up with cool chapter titles
  • How to add suspense to your story
  • How to plan with a post-it note timeline
  • How to use pencil shading in your picture
  • How to think of a funny character

Empowering students to be teachers has brought joy to our classroom each day. When we transition to writing, students excitedly ask, “Who’s teaching today?” One writer even showed up to school with a homemade teacher ID lanyard and anchor chart to teach her small group! 

Student holding up her handmade teacher badge and anchor chart titled, "How to think of a topic."
This second grader was ready to teach! (Click to enlarge)

Adding this routine to your classroom will increase engagement as students get to learn from their peers, rather than an adult. Consider the ages of students and what you already know about them as writers. They may be ready to start this now, but you might wait until later in the year. No matter the age, you’ll be surprised by the high-quality, reflective conversations about writing you overhear. Your classroom community will grow as students see each other’s strengths. Most importantly, students will be empowered to share their voices and passions with classmates.

Advertisement for the TWT Podcast

4 thoughts on “Increase the Number of Teachers in the Room with Student-Led Small Groups

Comments are closed.