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Making the Most of Small Group Instruction - Part 3: What are the Other Kids Doing?


This is the third part of this blog series, Making the Most of Small Group Instruction.  If you want to catch up, find the first post here and the second post here.

These are always burning questions: How do I work with small groups of students? What is the rest of the class doing?  How do I create independence with my learners so my guided reading time will be uninterrupted?


guided reading primary grades, reading instruction in kindergarten, readers workshop






"What do you do with the rest of the class during Readers Workshop while you are meeting with small groups or holding 1:1 conferences," is the question I get asked the most.  As we all know, you can have the best small group lesson but if the rest of the class is disruptive or disengaged, the lesson will fail.

There are many options of structures you can use, and I am sure that over my 24 years of teaching that I've done most of them.  The trick is finding a structure that meets your criteria and needs and works with your particular group of students.

When I began teaching, we used Readers Workshop.  Students and teachers read for long periods of time.  Then, we switched to centers.  Centers were a lot of work and required lots of time.  The students were busy, but I didn't always feel like they were doing authentic tasks.  Next, we switched to Daily Five.  Again, I felt like students were spending less time reading and more time completing the tasks of the week.  Now,  I am back to the Readers Workshop model. It is not the same workshop model I used 20 years ago.  There is more teaching, structure and choice. Students spend the bulk of their time reading.  All of the time is spent working with books.

A workshop framework is less structured than centers or Daily 5.  Students naturally transition and the time flows.  I don't sound chimes or ring a bell to let students know it is time to switch.  Students do that independently.
What I love about Readers Workshop is that students spend their time reading...and they love it.

reading workshop in first grade

We spent a lot of time at the beginning of the year building independence.  Here is where some of the Daily 5 practices come into play.  We build stamina and chart it. It takes a long time.  We begin at our desk and then branch out to flexible choices around the classroom.  We still chart our stamina and have daily discussions on how we are doing, why we are doing what we are doing, and how to be better.  Are you in need of a stamina chart?  You can snag my chart here for free.


It takes about a month to get students independent with book shopping.  I allow them 5 just right and 5 just for fun books in their book box. They have a reading mat and place all of their books on the Start side.  After they are done reading the book, they place it on the Done side. Then they can read backwards.
This is what their Reading Mats look like:

reading mat


What Readers Workshop Typically Looks Like in My Classroom:

1.  Teacher reads a book and teaches a lesson.  I use Reading for Real as my instruction.
2. Students do a comprehension task that is based on the lesson.  Teacher pulls a small group.
3. Students find a comfortable spot in the room and read from their book boxes.
4.  Teacher continues pulling groups throughout that time.

If students wish to read with a buddy after they read their book boxes, they may.  Many of my students continue reading their own books.

Buddy reading needs to be taught.  I am very explicit down to elbow to elbows, knees to knees, both partners are holding the book.

My students keep all of their work in their Reading Comprehension Journal.  This is a great way to progress monitor and look at student growth.  I use these during conferences all of the time.


readers workshop ideas, reading comprehension journal


The Reading Comprehension Journal focuses on comprehension strategies.  We begin with the favorite part {and why}.

Then, we move on to characters and setting.

readers workshop, first grade reading, reading comprehension first grade

Next, we work on connections {text to self and text to text}, predictions, asking questions, retell, main idea, visualization, making inferences, and finally, synthesis.



reading comprehension, first grade reading




reading comprehension, first grade reading



What I love about this journal is that it has multiple ways to show mastery of skills and you may use your favorite sheets over and over again with different books.  We keep our journals on a ring so it is easy to add new pages.  Students just put the pages under the tab we are working on so they are again reminded of the strategy  Each strategy has page teaching them about the strategy and some sentence stems.


reading comprehension












I love Readers Workshop because my students are actually reading.  Research shows students need to spend more time in books to become proficient readers.  I love that my students are doing authentic tasks instead of busy work.  Skills and strategies that are taught during the lesson are practiced during this time so students are able to use them correctly.  


What are your students doing when you are meeting with small groups?  What works for you?  Please let me know in the comments below!

guided reading primary grades, reading instruction in kindergarten, readers workshop


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