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

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Small Group Instruction Part 1:  Environment

If you are not meeting with small groups for reading, you should start tomorrow with the tools I am providing for you.

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

This 3 part series will provide tools to help get your small group instruction going.

​Picture this…

You’re sitting at your table with 5 sweet little readers surrounding you, just about to reveal the 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!

That’s the first step to successful, uninterrupted small group instruction! The freebie tools are coming!

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! They had to know what to do when I was not available!

To start workshop, I held several procedural minilessons. We practiced independently working while I monitored and facilitated their independent work.

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!

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.

Now I’m not here to say that launching a successful workshop in September will address every situation until June of that school year.

You should revisit those procedures and monitor and adjust for the specific situations that occur throughout the year.

That’s just being a reflective teacher that makes changes based on the needs of the students!

Let's take a look at the 5 minilessons that will help set up the classroom for uninterrupted small group instruction.

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 you 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.

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.

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.

5. Guidelines for Readers' Workshop

Readers need to know the guidelines for readers' workshop. They need to know what the workshop should look like and sound like. They should know the expectations of workshop. Readers should know what is expected of them each and every day they are sent into workshop with their book baskets and reader's notebook.

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. Believe in your students! Even the most challenging!

Grab my FREE Mini-Course, 5 Days to Crafting Minilessons That Will Ignite & Engage Your Readers, during which you will receive minilesson planning tools, cheat sheets & 90 minilesson ideas for reading.

Until next time…

#minilessons #smallgroupinstruction


Here at Literacy Treasures, I LOVE to talk about reading and writing and share with teachers all that I've learned about what it takes to build strong readers and writers. I have immersed myself in the research of Lucy Calkins, Jennifer Serravallo, Stephanie Harvey, Debbie Miller, Carl Anderson, Gay Su Pinnell, Irene Fountas and so many others.  Every resource, strategy, tool, minilesson and teaching tip that is shared on Literacy Treasures is rooted in this research