How to plan small groups and love it

My kindergarten students love the small group activities that I plan each day. I try to implement simple strategies, teaching resources and easy to implement ideas every time that we meet. My guided teaching time has turned out to be my favorite part of our day together. We learn our letters through explicit instruction, work on writing, work on building words and so many other things!

Before I get started, I want you to stop and think about all the things that you do to plan for small group each day or as a week in full. How long does it usually take you? Are you looking for things during your lesson?


I want to make that list easier. If you only do what's in your basal, just STOP. Enough with the basal. It's boring. It's played out. Books don't know our kids like we do and some times what's written in a book doesn't work for everyone.

Now, my title says that you'll love it and I'm hoping that you will.

Small Group Routines
Make a routine that you can manage and that works with your classroom setup. List out all the things you'd like to do as well as strategies. If you're unsure what your routine should include, here's some ideas.

Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.

After you've come up with what you'd like to do, jot it in the order you'd like to complete it. You can essentially use this as an outline to your small group lesson plans. I usually tend to do the warm-up first, followed by either a letter or sight word game. If the warm-up was a focus on letters, I try to do a sight word game and vice versa. I normally don't have time to do both in one day. We work on our phonics skill for the week. I will either introduce it or we simply practice a skill. This can be anything such as substituting phonemes, phoneme deletion, medial sounds and so on. Next, we read sight words in our book and then read the book. If time allows, we respond to our book with a short writing piece.

Now, you have to prepare your routine ahead of time. I plan after school every single Friday. I just can't get it done during the school week. The workweek is over and I'm ready to think about the coming week. I usually spend an hour or two changing their word work centers (if needed), planning out the week, then making copies. I also go ahead and make my anchor charts. This helps when I'm ready to use one and I don't have to hurry and get my charts written out in front of the kids. My lesson plans for the coming week are usually finished on Thursday so this is one thing I don't have to do. If your kinders have naptime, that's a great time to get some of this checked off the list. I use that time for extra planning as well or assessing if I need to.

Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.

Small Group Planning
I use this planning sheet for my small group. It's a prettier version of what I usually have scribbled on paper somewhere. Feel free to grab it. Just click the picture to download or click here. I've done this two ways. I've printed out a blank and stuck it in a sheet protector and written on it with a dry erase AND I've typed everything in and then printed it out each week. I prefer typing and printing it out. It's easier for me to read when everything is the same. I don't have it secured, so feel free to edit the text if you have Adobe Pro.

Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.

There is a place for a warm-up, focus which can be a skill, letter, sight word, word family and so on. The book for each group level has a place as well as sight words that you want to work on that day or for the week. This helps me to remember what words we need to focus on. I also put my writing stem in there that correlates with the book we've read or with the sight words we're working on for the week. This is also great for practicing a phonics skill and writing it in a sentence. I stick this sheet in my small group bucket. What's that you ask? Here's a look into my bucket.

Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.

Storing small group materials
Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.

I purchased this little tote from Target. I added some vinyl and dropped the things that I use daily inside. In the past, I also purchased a shower caddy from Walmart. I think I purchased them either my first or second year teaching which was back in 2008 or 2009. I've used them for so many different reasons and they are still in excellent condition after all this time. I've gone between having one of these for each of my groups and having ONE with everything for all my groups in it.

Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.

If you have one for each group, I just tape a little something to the side and I can quickly see which group is which. If you house everything together, there is no need to put anything on the side unless you just want to. This year, I'm just using my tote from Target. If I end up with too many various materials during small group, I may move back to these plastic caddies. They're so easy to differentiate the materials inside of each separate caddy. You can easily use an index card for the group names. Just laminate and write each group's names with a dry erase marker. 

In both storage sets, there are four places to hold things. My current storage has one large side and three smaller sides on the back. The older caddy has two ends and then two small sections. On one side, I hold each of the groups books. I place a rubber band around each group's set of books. Since we either read books from our reading series or books that I've made that are differentiated, I try not to mix them up. I put them in order by level since I never see my groups in the same order each day. I put group 1 in the front and my highest group's books in the back. I just pick up a stack depending on which group comes to my table. I also keep some witchy fingers down in the bottom by the books. If we need anything else to help when reading, I'll drop that down on this side as well.

The two small compartments in the middle hold highlighters, dry erase markers, and extra pencils. The other large side is where I have all of my games. I put a sticky note upside down on each to remind me what they are at a quick glance. I place all of the game pieces down in a page protector. I put the directions in there as well to help if I have a substitute. I just pull the pocket up that I want and empty out the contents. Cleanup is really quick because I just put everything back inside and fold it over if it's small enough. I drop it right back on the game side. I also have a zipper pouch on this side that holds my index cards of letters and sight words. I pull this out if I just want to review the basics. If you have a lot of zipper pouches and your pieces are small enough, they are GREAT at holding small group games as well.

If I am doing individual group caddies, I usually have more room in the side where the books are. I place their letter cups down on that side as well. They fit really well even when you have six kids in a group. I've never had more than that, so I hope your groups don't go over six.

Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.

Now implement it!
Now, on your planning day, go through your planning checklist. It shouldn't take more than 5 minutes. Write or type in everything for the week. Your first time may take you some time to get it exactly how you want it, but after that 5 minutes TOPS. If you're using the planning sheet that is daily, it will take you about 10 minutes to plan it. After you've typed it all in, hit print. Add it immediately to the page protector in where ever you decided to store your materials. Scan your eyes back down your list and pull materials out that you will need for the week. Look at the letters that you'll be focusing on, put all of those in the cups. Look at the books and place those in your caddy. Look at the warm-up games... these should already be made and just ready to be placed in the caddy.

Boom! You've planned out your entire week of small group activities. There should be ZERO guessing on what you need to be doing and when. It's all on your planning sheet. This will save you tons of time during the school week and will maximize your precious time with your students. If you're looking for some ideas for math intervention, I talk about it here.

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Teaching reading small group can be such a headache if you're not sure what to do. Here's how I plan my entire reading small group with 4 simple steps.


How I master math intervention

I absolutely love teaching math. Normally, if you show how much you love a certain something in a classroom, your students will lean towards liking that certain thing as well.

For instance, if you rave on and on about a certain book, most kids will want to read it. The same is true about small groups. I love telling my kids that I cannot wait for 'our time' together. They know that I do not allow anyone to interrupt us. Our time at the table is sacred. This is the FIRST step in mastering your intervention time. Make sure to use their timely to the fullest. Do not let the other kids approach your area.

My kids know that we set a timer and they work quietly the entire time while I am working with my group. This group changes weekly dependent upon what we are focusing on or who needs a little extra practice with me. I usually only spend about 15-20 minutes with a group in math intervention since I seriously have zero extra minutes during math. If possible, I pull two groups for 15 minutes. These groups usually have 5 kids each... or less if it's a good year.

My Math Intervention Binder

A few years ago, I got rid of ALL of the binders in my classroom. I had one for every subject and every month. They took up TOO much space. I'm all digital now EXCEPT for my math intervention binder. It sits on a shelf right behind my table and is so easy to just pull out. It is FULL of page protectors and pencil pouches. I can easily slide materials into a page protector and just pull out as many as I need. Then, I quickly put them back in.

Inside of the binder, I have things like my number cards, different ten frame cards, number bond cards, number formations cards and so on. I keep it all in one place because I'm really good about putting a few cards here and then stacking them with something else... then that stack gets moved and guess what? I've lost some cards. I keep the binder out on the table during math intervention and when the last group is cleaning up, I clean up my table and put everything back. And I haven't misplaced anything.

The yellow sheet in the picture above is our counting page. This helps us practice moving left to right and sliding down and back all the way to the left. I say "Let's start at the Star and stop at the apple." Then, we practice moving/jumping numbers. The numbers 11-20 are on the back when we are ready for those numbers. I also use this page to check number identification. I'll just say, "Show me 5" and they have to point to 5 quickly.

Kids Math Baggie
I should have a better name for this, but I don't. All of my kids have a pencil pouch that they store in their storage bins. We don't have desks so this is where they store their things. Inside of their pencil pouch is connecting cubes, counters, seasonal manipulatives and so on. They have at least 10 of each depending on what we've used it for. This SAVES SO MUCH TIME! When we're working on something either whole group or in small group, they know to grab their math baggie and then I just tell them what to pull out. We don't waste time passing out materials. I bought and have been handed down a bunch of those colorful $1 pencil pouches from Walmart and use those. I also use the ones pictured above as well.

The Checklists
 Before I even discuss what I do, let's talk about before school is in session. Usually on Thursday afternoons, I stay at school and prepare for the next week. We do lesson plans on Thursday, so I know what our plans are. I've also taught for 4 days and I'm pretty aware of what the needs of my kiddos are. I pull out my checklist, lesson plans and my notebook. I have this laminated front/back and I use a vis-a-vis marker to write on it. I don't use a dry erase marker because it wipes off too easily. I look through my plans and decide what games/skills I'll be using for Monday and Tuesday. I write down everything that I'll need including any books, cards, manipulatives - ANYTHING. The back is for Wednesday and Thursday. Sometimes I don't fill out the back. I'll wait and see how Monday and Tuesday goes. If my kids got the skill that we worked on, I can move on to something else. If they didn't get it, I usually stick with that skill for the entire week.

After I have written everything down, I pull everything I need at the same time and lay it out. I sort it in my math drawers behind my table and it's there for the next week when I need it. I won't have to get up that morning and pull things. Everything will be in my math intervention drawer and I just pull it out and put it back. On Fridays, I clean out this drawer during school because I usually don't do math intervention on Friday. This is my assessment day. You can click the image above to be taken to my newsletter. If you've already signed up for my newsletter, you should have gotten the checklist in your email along with a ton of other goodies.

This is what my planning sheet looks like for the week. I have a warm-up, focus skill and section for notes. I keep this and use these during RTI and for parent conference references. I'm really bad about note taking so I made sure to add a spot to add notes. Since I see it right there, it's easier for me to jot down a few things each day. I slide this back in a page protector each day until Friday when I place a new one in for the next week.

What do I do during math intervention? I focus on skills that have not been mastered. I reteach skills that I've already taught. In kindergarten, everything is new to them so I'm really only playing catch-up with what I've introduced. Here's a rundown of what I get accomplished during math intervention time.

Number Recognition
I always make sure I hit number recognition during my math intervention time. This doesn't mean that my students need to know a certain set of numbers or that they don't know the numbers. From experience, the more that they see a number, they more comfortable they are with that number. I want them to remember how the numbers are formed, the correct name, and so on. If we discuss each of the numbers quickly, but each day, they are more likely to remember them correctly. This will also break bad habits that they've learned before I was able to teach them the correct things.

I use different sets of numbers each week. I have numbers that are primary fonts, number cards that look like newspaper print and as the year goes on, I usually make a set of "curly" numbers. I do this to make sure they've seen different types of numbers. I know in our classrooms we usually try to make everything look like Zaner Bloser or D'Nealian style fonts, but if they're not in the classroom and need to recognize a number, will they be able to?

We also practice counting each and every time that we meet during math intervention. Is it always the normal way to count where we start at one and end at ten? Of course not. Sometimes, we don't always starts at 1. I may begin counting at 4. Sometimes, I may even skip a number in my sequence of counting. This is how I zone in on who actually has the number sequence down. They'll be able to tell if I skipped a number and then tell me what number I skipped. We usually do this for a minutes. Quick and simple.

Focus Skill
Dependent on our struggles, from the past week or two - I choose a focus skill. Usually, I have two different focus skills. One group does one and the other group does the other. Sometimes, I may have the same focus skills for both groups, but it just depends. Here's a closer look at a few of the things that I do in my classroom.

A few of these games I use interchangeably as warm-ups and then later as a focus. If we've mastered a game and it's not seasonal, I usually put it in a math workshop for everyone to work on.

A favorite each year is our hidden pieces game. I cut out something, in this case a snowflake, and hide it under a number. If we're working on teen numbers, I only put out the teen number cards. They have to guess which number the snowflake is under. So simple, yet so much FUN! We love playing these with different themed cards each month.

I try to make everything we do super quick and easy. When practicing measurement, we use a nonstandard form of measurement. They grab their "ruler" and we practice measuring different pictures. Then, pass it to the right and measure your new card. I just say switch and they know to pass their card down. I've done this with writing the number and without. It depends on what your group needs to work on.

The counting mats are also a favorite when graphing. I have different cards with the same objects. This way, they think they have the same mats, but there are different numbers of objects. They can't look at their neighbors and take that answer. We practice graphing together and they also get in some counting fun. This only takes about 5 to 7 minutes of our math intervention time.

Kinder Snaps is the freebie you receive when you initially sign up for my newsletter. It actually comes with some reading fluency mats as well. I pass out a sheet to each of my kiddos and say go. They use a whisper phone to say each of the numbers. With the phone, they're not as loud as they would be without it. I'm also able to listen to them each independently as they say each number. This is another quick and amazing way to check their number identification and practice fluency at the same time. We stop after each line and discuss numbers that we may have mixed up.

We use these three sets to practice numbers as well. They build a number sandwich, practice writing numbers correctly with the race formation sheets, and we build the number.

You can find some of these games in my Math Intervention packs.

Math Workshops
A question that I always see is "What are the other kids doing?" I'll be dedicating a blog post strictly for math workshops coming soon. It will explain how my kids rotate, what they're doing, and how I store materials for student use. A little bit of planning beforehand makes the entire year run smoothly. If you'd like to have the planning sheet, checklist, math intervention binder cover, and the number formation cards - sign up for my newsletter here and they'll be delivered to your email during the Welcome series.

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How to Master Math Intervention

Pre-Kindergarten - 1st Grade Classroom Tools

How to add magnetic lamination to your printables

Please note this post has affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation.

The ezLaminator is one of my favorites new classroom "things" this school year. I did a Donor's Choose earlier at the start of the year for it with a few other things. What is an ezLaminator? It's a cold laminator that is super quiet to laminate. It has zero odors and laminates with a quick little turn. If you'd like to read the specifics on it, you can find the Xyron Ezlaminator on Amazon.

The Ezlaminator comes with an interchangeable laminating cartridge inside. It takes about 20 seconds to change cartridges after you figure out how to do it. I printed off some number formations to go with my Math Intervention sets. My kids trace the numbers with a dry erase marker. They erase really well with a black marker which is fantastic. A magnetic laminating cartridge is also available. That's the magic of this laminator. I switched the normal laminator out for the magnetic cartridge and decided to also laminate some of the number formations. 

I was gifted with about 20 cookie sheets so my kids are able to have a very small magnetic area to work on. I used the built-in cutter to cut the sheet. Then, I cut out each of the cards. They place one of the numbers on a cookie sheet and write away. The magnetic part makes it a lot heavier than just laminating. It would be fine to print on regular copy paper and then use the magnetic lamination. I tried on cardstock as well and liked both just fine.

I printed off our sight words and laminated them on magnetic lamination as well. They use these during word work to practice building their words on a cookie sheet with magnetic letters.

I also printed off a few sets of letters and letter patterns to use during small group. AMAZING idea.

 The cookie sheet does get scratched up from the magnetic part, but they stay and don't fall off at all. If they pick up each of the letters and don't slide them, it doesn't scratch it.

If you'd like to receive these, make sure to join my newsletter to get these in your e-mail. I'll send you the number formation cards as well. Grab the Xyron Ezlaminator here.

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Pre-Kindergarten - 1st Grade Classroom Tools
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