Lesson planning: 4 tips for small group instruction

Guided reading, math workshop, or centers, it doesn’t matter what you call it, walk into an elementary classroom any time of the day and you’re likely to see small group teaching in action. That’s because small group instruction is one of the best ways to maximize instructional time while addressing individual student needs.

So it’s really no wonder why most teachers say small group instruction is one of their favorite times of the school day. In this blog post, we’ll cover four key tips to help you make the most of your small group lesson planning. These tips will help you create efficient planning routines that save time and ensure your focus during small group stays on what truly matters-your students.

4 tips for successful small group lesson planning

Lesson plan book for teachers

creating a schedule

Having a plan in place for exactly when you’ll meet with small groups of students throughout the week is the first step towards making the most of small group instruction time. A clear and specific schedule for small group instruction is your best bet to ensuring that you’ll actually meet with these groups regularly and will allow you to focus your planning on what skills and content you’ll work on with each group of students. Here’s why it’s key to the success of your small groups:

Benefits of Having a Clear Schedule

  • Time Management: A schedule ensures that you make the most of your available class time.
  • Consistency: Your more likely to meet with students regularly if you have an established routine that both you and students can rely on.

3 schedules to consider when planning for small group in your classroom

  • Rotational Schedule: Assign specific days each week (and times) for each group to meet with you. This type of schedule allows you to prioritize meeting with groups of students who need more intensive support. Definitely consider which days you have more time and energy to devote to meeting with your struggling students. You might also consider meeting with those students more often than your students who are on or above grade level.
  • Skill-Based Schedule: This type of scheduling requires you to assess students regularly and adjust their groupings based on which specific skills they need additional help mastering. For example, if on the last test students took, a number of them missed the same question or skill, assign them to the same small group and focus on that skill when you meet with them.
  • Tiered Schedule: Group students by proficiency levels and schedule accordingly.

Tips for Sticking to the Schedule

  • Set alarms on your phone or use visual timers to remind you when it’s time to switch groups.
  • Plug in some buffer time between groups to allow for transitions.

Small group lesson plan template for reading instruction

templates are your bff

Templates are your secret weapon when it comes to lesson planning in general but are a must when mapping out your small group lesson time.

Benefits of Using Templates

  • Organization: Templates take the guesswork out of organizing your small group time. They will help keep you on track and make sure you’re meeting with each group regularly and maximizing your time together.
  • Efficiency: Templates save you time by providing a ready-made and structured framework. Using a well made template when lesson planning means you just fill in the blanks for things like skills, goals, and process monitoring data.

Useful Templates for Small Group Instruction

  • Lesson Plans: Customize these to outline objectives, materials needed, and formative assessments.
  • Data Tracking Sheets: Keep records of student performance and progress with key skills.areas for improvement.
  • Anecdotal Notes & Assessment Rubrics: Use these to evaluate student progress and to plan for future lessons.


flexibility is key

Flexibility is probably the number one key skill to have when it comes to being a teacher. It’s really not a matter of if your lesson will be interrupted by something unexpected but a matter of when. Being prepared for how to handle those disruptions can greatly reduce the in-the-moment stress they often cause.

Incorporating Flexible Time Into Your Schedule

  • Build in a dedicated a block of time each week for catching up on anything you weren’t able to finish with students. If everything went smoothly that week, use this time to provide extension activities or additional small group instruction to your struggling students.
  • Keep a list of backup independent activities or lessons your students can quickly switch over to when something pops up that takes your attention away from what you originally planned.
Weekly lesson plan template for teachers

get organized

Getting organized and maintaining that organization is crucial for ensuring that small group instruction runs smoothly. By gathering all needed materials each week for small group lessons during the planning phase, you can eliminate last-minute scrambling and disruptions during instruction.

Establishing a predictable routine for each lesson not only helps students know what to expect but also reduces the time spent giving instructions, allowing for more meaningful learning. When everything is in its place and routines are well-established, you can focus more on facilitating learning and addressing individual student needs.

Tips for getting organized for small groups:

  • Gather all necessary materials for weekly small group lessons during the planning phase to avoid last-minute scrambling.
  • Establish a predictable routine for each lesson so that students know what to expect and less time is spent giving instructions.
  • Use labeled bins or organizers to store materials for each small group, making it easy to access and distribute resources quickly.
  • Keep a designated area in the classroom for small group instruction, stocked with supplies and materials specific to each group’s needs.
Book bin organization

Small group instruction really is where the magic happens in the classroom. By creating a specific schedule, using templates, allowing for flexibility, and maintaining organization, you can enhance your teaching experience and boost student success.

Now that you have these valuable tips, it’s time to put them into action. Start implementing these strategies in your lesson planning process, and watch your small group instruction become more efficient and effective. Your students will thank you for it, and you’ll see the impact of your well-planned lessons in their growth and achievement. Happy teaching!

before you go…

Be sure to grab your free copy of my small group lesson plan templates. And don’t forget to head over to the freebie library to check out other resources to help you save time in the classroom.

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