5 tips for small group success. students working with teacher.


Teachers are busy! From instruction to meetings, planning times, and that lingering parent email that you need to respond to…small groups may seem like just another thing to add to your never ending list. What are small groups and why are they important in the classroom? Small groups are a selected group of students that you make time to work with based on their specific needs. This 1:1 time with each student allows you to see their needs more clearly as the teacher and allows them time to comfortably express themselves as the student. 

As teachers, we try our best to give attention to each child throughout the school day, but the fact is there just simply isn’t enough time during whole group instruction to focus on each child the way they may need. Small group time should be an easy, healthy part of your school day that makes your classroom even better. To help with this, we have gathered 5 tips for small group success! 


A few weeks into the year, you have probably had an adequate amount of time to observe your students and complete formal/informal assessments. You now have a pretty good idea of what your students’ strengths and weaknesses are. When creating small groups, it is important to group together students that share similar strengths and weaknesses. Students that share the same weaknesses can benefit from 1:1 time to work on these skills with you. Students that share the same strengths can benefit by being given extra challenges to keep them engaged and growing further.

Now, I know it isn’t that simple. There is not going to be a group that shares the EXACT same needs. When creating your small groups, think of 3-5 students that have SIMILAR needs and place them in the same group together.

PRO TIP: Create fun names for each small group! For example: have students pick their small group name, or give each group a color name. This will create excitement among students and will also help you keep track of each group! 


Consistency is always key in the younger grades! Create a schedule for working with small groups and try to stick to it as much as possible. I found it was easy to assign students to centers. During this time, groups would come to visit me to work together. Small groups do not have to last a long time. If you are only able to work with students for 15 minutes or so – that is great! While small groups are working with you, the rest of the class will be working in their self-guided learning stations. 

Routines for stations can take a little while to establish. My advice is to practice over and over again. For tips on how to set up your centers visit this blog post from Tickled Pink In Primary!

center tubs and organization

Here are a few things to think about when creating a routine for classroom stations: 

  • How will students know what station they are in for the day? 
  • What supplies will students need for each station? How will they know this without you telling them every time? 
  • Where will students need to go for each station? 
  • Which small groups will visit you that day? How will students know it is their turn for small groups?

Before starting to pull small groups, be sure the rest of the class is settled and knows exactly what to do in their stations. Otherwise, your small group time will be interrupted with a lot of questions. 

PRO TIP:  Lower groups that need a lot of assistance can be scheduled to work with you more often during the week. 


To ensure your small group time is effective and efficient, be sure to have a plan. Your small group plans do not have to be long, detailed plans for each day, but it will help to think ahead to what students need assistance with and have an appropriate book, game, review activity, etc. ready to go! I have provided an example of a Guided Reading Small Group time below. 


2 Minutes

Quick Drills (sight words, letters, letter sounds, etc) Fluency and Fitness would be a great resource for this! 

3 Minutes

Review recent concepts learned as a whole group.

5 Minutes 

Read planned book together and assist students as needed 

5 Minutes 

Retell the story and ask comprehension questions 

5 Minutes

Writing exercise to end small group time 

PRO TIP: Have paper ready to take notes. Quickly jot down next to the student’s name what you notice as they are practicing or reading. These notes will come in handy when you sit down to plan your next small group time together! 


Be sure to set clear expectations for your students as they come to small group time. Here are some routines to think about as you implement procedures. 


  • Where will students sit during small group time?
  • What supplies do students need to bring?
  • If you are helping someone else, what can students work on until it is their turn?


  • Where should they be while you are working with a small group?
  • What is the noise level while they are in stations?
  • When are they allowed to come ask you a question during small group time? 
  • If they finish their station, what can they work on until time is up?


I know this sounds silly, but I promise it makes all the difference! Small group time is limited, so located is important! Think of the perfect meeting location for your small group meeting area. Ideally, you will want a place where you can hear the students you are working with, but you can also see the rest of the class in their stations to monitor. You will also want supplies within arm’s reach. Nothing can kill the learning vibe like having to stop a small group lesson to walk across the room and find a supply that wasn’t close by. 

PRO TIP: Keep a rolling cart next to your small group area filled with extra supplies and items you will need for this time. This way, if a student runs out of supplies or you have an early finisher, you are able to grab what you need quickly!

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