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Small Group Instruction Pt 1:  5 Minilessons to Set Up the Environment for Uninterrupted Small Group

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Small Group Instruction Part 1:  Environment

Setting up the classroom structures that allow for independent student work, conferring with individual students and small group instruction without disruption can be a difficult but not an impossible task.

➡️If you are conferring & meeting with small groups and it’s just not going the way you would like, keep reading for inspiration and help.

➡️If you are not yet conferring and meeting with small groups, keep reading for inspiration and help.

​Picture this…

You’re sitting at your table with 5 sweet little readers surrounding you, just about to reveal a new guided reading book after you have built the anticipation.

Then, from behind, there is a tap on your shoulder. Personal space has been invaded!

You whip your head around quickly with eyes wide open to see a little friend standing there with an inquisitive look on her sweet little face. It’s alright! She’s new to the classroom! She doesn’t know!

The five sweet little readers sitting with you quickly begin to take over. She doesn’t understand the procedures of workshop in her new classroom. She doesn’t know that she is not supposed to interrupt a small group.

Another student is racing toward her to take over so that you can be on your way to your guided reading adventure.

Whew! That was a close one and you didn’t even have to say a word! Your students knew exactly what to do!

Building the classroom structures that you entire class understands is the first step to successful, uninterrupted small group instruction (and conferring)!

Building the Structure That Supports Small Group Instruction

Yes, it’s hard to maintain small group instruction while the other students are working independently. But let’s look at this dilemma step by step. There are 3 steps to follow when building successful small group instruction.

  1. Set up procedures for Workshop/Independent Work that will alleviate interruption and distraction while meeting in small group (Part 1 in the series)

  2. Thoughtfully map out your small group meetings and conferences each day (each week) (Part 2 in the series)

  3. Intentionally plan to meet readers’ needs during workshop and small group instruction. (Part 3 in the series)



Set up procedures for Workshop/Independent Work that will

alleviate interruption and distraction while meeting with small groups

You must teach them, they don’t come trained!

Every teacher runs their classroom differently, but it has been my experience that small group instruction expectations are the same. You’ve all heard these words before:

“Please don’t interrupt the small group unless you're bleeding or there is a 911 emergency!”

Okay, so maybe the words haven’t been exact but they all have the same message!

In the scene that I painted above, there was a new student in the classroom. She didn’t know the procedures, but the students did!

They didn’t enter the classroom that way on the first day of school. There was training involved.

Before I could ever meet with a small group of children and have a successful meeting, my students had to be trained!

👉Readers needed to know how to engage in independent reading work.

👉Readers needed to know how to ask for help.

👉Readers needed procedures for handling unexpected situations.

👉Readers needed to know what to do when I was not immediately available!

First things first, Readers' Workshop had to be launched.

✅Procedures had to be taught

✅Independent reading strategies and tools had to be introduced

✅Minilessons were designed to teach the readers' workshop procedures.

✅Minilessons were designed for choosing books to read independently.

✅Minilessons were designed to share and practice strategies and skills for using tools to engage in reading.

This new learning was practiced independently after each minilesson was given and I monitored and facilitated the readers working.

We had class meetings (conversations) about what-ifs.

We set up guidelines and expectations for workshop.

We had-a-go at me working with a small group while the other students read independently.

Until finally, we were a well-oiled machine! Okay, maybe not well-oiled in the beginning but squeakily working towards efficiency!😁🤣

I know, someone out there is going to say “Well that won’t work with MY class!”

YES…it will! I’ve had some...shall we say... VERY UNIQUE groups of students over the years! YES…it works with even your most unique and challenging children!

When you launch your workshop (reading or writing), build in procedures that provide answers for just about any situation that could occur.

Launching a successful workshop in September will NOT address every situation until June of that school year.

Take time to revisit those procedures to monitor and adjust for the specific situations that occur throughout the year.

The reflective teacher makes changes based on the needs of the students!

5 minilessons that will help set up the classroom structures for uninterrupted small group instruction.

The following 5 minilessons will give your readers the tools they need to stay engaged during independent work.

1. Finding Reading Spots

Readers need to know the expectations for where they can read and how they can get comfy and cozy.

Readers want to be able to be comfortable when reading and doing the work of real readers. Help your readers understand the do's and don'ts of spreading out and getting set to read.

So think about where your readers can read and let them know the do's and don'ts of how to find good reading spots in the classroom.

2. Maintaining a Book Basket

Whether you are using a basket, box, bag or some other tool, your readers need to know how to maintain that tool.

Help your readers understand what kinds of things a reader keeps in his/her book basket.

Give your readers tips and strategies for locating books that are just right for them.

Help your readers understand the importance of a reading toolkit to engage in the work from the minilesson.

3. Getting Help During Readers' Workshop -- Asking for a conference

It's inevitable...readers are going to need help! Especially learners who are still developing their skills and strategies to become better readers.

When readers are practicing the new strategies and skills taught in the classroom, they are going to need assistance and guidance.

They need to know the procedures for getting your help when they need it without interrupting your small group lesson.

This could be clipping their name on an I Need A Conference sign. This could be signing up on your conference clipboard. Or whatever procedure you have for readers to gain conference time with you.

4. Getting Help During Readers' Workshop -- Addressing the 'What Ifs'

It's even MORE likely that readers are going to need to sharpen pencils or go the bathroom or exchange books or get a drink of water or go to the nurse or...or...or...or...

You get the idea...

Make sure to provide a lesson on the 'What Ifs' so your readers are not interrupting a small group lesson and their classmates during independent reading for the little things they can begin to manage on their own.

Set up and teach procedures for going to the bathroom or sharpening pencils or getting a new book or turning in an assignment.

Provide a minilesson to let your readers ask the What Ifs. Discuss, address and anchor chart the answers.

5. Guidelines for Readers' Workshop

Readers need to know the guidelines and expectations for readers' workshop.

They need to know what the workshop should look like and sound like.

Readers should know what is expected of them each and every day they are sent out to workshop with their book baskets and reader's notebook after the minilesson.

When you successfully launch workshop, your students will be able to assist each other and work through distractions and interruptions when you give them the tools to do so.

Until next time…

The minilessons shared above and more to launch readers' workshop are ready to go and can be found right here.➡️➡️➡️➡️

Check out what minilessons are included right here

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