small group

Playing With Small Group Structures: Rally, Try, Try, Link

We all know the power of small groups. Small group instruction supports community, while at the same time supporting each individual child. Most importantly, during small group instruction, our teaching can be most targeted, engaging, and accessible for children. These brief meetings give teachers an opportunity to say to the children in front of them, “I see you…and I believe in you.”

This year, our school is working with a Teachers College Reading and Writing Project staff developer in grades three through five. As a literacy coach, I value these days when an outsider comes in to see our school with fresh eyes. These fresh eyes guide us in discovering strengths, “problem” spots, and goals. We never solve anything in just one day, but we gain clarity in common goals and strategies that will help us all continue to grow together. During our first session this school year, we articulated the following common goals that we hoped to work on with the support of our staff developer:

  • Independence and engagement, including helping students discuss their writing and writing process.
  • Raising qualities of good writing.
  • Teaching in response to student work.
  • Continuing to work on our teaching conferences and small group work to support teaching in response to student work.

The first step we took in tackling these goals was to thin slice writing samples. Thin slicing is a protocol used to efficiently look through writing samples, looking for strengths and trends. You can read more about thin slicing in Krista McGowan’s post, Mastering the Art of Thin Slicing. Starting with student work grounded each next step we took. After identifying some areas of strength as well as places to grow, our staff developer shared TCRWP’s latest mantras for small group work that include:

  • Make groups cooperative
  • Get students working right away
  • Introduce scaffolds as needed
  • Keep it short
  • Give kids choice
  • Use lean coaching and prompting

Rally, Try, Try, Link Small Groups

We then learned about a “newer” or revised small group structure that helps to meet these mantras. The structure is called Rally, Try, Try, Link. The purpose of a Rally, Try, Try, Link small group is to get the students working quickly and with multiple opportunities for practice.

During the rally portion of the small group, the goal is to name a focus and activate prior knowledge. This might look like revisiting an anchor chart and naming strategies tried or brainstorming different ways to plan for a specific genre of writing.

Following the Rally, students have two opportunities to practice the skill or strategy during Try One and Try Two. It’s helpful to think about these opportunities for practice as ways to move students up a ladder of difficulty. For instance, for try one, students might look for examples of a writing technique in a mentor text. Try two might include trying the same strategy in their writing. As students are working, teachers coach in, using lean prompts to guide and push students as they work.

The link is the final part of the small group. In this part, the teacher sets the students up to continue doing the work from the small group. Students might get an artifact to take back to remind them of the strategy, or they may have a chance to teach someone else the strategy. The link is a great time to plan to check back in with the students, adding a layer of accountability to this process. 

Thinking about the parts of the Rally, Try, Try, Link small group as a menu is helpful. Looking at the chart below, which is just a sampling of options, you could choose one piece from each part of the small group to match what would best meet the needs of the students in your group. 

Rally, Try, Try, Link In Action

Recently, our upper grade teams have been working within opinion units. A common thread we noticed across grade levels was that students were getting the basic structure of an opinion piece. They have a thesis and reasons to support their thesis. They even have examples and mini stories to support their ideas but could use some work adding in their thinking and unpacking their evidence. We decided to try a small Rally, Try, Try, Link group. Here is how we used the menu above to create some small group possibilities.

This first option could be used with students who need more support.

Link to the tool used in this group.

Here is another way a similar group could go, using different options from the menu:

We tried both of these groups in multiple fourth and fifth grade classrooms and each time, kids were actively engaged in revising their work. All students were able to walk away from the small group with multiple revisions made and able to take the tool back to continue using independently. The quality of the students’ writing increased within minutes.

Adding thinking as a revision strategy is just one way that a Rally, Try, Try, Link small group could be used. The possibilities are endless as you consider options across genres and across different phases of the writing process. We have found the groups to be easy to plan, with just a few helpful small tools, such as unit anchor charts and tools and a variety of mentor texts, at our fingertips. We have even been able to recognize a need on the fly and quickly plan a small group in the moments it takes for a group to join us in the meeting area. Seeing the quality of students’ writing increase within minutes has been gratifying. The groups have been quick and fun, and we are looking forward to continuing our exploration and sharing this structure with our colleagues in kindergarten through second grade.

3 thoughts on “Playing With Small Group Structures: Rally, Try, Try, Link

  1. This is fantastic! I have tried this format in reading and can’t wait to try it with writing small groups. I am curious about the tool that your group studied. Was it an anchor chart or something else? Thanks!

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