4 Effective Small Group Instruction Strategies for Kindergarten

Let’s talk about the power of small group instruction. Small group instruction in kindergarten is no easy feat which is why I’m thrilled to delve into a topic that holds tremendous importance to educators. We all understand that reading encompasses so much more than simply decoding words on a page. It’s about unlocking a world of imagination and endless possibilities for our little learners. And when it comes to our kindergarten students, it’s crucial to find the right strategies that will ignite their passion for literacy and set them on the path to success.

In our busy classrooms, it’s essential to provide personalized attention to each child. Small group instruction allows us to create an environment where we can focus on specific reading abilities, offer targeted support, and foster meaningful connections among our students. Let’s explore a variety of effective strategies, engaging activities, and practical tips that will make our small group sessions truly impactful.

Preparing for Small Group Instruction

When it comes to small group instruction, preparation is key. Before starting small groups, I prepare my students first. From the first day of school, I make sure that I have taught enough information to actually have strugglers. I treat every child that comes into my room as if they started with a blank slate. They may know more information than I’ve taught, but I only look at what I’ve taught. Students that are not mastering what I am teaching are the ones that may pull into an intervention group or group together for remediation in one of my small groups.

Organizing materials also helps with being prepared to teach each of your small groups. Utilizing a color-coded system, labeling different tubs, or using folders helps to stay organized for each group. In the past, I have used colored shower caddy tubs for each group. I was able to put their books, dry erase markers, whiteboards, and other materials and manipulatives that were specific to each group in that tub. When the group came over to my table, I just pulled their tub out. Yes, it meant more materials, but it was a sure way to stay organized.

I’ve used plastic drawers to organize materials as well. I used one shower caddy to keep materials that each group would use like highlighters, reading pointers or fingers, dry erase markers, and such. That group’s specific materials stayed in separate drawers. That way I could just pull out their materials and go. No matter what you do, find a system that is organized by group and try to keep it that way the entire year. I used Friday to organize all my materials for the next week.

After I finish assessments and everything else, my students have time for Fun Fridays. I start prepping putting back the current week’s materials and grabbing next week’s materials. Once I am finished, my students get their own materials organized for the next week.

This could include sharpening pencils, getting new erasers, or even replacing missing materials from our magnet trays. Why do I do this? When I’m in the middle of teaching, I do not want to spend time looking for materials or trying to get them ready. This cuts back on time wasted and saves more time for teaching.

Our rotations are also organized ahead of time. I do digitally timed rotations so that I do not have to leave my teaching table to change cards or change the slide. I set a timer on it and when that time is over, the students that are with me go back to the rug. You can read more details about how I organize those rotations here.

Engaging Activities for Small Group Instruction

Engage your students in meaningful activities during small group instruction to enhance their literacy skills. Incorporate phonemic awareness exercises, sight word games, vocabulary development activities, and guided reading approaches. Use interactive read-alouds, shared reading experiences, and discussions to promote comprehension and critical thinking. Here are some ideas for different activities.

Phonemic awareness activities

Phonemic awareness activities play a crucial role in developing foundational reading skills in kindergarten students. Here are two engaging activities to incorporate into your small group instruction:

1. Rhyming Games and Songs:
Engaging students in rhyming games and songs is a fun and effective way to develop phonemic awareness. Encourage children to identify words that rhyme by playing games like “Rhyme Time” or “Rhyme Match,” where they find pairs of words with the same ending sound. Singing rhyming songs and nursery rhymes together also helps students recognize and produce rhyming words.

Incorporate popular rhyming songs from Youtube to help reinforce rhyming. The ring of rhyming words is super helpful. I flip the cards backward so I can see the words and they see the pictures. We can say if they rhyme or not. It’s a quick game that allows me to save time by having it all on one ring. You can check out the set rhyming words here and see all that is included.

2. Sound Blending and Segmentation Exercises:
Sound blending and segmentation exercises help students break down words into individual sounds (segmentation) or blend sounds together to form words (blending). Use manipulatives, such as counters or blocks, to represent individual sounds in a word. For example, you can ask students to move a counter for each sound they hear in the word “cat” (/k/ – /ă/ – /t/).

To practice blending, start with individual sounds and gradually blend them together. For instance, say the sounds /b/ – /ă/ – /t/ and ask students to blend them to form the word “bat.” You can also use interactive online tools or phonics apps that provide sound blending and segmentation activities.

Sight word activities

Practice sight words by mapping or graphing the sounds in the words. As classroom move to using strategies taught with the research from the Science of Reading, students should be able to read sight words by the word patterns and chunks that they know. There are still a few words that they will just know by sight, but others can be read instead of memorized. By teaching students the rules in words, they will be able to apply those skills and new knowledge to reading sight words.

Vocabulary development activities

Vocabulary development is a crucial aspect of small group instruction in kindergarten. Here are two effective activities to support vocabulary growth:

1. Picture Cards and Word Association Games:
Utilize picture cards to introduce new vocabulary words and engage students in word association games. Display picture cards representing different objects, actions, or concepts related to the text you are focusing on. Encourage students to describe the picture using words they already know and make connections to the new vocabulary words.

For example, if the picture card shows a lion, students can associate it with words like “roar,” “jungle,” or “wild.” You can also play games like “I Spy” or “Memory Match” using picture cards, where students have to identify and match words with corresponding images. These activities enhance students’ word recognition and association skills while making vocabulary learning interactive and enjoyable.

2. Contextualizing New Words in Meaningful Sentences:
Help students understand the meaning of new words by placing them in meaningful sentences. Select target vocabulary words from the text and create sentences that provide context and show how the words are used. Read the sentences aloud to students, emphasizing the target words and their meanings.

Encourage students to repeat the sentences and discuss the meanings of the words. You can also ask students to create their own sentences using the new vocabulary words, promoting deeper understanding and application. By contextualizing new words in meaningful sentences, students develop a stronger grasp of vocabulary and improve their ability to comprehend and use new words in their reading and writing.

Assessing Progress and Adjusting Instruction

At the beginning of the school year, I assess each of my students using ESGI. I’m finished with the entire class in just a few days. Each week, I continue assessing them adding new skills as I teach them. As I introduce new letters, sounds, words, and so on, these are added as well. When it’s time for me to begin small groups, this is what I refer to to group the students.

As the year continues, I use these reports to adjust my instruction. If my students didn’t pick up on one skill that I shouldn’t be covering anymore, but they mastered a skill that I am still supposed to teach for another few weeks, I swap them out.

I want to use the time that I have with my students and maximize what we are learning. If they have mastered something, it’s not the best plan to keep repeating it as a lesson. They can have it in centers and review it. The skills that they have not mastered are what I should focus on during small group instruction instead. ESGI helps with this because as soon as I have assessed a child, I can view the report for the entire class. You can get a free trial of ESGI with the code ENCHANTED.

Differentiation Strategies

Differentiation is key to meeting the diverse needs of your students in small group instruction. Group students based on their reading levels and tailor your teaching strategies accordingly. Provide additional support or challenges as needed, and incorporate multisensory approaches to cater to various learning styles. Differentiated instruction ensures that each student receives the right level of scaffolding and can progress at their own pace.

Grouping students based on reading levels and needs

Every year, the classroom makeup looks very different. Students can be grouped based on their needs or based on reading levels. After assessing your students, you can group them based on their abilities. This is a common way that classrooms group their students. Some teachers keep their groups the same throughout the entire year. This is not a strategy to keep.

Flexible grouping and regrouping based on assessments

Flexible grouping is my go-to! Every single week I check my ESGI assessments. I take a close look at how my class lines up with what I have taught. Any students that know more than I’ve taught, they can potentially be in the high group. For students that are falling behind, I make a note that they may need intervention and will also be in my lower group.

The rest, I take an even closer look at to see if they should be in the intervention group or just placed in my middle group. Depending on how many students fall into each group, I may have more than one of each group. If so, I take a deeper dive into their data and group them as closely as possible looking at similarities in skills they have not mastered and skills they have mastered.

For instance, if the students can all do syllables, can rhyme, and then half can blend and half cannot – that’s an indicator of how I can sort the groups. I can continue working on blending with those that have not mastered this skill. The other half can move on and keep practicing blending. Being able to take a closer look at the data that ESGI provides helps make this process so much easier. I do not have to flip through testing material to see how students answered. I can refer to notes that I’ve taken if needed to help make any decisions.


The data helps me make informed decisions and makes it so much easier to group students and simply teach! Want some small group planning sheets? Download them here!

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