Last week, I blogged about why I said goodbye to guided reading.  


But that doesn't mean I gave up on small groups altogether.  


This teacher LOVES her some small group intervention time.


So, if not guided reading for literacy intervention, then what?  Data driven groups.  That's what.


But what does that look like?  Is it a complete 180 from guided reading?  How much relearning am I really gonna have to do here? (Pssst: not much.  It's really much easier than you'd think!)


Let's chat about data-driven reading groups.  I'll walk you through a sample class data set.  We'll talk about how I assess, set up groups, plan for them, and what my schedule for meeting with kiddos looks like!


Assess the Standards

In traditional guided reading, the first thing we did was test our kids' reading level, right?  In data driven reading groups, we also assess first!


But the evidence from the science of reading tells us that levelized readers aren't the best way to grow readers.  Levels can be subjective, and word difficulty doesn't consistently increase with the level.  The criteria for leveling books is multi-faceted and so none of the components fully consider word recognition.  


In data driven reading groups, I assess the standards.  To make it simple, I started with the assessments the school I was at already required: Acadience (formally, DIBELS) and PAST.  There was no need in adding additional stress with additional assessments--UNLESS I needed more information.


K-1 Acadience (DIBELS) takes care of letter naming, segmenting sounds, decoding CVC words and Oral reading.  


PAST takes care of phonemic awareness.  Beginning in 2nd grade, the MAZE (part of Acadience) addresses some comprehension portions of reading.


As a kinder teacher (at the time I started data driven groups), those were all of the assessments I needed.  And I was already doing them. 


What assessments is your school already requiring?  Can you use those to find skills to target with your students?  If you are in a school that still requires you to assess reading levels, are you also asked to use Acadience/DIBELS with your kids?  If not, the full Acadience and PAST assessments are available online for free and are surprisingly quick and easy!

Record the Data

Once I'm finished assessing my kids, I record the data.  Well, actually, I record the data as I go, but who's counting?? :)


I use this digital data wall literally assess a kid and then type it in on my laptop.  This digital template is already set up for first grade with the DIBELS and PAST benchmarks already listed.  But it is easy to edit for the grade and assessments you are using.


Then, after I'm finished assessing, I go back and color code my data for at risk (very below), low risk (bubble kids), on grade level and above. 


Group By Data Points

Now, I'm ready to group my kids.  


I print out the grouping pages that I need from my Data Driven Groups resource.  These three pages shown below are the ones I'll be walking through in this post.  You can find tons of different grouping pages here.


For my phonemic awareness groups, I printed out a blank page because all of the skills I need to address were on multiple pages...so I'm just saving paper!  In the top category boxes, I wrote in each skill from PAST that I need to address with at least one of my kids in my sample class.  Then, I wrote the names of the kids for each category.  Notice that for the PAST, kids are only in one category...the stage they are currently working on becoming automatic at.  Also, notice I combined D1 & D2 and E2 & E3 because they are very similar and both skill groups were very small.  When I do this, I just note which subskill each kid needs to focus on so I can do that individually in the group.


For my phonics groups, I had some pre-alphabetic readers and early alphabetic readers.  Not all of the skills need to be addressed with my kids, so I'll only use the columns I need.  Again, I wrote down the kids' names under EACH category they need help with.  Notice that for phonics, they may be in multiple categories.  I will not put kids in two of the same type of subcategories though.  For example, I will not have a kid in boy the read VC and read CVC columns even if they can't do both of those, because they need to first focus on VC, then I can move them to CVC.  But I could have a kid in read VC and spell beginning sounds, because those are different types of sub skills--decoding and spelling.


I also have oral language and comprehension group pages as well that I can add kids to.  Often times, my oral language kids are my ELL kids or low language kids.  I can add those kids based on their ELL level or anecdotally as I notice oral language skills that need more work.


I want to make sure every kid is in a group.  If not, I need to consider what extension groups I could offer for those kids.  This is often where my comprehension groups come in. And for those kids with great comprehension, we work on writing their comprehension skills, like writing a retelling of a story, etc.


Now that I have my kids listed in groups, I'm ready to plan!

Plan the Lessons

Once I sort out my groups, the planning starts.  This is where data driven reading groups become much, much simpler than guided reading.  I look at each skill group and ask myself...


What content should I plan for this skill?  I preplan my list of words or letters we will work on for the week.  I typically only work a week at a time because I like to adjust as my kids grow or struggle.   

What supplies do I need to work on this skill?  For many groups, I will want some manipulatives like colored blocks or felt squares for my phonemic awareness groups.  Dry erase markers, marker boards....anything that I would need for those groups.  Then I get it all together and make sure those things are organized and easily available near my small group table.


I can add all of this information to my lesson planning pages and add them to my small group binder.  Now all I'll need to do is open up to our lesson plan and get started!


As a side note....the lesson planning page is basically the longer version of the groups page.  You do you. :)  If you like one better than the other, use it.  If you like both, go for it!  For me personally, I like to do just the groups page and I keep a separate list of words by sound or feature to reference!


Meet With Kids 

Remember stressing over your schedule with guided reading?   In my head, I was like, "Ok, 2 groups a day, but I have 5 reading groups.  2 of my groups need to see me every day, but that won't work.  Can I manage to just meet with my highest group once or twice a week.  Wait, what about my bubble kids?"  Am I right??


This is the main thing I LOVE about switching my small group mindset to data driven groups.  There is no schedule.  No really.


For those of you who know me in real life, I know you are shocked.  Because I LOVE me a schedule.  I LIVE by a schedule.  But this was the most freeing part for me with data driven groups.  Remember those group pages I filled out?


Those became my "schedule."  Or, more accurately, my checklist.  


So, how does that work? Well, because I am a Type A teacher, I just simply go in order and use those columns like a checklist. 


In this sample class, I would start with my Phonemic Awareness Groups and meet with that PAST level D group.  Then, I would add the date we met (and minutes if needed for RTI) and any notes I had.  


As soon as I finished that group, I would call the next group, and so on.  


For these skill groups I'm showcasing in this post, they are short.  Sometimes just 5 or 10 minutes.  Maybe 15 minutes.  So I can fit way more groups in than the old school guided reading groups. (Yes, I continued to do reading groups with decodable texts.  That blog post is coming next....hang tight!)


My main focus for small group time when I was in kinder was during their center time.  The teacher I was long term subbing for used traditional kinder centers.  I pulled during that time and I didn't just pull one group per center.  I just called a group back and moved on through the groups, switching centers with my timer, not based on when I finished a group.  


Other kinder teachers had the kids on a class set of Chromebooks doing independent interventions while they pulled.  


The other **fabulous** thing about data driven groups is because they were so short, I was able to meet with them throughout the day, not just during centers.  If I had it together one morning and finished attendance early, I could pull a skill group or oral language group during morning work.  I pulled a group or two during snack time.  Or while kids were finishing up their writing work.  Any part of my literacy block where I had a "free" minute where I didn't need to walk around and monitor kids, I could pull groups.


So, in this sample class, I have a total of 14 skill groups.  Like I mentioned before, these are not all of the skills or intervention groups I would have.  This is just a sample!  Once I make it through all 14 groups, I start back over and do it over again.  


On average, I would say I had about 20 or so literacy skill groups in my kinder class and was able to get through all groups at least once a week.  But that doesn't mean I only met with each kid once a week.  In my sample class we've been using, that would mean that my highest kid, "William" would be met with twice a rotation for just these skills and my lowest kid, "Cooper" would be met with 7 times per rotation for just these skills.


Want to use all the Data Driven Binder Organizational Things??  You can find them here!




Okay.  Whoah.  That was a TON of info.  Maybe more than I initially intended to share.  Have I convinced you to make the switch yet?  What questions do you still have?  Drop your questions in the comments and let's keep the conversation going!


And next up on the blog, we'll be talking about using decodable texts as a reading group!



 For 10 years, I built a balanced literacy classroom with an emphasis on guided reading.  I worked hard to master the art of intentional small groups, knowing each of my kids levels, their strengths and weaknesses, and whipping out a new guided reading schedule in my sleep.


And after 10 years, I had it down pat for the most part.  Doing guided reading was in my blood.  I believed in it because we saw growth in students.   It was what I knew how to do...and I was good at it.


And then I went through my first science of reading training and realized the guided reading model wasn't evidence based.  The Fountas and Pinnel levelized readers were not facilitating decoding.  They were encouraging kids to use context and pictures to guess unknown words.  This was a HUGE mind blow and mental shift for me.  


But when I really sat down to reflect, I realized that while some kids were growing, others just weren't.  Many of my babies would progress to a level C and just get stuck and never move on.  


There were other problems with it too.  I would have a full group of level G kids, but half of them struggled reading the text and the other help needed comprehension work.  So, I was having to split my instructional focus because I didn't want to have to split them into two separate groups...because of TIME.


Speaking of time...  A good, guided reading group takes 20-30 minutes.  That means I could meet with 2 groups a day.  10 groups a week.  And if I met with my kids who were really struggling every day, I only had one other group a day I could meet with...without extra help from other teachers.  What about my bubble kids that really needed me every day?  What about my high kids that were bored and needed some extension? 


How could I be everything to everyone and help facilitate their growth in reading?  It was time.  It was time to say goodbye to my career-long BFF, guided reading.


It was at this point, that I started a long-term sub position in kindergarten.  The school had moved to science of reading and our whole group reading curriculum very much aligned with the science of reading.  But I couldn't NOT do any small group work.  


The guided reading teacher in me wanted to hurry up and form some reading and pre-reading groups.  But we didn't have levels for kids, because that's not best practice.  But I had to do something to give my kids small group intervention.


That's when data driven reading groups were born.  That's when I decided to use the reading data I DID have on my kids to group them and work to improve their weak areas or extend their strengths.  That's when I realized that levels didn't matter.  


Because inside of all of those levels were a variety of skills the kids needed to be able to read at that level.  And not all kids on a level G reached that level for the same reason.  For some, it was decoding.  For others, it was retelling.  For others, it was a language or vocabulary issue.  


By throwing out levels, and digging deeper, I could group kids by their gaps in skills and fill those holes to help them progress even faster.


And the best part?  Most of the time, that skill work required 5, 10, 15 minutes tops.  So, I could meet with at least 3 groups a day during 45 minutes of centers in kindergarten.  And sometimes 6 or 7 groups!


Data driven reading groups were an absolute game changer for me.  And they can be for you too?


Are you ready to make the switch?  In my next blog post, I'll be talking about the nuts and bolts of data driven reading groups and what you can do to set them up in your classroom. (HINT:  It's a bazillion and one times easier to figure out that guided reading.  Really, it is.)



The beatitudes are a must unit of study in Sunday School or children's church.  And honeybees just make the first part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount that much more fun and engaging!   Here's look at my go to review games and crafts for our BEEatitudes unit.


Bee-Atitudes Hive Craft

I love a good craft to work on and add to each week during our Sunday School units.  And this one is UH-dorable, ya'll and soooooo easy!


All you need is yellow paint, an old pencil with the eraser still in tact :), a yellow ink pad and a thin, black marker pen.


The first week, we paint the hive using the yellow paint and the pencil eraser.  We just dot the hive without painting over the words.

Then, each week, we add a bee to the hive.  We find the blessing we learned about that week and add a bee beside the blessing to show the beatitude that brings that blessing.  We used a thin, Sharpie pen to write the beatitude by the bee.

For this example, my son used the directions from Ed Emberley's books for making the bee!

Here's a look at the finished hive!


Beatitudes Review Game

I love this review game because we can use it all unit long and just change out the questions for each lesson.  Print, laminate and post the flower cards around the room with velcro dots on them.  


Then, I cut the circles out for the lesson we were working on and put velcro on the backs of those.  


I attached all of the circles to a flower around the room and we were ready to play!

To play, I partner kids up and say, "Bees, Buzz!" and they buzz around the room.  A few seconds later, I say, "Bees, Land!" and the bees "land" near a flower.  

Next, I ask the review question from the unit game and the bees with the correct answer buzz!  If they tell us the correct answer, they get some sort of honey-themed snack like honey teddy grahams or honey nut cheerios! :)

The next week, I just change out the circles, and we are ready to play again without my having to reteach how to play!

You can find these activities and more in this full Beatitudes Unit.



Good listeners become good readers.

This summer, I'm diving into LETRS training on the Science of Reading.  If you've been around my corner of cyber space for a bit, you know I was introduced to the Science of Reading a few years ago through RISE training in my home state.  It was mind-blowing.  Like a where-has-this-been-all-of-my-life kind of PD.  And I just wanted more.  So, I'm digging into LETRS.  And it's intense.  And so, so good.

As I process it, I'll be blogging about some nuggets of wisdom I've learned along the way.

So... let's talk about talking.  What is oral language?  Why should I care about it as a primary teacher?  Isn't that the speech path's job?  What can I do to increase the listening comprehension of my kids?

What Is Oral Language?

Oral language is simply the way we communicate with each other.  In honor of the Friends Reunion I just binged, let's look closer at oral language, Friends style! :)

It includes the words we speak...

The nonverbal cues we give while we speak...

And listening as someone else talks to us.

Kids with strong oral language skills are able to speak in complete sentences and carry on a conversation with someone in a way that is easy to understand.  They are also able to listen and comprehend what someone else is saying by asking and answering questions about what was said.

Why Is Listening Comprehension Important?

So what?  Why do I need to worry about listening comprehension and oral language?  Isn't that my speech path friend's job?

Yes and no.  Yes, speech paths do help kids with deficits in language.  But, scientist tell us there is a HUGE correlation between oral language and reading comprehension.

Read that again.  If I can't hear it and understand it, I can't read it and understand it.

Ya'll.  I know that seems intuitive.  And it makes total sense.  But, the first time, I read this, I thought, 

OMG.  Why in the world did I not spend more time doing read alouds and talking about stories with my kids...especially my ELL babies.  

I mean, I did read alouds.  I love a good read aloud.  But, if I'm being honest, storytime got cut short in my first grade classroom many times because of all the things I had to make sure I was doing.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that my firsties' reading skill suffered because of it.

How Can We Increase Listening Comprehension?

So, what can we do?  If I could go back and do those 10 years in first grade over again, what would I do differently?

I'd work on listening comprehension.  I'd target kids with low language skills.  Kids learning English as a second language.  Kids who only spoke English, but who still struggled to carry on conversations.  Kids who couldn't answer simple questions about stories we read together.  Kids who couldn't answer simple Who/What/Where/When/Why/How questions.

I'd target those kids and pull them back in a small group during intervention time.  I'd have real, organic conversations with them.  I'd warm up by drawing some table talk cards to read and answer.  I'd read a short book and ask questions as we read.  Sometimes, even after each page if needed. (Think like when a Mom reads to a toddler.... "Where's the spider?"  "What is the spider doing?")  

For whole group oral language lessons, I'd tell jokes and talk about multiple meaning words or other skills you can target with jokes.  (I LOVED using these joke slides with my second grader this year!)

Another thing I started doing my first few years and then abandoned because #time and I didn't know any better is explicit tier 2 vocabulary instruction with read alouds.  After I first became familiar with the Science of Reading, I started doing more of these.  We did these once a week during 2nd grade last year and we used them in kindergarten when I did a long-term sub.  It's an easy way to practice oral language, while increasing your kids vocabulary and oral language skills. You can find the specific ones I've used here or try the freebie.

And I'd do it all without asking kids to decode.  No reading.  Just listening comprehension.  Because the Simple View of Reading tells us that language comprehension is ESSENTIAL to reading comprehension.  

It's not the only factor of a successful reader.  But it's a necessary part.  And it doesn't have to be done with word recognition.  You can work on language comprehension on its own, and feel good, knowing you are increasing your kids reading comprehension skills.  

If I could go back 15 years and tell my first-year teacher self just that, I would.  I'd tell her to give herself some grace, and not stress if every small group literacy time didn't include kids reading or writing actual words.  

Because oral language is that important to the literacy success of our students. 

Because good listeners make good readers.


Anytime I can find a game for kids to play to reinforce a math skill, it's a win for me!  These are some of my go-to games for 2nd graders that are low prep, easy to learn, and simple to play over and over again!


Doubles Bingo

Doubles are huge in first and second grade because they help unlock so many math facts and give kids a fluent way to add and subtract.  I love using Bingo because most kids already know the rules and so it doesn't take much to model how to play!


I used one of the doubles bingo boards and spinners from my Guided Math Workshop Plans and we were good to go.  We used a pencil and paperclip to make a spinner.  I played this with my 2nd grader when I homeschooled him during the #covidyear and it was just as fun with one player as it is with a classroom full of players.


I love Bingo games because they are great for whole group lessons if you need something easy for a sub.  They are great for volunteers or aids to do with a small intervention group in the hallway.  They work well for parents to use at home too.  And they are great to put in a station like I do for Guided Math and let kids play in partners.


Roll and Solve

I used LOTS of Roll and _____ games in K-2.  Once the kids know the framework of the game, it's easy to change out the skill across all areas of math, phonics, literacy and more!  The version shown below is for practicing specific addition and subtraction strategies.  It's to force kids to move away from using the same strategy every single time and push them to be more flexible mathematicians.


In Roll and Solve, kids have one die.  They roll and solve one of the math problems in the row of the number they roll.  So, if they roll a 2, they solve the first box in row 2.  Once they fill a row, they win.


There are different ways to play this game.  You can have a game sheet for each partner.  Let the partners take turns rolling and solving.  The first one to fill a row wins.


You can also do what we did in this version below.  My 2nd grader and I each used a different color.  He solved odds and I solved evens.  When he rolled, he rolled until he rolled an odd number.  I only rolled even numbers.  Again, whoever fills in the first row wins.  This just saves a few more trees! :)


Add and Subtract Tic-Tac-Toe

Everybody loves tic-tac-toe!  And I love using it for practicing skills.  It's another one that's grade for a wide range of skills in math and literacy!


This printed version is from my Guided Math Workshop Plans, but I have made hand written copies of tic-tac-toe countless times over the years to help with Letter or number ID, spelling, decoding words, shapes and more!


In this version, kids will choose which square they want.  They must correctly solve the 2-digit addition or subtraction equation before they may put the X or O in the square.  They must notate how they solved as well.


You can find all of these games in my Guided Math Workshop Plans for 2nd grade.




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