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The When and How for Small Group Instruction

How to teach to a smaller group of students during the beginning, middle, and end of your lesson?

The research supports that smaller class size boosts student performance, particularly at the younger ages. Students participate at higher levels, more time can be spent on instruction rather than management, more support for learning can occur, and stronger student-teacher relationships can be nurtured.

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.

With a co-teacher, smaller class size was a manageable task. But what about with a single teacher? How can a solo teacher in a classroom create smaller groups? Here are some scenarios and here is how.


  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.


  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.


  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,

Go slow to go fast. Try out just one of these strategies. Don’t overwhelm yourself with trying too much at once. And remember, the more often your class engages in this type of practice, 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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