Small-group instruction is a highly effective way to close reading gaps with students once they get their arms around the foundations of reading. Strategy groups are small groups of students (4-6) who have gaps with a particular skill or strategy. Students in these groups are often reading at different levels, so it’s important to have a solid plan. In this post, I share ideas about how to successfully implement strategy groups.
If you would like to read more about strategy groups and the difference between strategy groups and guided-reading, read this post.
When is the Right Time to Implement Strategy Groups?
Strategy groups should be used with students who already have a strong reading foundation. Students working in strategy groups should not have deficits in phonics, decoding, or fluency. Students should generally read on or above a second grade level and should possess good decoding and comprehension skills. If students have gaps in phonics, decoding, or fluency, then you need to keep those skills as your primary focus during small-group instruction.
Typically about mid-year, I start to transition many of my reading small groups from a general guided-reading focus to a strategy group focus. I’ll make this transition about two months before state testing to ensure we have plenty of time to review key skills and create intentional interventions for gaps in skills students may have.
How To Begin Implementing Strategy Groups
1. Assess Where Students are NOW
To begin strategy groups, it is crucial that you have current, accurate data. Be sure you are using an assessment that is recent. The assessment you use is also key. Ensure the assessment asks clear questions. It is also important that there are enough questions for each skill you are assessing in order to get accurate data. For example, if you only have two questions on main idea, you will not obtain enough data to determine if a student has a gap with this skill. I recommend each skill or standard you are assessing has at least four questions on the assessment. If you need an assessment that meets the criteria for effective data, you can purchase my Benchmark Assessments here.
2. Determine Focus for Whole-Class Instruction
If your assessment data shows that most of your class has gaps in a certain area (HELLO, Main Idea?!), begin by reteaching these skills whole-class. After you reteach the skill whole-class, reassess to determine which students still need further intervention.
3. Determine Focus Skills for Strategy Groups:
Pick out skills that several of your students need extra support with. Start with the most crucial skills for basic comprehension and as time allows, add more complex skills and strategies.
Form Your Groups of Students:
Groups should have no more than six students. You should be sure to hit students at all ranges of the comprehension scale. If you have a Text Features group, these students can range in levels.
Create Your Plan:
I recommend planning a school week (5 days) of 20-minute blocks to work with each group. Typically, I can work with two to three groups per day. Keep in mind if you still have a decoder group, you may not fit as many strategy groups into your schedule. Students lacking decoding skills need to be prioritized and met with consistently each day. Let’s say you have two groups for 6 weeks – that gives you twelve skills or strategies you can create interventions for.
I recommend using grade-level resources as the focus. Even if students are below grade level, it is important they are exposed to grade-level text in strategy groups where they are provided support. If students are never challenged to complete grade-level tasks, it is only going to give them more stress and anxiety during assessment times. As long as you expose your students to texts in chunks while providing the support they need, they will learn to rise to the challenge and tackle difficult texts.
My Core Comprehension passages are the perfect resource because you can be assured students are working on grade-level standards-based texts. These texts are also scaffolded, so students can progress from the lowest to highest text complexity as they work towards mastering skills.
Work With Your Groups:
Here is what a sample calendar of one week of a strategy group can look like:
Reintroduce the skill anchor chart. If your students have journals, they can refer back to the anchor chart when they previously worked on the skill. Model how to tackle a mid-range text by showing students how you read through the text, then give a general summary of what you read to monitor comprehension. Reread if needed. Next, model how to answer the skills-based comprehension questions. Be sure to model effective reading strategies such as circling key words in the questions, underlining text evidence, restating the questions, and rereading your responses.
Work as a group on another mid-range passage. Students read the passage independently, then summarize the passage orally as a group or with the person next to them. Finally, go through each question together, circling key words. Give students time to find text evidence in the passage and begin answering. Discuss each response and the text evidence. This may take more time in order to reinforce good reading behaviors.
Students begin to work “independently” on their first passage. I say “independently” because they are not actually independent. They should still be sitting in their small group with you closely monitoring their process, asking questions, and providing support. Begin by assigning one of the passages in the lowest range of the grade-level band.
Since your strategy group likely has a wide range of readers, students will begin to work at different paces. This is a good thing! As you are monitoring, you will see some students just “get it!” Assign more difficult leveled passages as they see success. Continue to monitor their work. But if you see consistent mastery, you may even have some students ready to exit the group before the week is up. That is something to celebrate! It also gives you more time to focus on students who need more support.
Assign passages at increasing difficulties as students are ready. Remember, students should not all be working on the same text at the same pace. Continue to provide any necessary support to students who need it. I caution you to ensure that your support is NECESSARY. Allow students to be challenged and make mistakes. Be there to guide them back on track.
Repeat and Repeat!
Continue to implement similar strategy group lessons as needed. It is a good idea to implement strategy groups for 4-8 week stretches. Typically, the most crucial time is mid to end of the year as students are getting ready for state testing and all of the standards have been taught whole group.
While it is a lot of work, I guarantee you will see a big difference in your student’s reading comprehension skills.