Planning a Small Group Lesson That's Science of Reading Aligned

I get questions and DMs all the time about lesson plans for small groups.   For teachers (like me), that "grew up" teaching small groups, it's part of our DNA.  Yet, we know now that guided reading is not the way. 

Over the last several years, I've dedicated this space to sharing why I said goodbye to guided reading.  And then, sharing how I set up small groups that aligned with the science of reading.  If you haven't read those posts, and want more background, go read those now and then come back!  We will wait for ya! :)

Today, let's talk about what makes a good, research based reading group lesson plan.  From start to finish.  We will talk about lesson planning a decoding-focused small group, choosing materials for the lesson, and what the actual lesson looks like!  And most importantly, it will be familiar enough for us small group loving teachers, but still aligned to the science of reading.

Assessing and Placing Kids In Small Groups

I'm not going to go into lots of detail about how I assess kids since I spill ALLLLLL the details on that in this blog post, but I will say that for decoding focused groups, I use these decoding screeners to help me decide who needs to work on what decoding skill! 

When I'm finished assessing decoding levels at the beginning of the year, I keep this record to update throughout the year.

Our decodable reader sets have checkups at the end of each set that I use as formative assessments in between our benchmark assessments at the beginnning, middle and end of the year. As kids master a decoding skill, I update our record sheet.

The record sheet is how I group my kids.  I write down the lowest decoding level for each kid and group them in this folder accordingly.

(The teams I've taught with in the past have worked together to combine groups as needed so that none of us has more than 4-5 groups.  For example, if I only have 2 CVC kids, and my partner teacher has 4, I will give her my 2 CVC kids and that frees up a group for me to take some extra CVCe kids or whatever.  Maybe I'll blog about that process in the future.... let me know if you'd be more interested in hearing about all of this!)

Focused Lesson Planning for Small Groups

Once we have our groups organized, we are ready to plan the lessons.  

The first thing I do is write down the focus sound we need to work on and the title of the book or passage I will be using.  In case it's not clear yet, I do NOT used leveled readers.  Period.  I only use decodable texts.  These decodable readers to be specific.  

Warning: Some texts are labeled "decodable" and far from it.  In order to be a true decodable, the majority of words should be words that are currently or previously have been taught.  The scope and sequence of the decodables should align with the science of reading.  And the books should actually be interesting!  That's exactly why I created these K-2 decodables.

Once I have my decodable text planned, I start honing in on each of the 4 parts of a decoding small group reading lesson plan: Activate, Preview, Read, and Retell.

Let's take a closer look at each one of them.

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Activate

The first part of a decoding small group lesson is activate.  The purpose is to review or teach the focus sound of the text.  In this kindergarten reading lesson plan example, we are focusing on the short o sound in CVC words.  I chose some words to practice blending.  These will be 3-5 words that come straight from the text we will read.  For this example, I chose the words pin, cop, top, pot, and pops

Pin should be a review word because these kids have already mastered short i.  They have already learned the letter sounds for the consonants p, n, c, t, and s, so the only new sound should be /o/.

There are all kinds of ways to blend the words, so I will write how I plan to blend them as well.  A few blending practice ideas that I use are...

  • Use magnetic letters to build and blend each word.  
  • Have students write each word on dry erase boards and blend.
  • Write the word on your dry erase board and have students use their arm to tap and blend the sounds.
  • Use pencil boxes with sand in them to let kids write the word in sand and blend.

There are obviously more ways, but these are my favorite and go to ideas.  For this lesson, we will build and blend each word because it will be one of their first exposures to this new sound.  I love using these word building mats to help us.

The last part of activating is scanning the text for vocabulary words.  I will list out any words I think we need to talk about their meaning.  My kindergarten reading lesson plan example does not have any vocab words so we will skip this part, but for this 2nd grade decodable reader, I wrote down the words fetch and hutch.  We will quickly go over what these mean and I will have a photo of a hutch to help teach that word!

The activate section should take about 5-10 minutes depending on the number of words and how use choose to activate!

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Preview

Back in our guided reading days, this part was called the "Picture Walk."  But previewing is slightly different.  In a guided reading picture walk you are basically giving away the story so that the kids know how to guess and read based on the pictures.

A preview is not about guessing.  It's about building some background knowledge to support comprehension of the text. 

In our kindergarten reading lesson plan example, I will show kids the cover and say, this book is called, Pop! Pop!  It is about things that make a popping sound.  What kinds of things do you know about that can pop?  

We will list out things that can pop.  Then, I will say, "Let's read to find out what pops in this book."  In this way, we have given them a preview of what's to come in the book without giving it away AND given them a purpose to read the book.

This preview and purpose section is VERY short.  Like 2-3 minutes. Max.  Don't spend too much time here so that you can get to the real meat of the lesson...

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Read

Now that we have activated their decoding skills, previewed the book and given kids a purpose for reading, we are ready to READ!

This part of the lesson depends on your kids.  If it is a review, you may want them to just read independently and listen in to individual kids to record how they are reading the decodable book. 

If it is a brand new skill, you may want to read together!  However you choose to read, I like to give us time to read it at least 3 times to give them rereading practice.  

For my kindergarten reading lesson plan example, we will choral read together one time and then I will let them read independently the next 2 times.  For my 2nd grade reading lesson plan example, they will read it twice independently and then we will read it together to review.

As they are reading independently, I like to listen in and record how kids are reading and decoding.  This is just an informal way to check in with kids, track our interventions for RTI purposes, and share with parents or other colleagues on how a kid is doing.

The reading part of the lesson can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on the length of the book.

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Retell

Once we have read the book 3 times, we are ready to focus on comprehension.  Full disclosure, most of the time we stop here for the day and come back to this part the next day.  It just depends on how long it takes to get through the lesson.  I like to keep small group lessons 20 minutes or less.  If we are under 20 minutes and I really just want to quickly do the retelling, we will just orally go through the steps and be done.

But, if we've already been working for 20 minutes, I save the retell part for the next meeting time.  At that point, I will have kids jump in and start independently reading the decodable text right away for 5 minutes or so as a review and then we will move into retelling.

I start by planning a language or comprehension goal.  For this 2nd grade reading lesson plan example, we will be practicing retelling using key details. 

Our focus question is, "What key detail is most important from the beginning/middle/end of the story?"

We will use one of the retelling graphic organizers from this small group planning resource and fill this out together!

Retelling orally can take 3-5 minutes.  But if we work on writing the retelling with a graphic organizer and go more in depth, it will take 15-20 minutes and need to be done as a follow up lesson.

A Few Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use this same reading lesson plan format for whole group reading lessons?

Yes!  This lesson structure works great for whole group when teaching on grade level decoding skills and texts.  It may take a little longer, and could actually be stretched out across several days, but I have used this very successfully in kindergarten and first grade.  You can read more about my whole group decodable routines for the week here.

Where do you store the materials and plans to stay organized?

The decodable books are stored in tubs with labels for each skill set.

I also keep a binder that has the current weeks lesson(s) for each group.  I use these color-coded tabs to correlate with the color group they are in on my groups folder. In each tab pocket, I keep the lesson plan and book for that group.

How do you have time to write multiple lesson plans each week for multiple groups?

I don't! Ha!  It's more work in the beginning, but as you go, you will reuse the lessons over and over.  The key is to keep the lesson plan copy after you write it and put it in a small group lesson plan folder.  Use tabs to organize them by the skill.  

The next time you are needing to use that same book or skill, you will already have a lesson plan ready to go!  And if you are blessed like I have been to work with a great team, you can have a grade level binder of lesson plans that everyone is filling up and you will be shocked how fast you can get dozens of small group lessons ready to pull and teach!

Where can I find the resources used in these lessons?

All of the lesson plan templates, teacher organization tools and graphic organizers are in this small group planning resource.

You can shop all of the decodable texts here.  You can find a decodable reader that focuses on any phonics skill from kinder to second grade--from letter sounds to greek and latin roots!

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