7 Steps For a Successful First Small Group Reading Session

Your first small group reading session is going to set the tone for the whole school year. So, it’s important to keep a few things in mind as you plan it! 

If you’re wondering exactly what I do the first time I meet with my small groups for reading, get ready for a peek inside my classroom!

This is the second post in our Small-Group Reading series. Read part one, here, and part three, here.

Your first small group reading session is going to set the tone for the whole school year. So, it’s important to keep a few things in mind as you plan it! If you’re wondering exactly what I do the first time I meet with my small groups for reading, get ready for a peek inside my classroom!

P.S. If you prefer watching a video, you can scroll down to watch me explain my first small group reading session in more detail!

Goals for Your First Small Group Reading Session

The first time you meet with your small groups for reading, your goals will be a little bit different than for a typical session. 

For the first meeting, your goals will be less about academics and more about…

  • Routines
  • Expectations
  • Motivation

You want to teach your students the purpose of meeting in small reading groups, along with the routines you’ll follow and the expectations you have of how the time will be spent. 

Kids celebrate in class

Additionally, you want to offer them motivation so that when you call them for reading groups, instead of dragging their feet, they’re excited to learn.

Even though you have three goals to cover in this first session, remember to keep it short and sweet!

Setting Up Your Small Group Space

Before you begin meeting with your small groups for reading, you want to make sure you’ve set up an effective and well-organized small group reading space. 

If you need help with that, check out my blog post: SETTING UP YOUR SMALL GROUP READING CORNER: 5 MUST HAVES!

7 Steps to a Successful First Small Group Reading Session

1. Meet as a whole group first

Start by meeting with your class as a whole group to explain the purpose of small group reading. This will also help to build excitement so that each student is eager to be called for small group reading.

You can also give a brief overview of what to expect when they come to the small group reading table. Just remember that you’re going to review this when they come for their first session and then again and again for the first few meetings.  

2. Teach routines

Now that students are at their centers and you’ve called your first reading group, begin by teaching routines. 

The first routine they’ll need to learn is how to arrive at the table. Communicate to your students that each small group reading session begins with them bringing their reading book baggies to the reading table. These bags will accumulate the texts they’ve read together – whether books, poems, or word rings. They can come to the table and begin to read independently while they wait for you to begin. 

I also let them know the exciting news that during small group reading time, they don’t need to raise their hands! As long as they aren’t interrupting anyone, they can say what’s on their mind. 

3. Phonological awareness activity

It’s helpful to introduce them to some of the activities you’ll be doing regularly, like phonemic awareness. A fun activity to start with, and one we played often, was Code Words

To play this quick, simple, and fun game, you say the sounds of a word and have students blend them to identify the word. You can begin with simpler tasks like segmenting syllables or onset and rhyme before moving to phonemes.

After our game, we want to move into reading and writing, but before that, it’s time to introduce a new tool!

4. Introduce Tools

When students are reading in our small group, I listen to one reader at a time. While I’m listening, I have my other readers use a whisper phone so they don’t get distracted by the reader.

Whenever I introduce a new tool, I like to give students about a minute to explore it and play with it. If you don’t take the time to introduce new tools like whisper phones, your students will take time to play with them when you do hand them out. Instead, get that out of the way before you even start the activity. Simply pass the whisper phone around and let students whisper their names into it to see how they work!

As you conduct your small group lessons, introduce one new tool at a time and teach explicitly how to use and take care of them.

5. Quick read and write

Make sure the first text that you choose is not too hard for your group. Remember, the primary goal of this lesson is to establish routines and expectations. So, we want to help them get an idea of what to expect during small group reading, without overwhelming them. 

Your choice will, of course, depend on the grade you teach and the ability level of your students. 

I made you these FREE decodable books to use in your early small group lessons! 

Decodable books

NEW Routine! During the quick read-and-write, there’s a super important routine to teach – What to do when they’re done reading! The worst thing is when kids are done but you’re still listening to the readers. Cue the distractions and fooling around while waiting for you!

So, just before you have them begin reading independently, teach students what to do if they finish reading before it’s time to move on. Let them know about the “Reread Challenge”- they can reread the book and do something better: look for things they missed on their first read or try to read more smoothly. Be sure they know that if they finish reading, it’s not time for them to turn to their neighbor and talk or start playing. 

Bonus Tip: Each time you introduce a new routine, take a moment to backtrack and review the previous routines as well!

Wrap up your reading and writing portion with a quick writing activity. For the first session, think of a simple task like writing a word or letter on a whiteboard or using magnetic letter trays! Whatever you choose, remember to introduce the new tools BEFORE you begin the activity.

6. fun game

I love to end each session with a fun game that reinforces the skills introduced. For this first session, you can choose a game as simple as I Spy on the alphabet chart or what letter is missing from one of their names. This is such a fun and simple way to make sure the session ends on a high note.

7. Review routines

Before they go, review the routines. I also like to give them a little celebratory sticker. Celebrate that they’ve succeeded in their first small group reading session and then show them how to put away their book baggie and go back to their center.

Remember to keep reviewing routines in your next sessions. 

Watch the video below to see exactly what I recommend for your first small group reading session!

What do you teach in your first small group reading session? I’d love to know! Comment below and share.

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