Distance Learning / Teacher Talk

Getting the Most Out Of Virtual Small Groups

I have always LOVED my small group time with my students. I find that this is the best opportunity for really targeted lessons to help bump students up to the next level with a specific skill.

When we started teaching virtually, I knew I wanted to incorporate small groups, but I wasn’t sure what it would like. After experimenting in the spring, I have found a structure that I am loving for my small groups.

My small groups are 3-4 kids. In reading small groups, I group them by reading level so that we can read books that are just above their independent level. For writing small groups, their levels are all mixed up. They can learn so much from seeing each other’s stories, I find it’s better for them to be in a mix of skill level.

Small groups meet for 30 minutes. Most students get one writing small group and one reading small group per week, but my lower readers get reading groups twice a week.

So what do we do in our virtual small groups? Here’s how we do it…

Reading Small Groups

I squeeze a ton into my 30 minutes. It’s one of the only times I can watch students do skills independently, and also offer support and teacher interacting as they tackle new skills. Lately my reading groups have consisted of these activities:

  • Phonological Awareness: This is a skill that often gets skipped, but it is so so important for beginning readers. I throw in a few exercises where students are answering one at a time – identifying rhyming words, blending/segmenting words, switching beginning/ending sounds to make a new word, or adding/subtracting sounds from words. With the small group, I can focus on the skill that those children need most to boost their reading.
  • Dictation: We also do a few dictation words (3-4, I keep it short). Again, I love that I can practice the spelling pattern that’s right at their reading level.
  • Guided Reading: I find most of my books on Epic or Reading A-Z. I can easily share my screen with my readers so they can read along with me. For guided reading, I usually preview the text and one reading skill we’ll be focusing on, then I have them read a page one at a time so I can offer support and reminders when they get stuck on a tricky word. Then we do some comprehension work when we finish the text.
  • Shared Reading: For shared reading, I choose a text slightly above their level, and we read it all together. Sometimes I cover up words, and they have to be “word detectives” to figure out what the word could be and what letters we should look for. Shared reading is a great way to demonstrate the skills needed to tackle a book just above their current level.
These are some of my favorite titles from Reading A-Z.

Writing Small Groups

Our writing small groups last spring were mostly a check-in, providing a time for students to share their work and to show where they were in their process. This fall, we’ve started incorporating more instruction pieces. These are some of our plans:

  • Interactive Writing: Writing a story together can be a great way to showcase a specific genre and reinforce how to use certain writing strategies. Since the teacher is doing all the writing, it frees students up to have big ideas about what to add, and to put all their focus on content. I like to guide the kids to come up with a story idea together, and then get their input about what should go on every page, guiding them to deepen the level of their ideas as we go.
  • Shared Writing: This is a great way to check in on students while they do their process. You can pick a specific and doable thing to write (such as a poster or card), and then brainstorm ideas together about what kind of words should go into it. Then you write it and they write it. Sometimes I like to stop and prompt them to write the next word without me, so they can practice sounding out a certain word. But most of it is written with me modeling, so they are getting practice writing accurately.
  • Sharing: Sharing stories is always something I wish we had more time for. It’s so good for students to get used to talking in front of their peers and to develop a sense of pride in their schoolwork. When I do sharing, I like to have students read their story, and then allow other students to give compliments. I like to compliment too, usually pinpointing a specific quality I want the other writers to start using more in their stories.
Running record at the ready for a quick assessment!


Small groups are also a great opportunity for assessment. Every small group is essentially an informal assessment as long as you’re targeting specific skills and strategies while watching students try to use them successfully on their own.

But sometimes, I also throw in some formal assessments. Guided reading is a perfect time to throw in a running record, because I can hear students read one at a time – they never even know I’m doing it! And I can ask them during shared writing to write a certain part by themselves, which gives me some really helpful insight into what they can do without teacher (or parent) assistance.

It’s great that these are low stress ways to get some assessment in, because honestly, learning virtually is stressful enough for students!

How do you use small groups?

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