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The When and How for Small Group Instruction

Updated: Feb 22

The research supports that smaller class size boosts student performance, particularly at the younger ages. Think resource room or self-contained. However, research also supports small-group instruction as a form of differentiation that can, and should, be used at the Tier 1 level. Unfortunately, teachers are not explicitly taught how to create a small-group with anywhere between 15-28+ students in a class. Common challenges I hear from teachers range from, "I don't have the room in the classroom for a small-group," or, "how do I actually pull students? What do the rest of them do?"


When I had a co-teacher, small group instruction was automatic. The goal was always to make our class of 25, smaller. We would split into a parallel model during the mini-lesson, or move into alternative teaching for remedial work. Station teaching became another great way to check-in with students on new material, or individual conferencing. The opportunities for pulling a small-group was a manageable task.


But what about teachers who are solo? How can one teacher in a classroom create smaller groups?


Here are some scenarios you can share with the teachers in your building:


Beginning of the lesson

  1. Provide students with a Brainstarter, Do Now, Bellringer, or Warm-Up task. While students are completing it, pull a small-group to complete the warm-up together, provide a preview for the mini-lesson to come, or provide a teacher-model of the skills that students will learn in the mini-lesson.

  2. Randomly split the class into two groups. One group will receive the mini-lesson while the other group is either independently or collaboratively completing a task that demonstrates their understanding of a previous lesson objective or prerequisite skill that links to the current learning target. The groups then switch.

Middle of the lesson

  1. In stations, groups are organized based on skills they need to improve on. Teacher meets with certain groups for certain stations.

  2. Students are practicing the content/skills learned in the mini-lesson. Meet with 3 students at a time to reinforce the content/skills.

End of the lesson

  1. While finishing the last three problems or questions on a classroom handout, teacher will meet with a group of students (who were still struggling based on previous data) to do one more problem together before finishing the work independently.

  2. Students are completing an exit ticket. While they finish, they justify their response through a Round Robin, meaning, students gather in groups of 3 or 4 and take turns responding orally. While students are responding, the teacher can strategically move from group to group to hear student responses and clarify responses, ask probing questions, or even denote which students may need a reteach,


Encourage your teachers to try just one of these strategies and reinforce that the more often their class engages in small-group, the more familiar they will be in the behavioral expectations that you have of them.


Biddle, Bruce & Berliner, David. (2002). What research says about small classes and their effects. Policy Perspectives.


 

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