I recently made a case for rethinking reading groups because of the limitations of traditional leveled reading groups. If you’re shifting to or currently engaged in skill-based groups or mixed-ability groups, we’re going to look at some advanced strategies for implementing these innovative approaches in your small group reading sessions.
Skill-based groups are just like they sound: groups that come together to develop specific skills. Unlike traditional leveled reading groups, which theoretically have the potential for students to uplevel over the course of the year, but which often keep students together in the same leveled group, skill-based groups are often pretty fluid.
Start with phonics assessment
How do you form these groups? It starts with phonics assessment. Phonics screening tests might identify strengths and areas where students need more instruction, practice, or support. Any phonics assessments, whether at the end of a unit or impromptu during a group or student 1-1, can give you insight into each student’s skill needs. This information helps you form groups and provide small group reading practice to target those needs.
That might feel like a lot of moving parts — or a lot of moving kids in and out of groups, but stick with me. When you pinpoint students’ exact needs with diagnostic assessments, you can really target your interventions. Good tracking tools make a difference.
Try the Progress Monitoring FREE Sample
Go deeper with the Phonics Monitoring Progress Bundle, which includes all of the assessments and student data tracking sheets you will need to quickly and easily track your students’ mastery of phonics skills — and use them to create skills-based reading groups.
Tailor instruction and keep groups fluid
Because your groups will change, you’ll want to make sure students know what group they are in. That might be a new chart each week or two weeks that identifies what group students are in and what your reading rotation looks like. You want to minimize “Where do I go next?” and “What am I supposed to be doing?”
Your reading rotation can include different options, but keeping the number of daily rotations to 3 usually works well. Don’t forget to include transition time in your rotation schedule and have a clear signal that it is time to change. Set expectations for what to do when the signal changes if you are not done with the work or in the middle of a game and for what to do if you finish early (silent reading, a choice activity from the station, another round of a game.)
One of the rotations will be with you for teaching a specific skill identified by your assessments. Others will have students working on:
- Practice of the skill just taught
- Review of a skill previously taught
- Independent reading
Within these categories, you have a lot of options. Students can read silently or take turns reading quietly to each other. They can do practice sheets, play games, write in a journal, use task cards … there are so many options.
Your scope and sequence helps to narrow things down and gives you concrete ideas about what to use to teach skills and adapt practice for different levels. Don’t reinvent the wheel. You’ll find assessment and tracking tools, a detailed scope and sequence, and a ton of activities designed to keep skills-based reading groups engaged in the Top Notch Teaching Literacy Club. Spend less time figuring out what to do with students or putting together new materials, so you can focus on phonics assessments and small group reading strategies.