I hear a lot of teachers asking how they should handle small group instruction in kindergarten. Small groups can be a daunting task when the students’ attention spans are sometimes 10-15 minutes long! How do teachers fit it all in? What do they do with the students who aren’t in groups? I have some tips and ideas on implementing small group instruction in kindergarten (and older grades as well)!
How do I group students?
First tip for implementing small group instruction in kindergarten is to group by what skills the students need to practice. I don’t do a generic group of ability levels that stays the same for the whole year. Instead I focus on what strategies I want to teach the students. Then once they master those skills, they can move on to a different group to work on other skills.
I don’t want to trap my students in a group all year based on an early assessment or observation of them – I want my groups to be fluid and be solely based on the current needs of my students. On my small groups planning sheet that you can get for free below, I write in what the skills are that my students need and which students need to work on that. Sometimes, I have students in more than 1 group and that’s ok! I don’t want to totally overwhelm them. So, I pick the most important skill or skills first before they move on to working on other skills.
How often do I meet with students?
Our students that need the most support, should meet with you every day for about 10-15 minutes. I wouldn’t do more than that because you want to be concise, concrete, and capture their attention span and not push beyond that. In kindergarten, especially at the beginning of the year, the whole class’s attention span is not much more beyond that. So, I meet with the neediest group first and then I fit in a second group. That’s it. I don’t push the class to work independently for more than that. Otherwise I will start to see behaviors start to appear. These behaviors tell me that I am pushing the kids to work longer than is developmentally appropriate and they need a break.
So, I meet with the students that need the most support every day. The next neediest group I meet with two or three times a week. Then I have a group of on grade-level students I meet with once or twice a week. These frequencies depend on the needs of the rest of the class. Finally, I have a group that is above grade level that could use a little challenge and I meet with them once a week.
I said that I group by skill not by ability level, so how does this look in practice? I pick the skills that I know are most foundational to meet with those students every day. For example, in reading, if my students don’t know their letter sounds or don’t have a firm grasp of phonological awareness, how can I push them to read yet? I work on those skills first. In math, if my students can’t identify numbers 1-10 or can’t count to 20, how can I expect them to understand one more and one less or addition and subtraction? We work on those foundational skills first.
The other reason that you want to meet with the children that need the most support every day is you may need to ask for more support or for an evaluation for these students in the future and you will need to prove that you did everything you could for the child in your classroom first. You can read more about tracking student progress here!
What do I teach in small group instruction?
In my small group instruction in kindergarten, I always follow the same routine: teach, model, and practice. I teach them the skill I want them to practice and tell them why it is important. Then I model that skill for them and then they practice the skill, either in partners or individually. While they are practicing, I am watching and observing. If the child continues to struggle or is making mistakes, we do it together.
I keep the group very skill-based. In reading, this could look like pulling out a book, telling them the skill I want them to practice when reading, and then having them practice it in their own books or in the book I picked out for them. In writing, this would look like me telling them the teaching point and giving them a sticky note to remember it, and then having them practice the skill in their writing.
How do I prepare for small group instruction?
Because my small group instruction in kindergarten are skill-based, it is super easy to organize and prepare for! I have all of my math materials, phonics materials and writing materials organized in groups by the skill they support. When I organize my groups and decide what skills they need to work on, I pull out the bag of materials for those skills and put them in the baskets I have for my different groups.
For reading, I have materials organized by color – this includes phonics work and books we might be using. The baskets are big enough that I can prepare a bunch of activities and books in advance. For math and writing, I pull out the bags that I need for the skills I will be working on and put them in a math basket and a writing basket. That way, I can easily grab what I need when I am working with the group and won’t have to sort through all of my math or writing materials.
Implementing small group instruction in kindergarten doesn’t have to be overwhelming! By grouping by skills needed, you can best support the learners in your classroom and you can easily organize and prepare for the groups to work smarter, not harder! What small groups do you feel best about? Which small groups do you need more help with? Let me know in the comments!