Launching Guided Reading Small Groups & Independent Centers

How many of you have already gone back to school?  One question I'm often asked at the beginning of the school year is, "When do you start guided reading?!", so I thought we'd chat about how all that gets started in my classroom today  :)

The beginning of the year is important not only for establishing rules and routines, but also for assessing our students.  We need to know where are babies are so we can determine how and what we need to teach.  We're all given grade level objectives and standards to teach, but our kids also need differentiated instruction to meet their individual needs.  Where does this fit in?!

Most of my differentiated instruction happens during small group (guided reading and math).  It's during small group that I'm truly able to assess and observe and plan my instruction...for each child...accordingly.  It's definitely a challenge at the beginning of the year.  Especially in Kindergarten.  But this is all part of establishing those rules and routines our kids (and we!!!) so desperately need!!!

I think it's important to start small group instruction sometime during those first three weeks of school.  Sound crazy?!  Hear me out.  

When I'm facilitating small groups (guided reading), my kids are independently engaged in literacy centers...listening, reading, word work, etc.  I, I kids to know exactly what to do and what my expectations are while they're working independently before I can successfully manage my guided reading groups.  This DOES NOT mean giving them worksheets to keep them busy.  I want them ENGAGED.  I want them EXCITED.  I also want to give them autonomy over their learning.  

This can all be a big ol' mess if expectations aren't modeled and reinforced and kids aren't given the opportunity to practice.  We need to give them direct, explicit instruction and then give them ample opportunities for practice.  Practice, practice, practice!!!

Starting the second week of school, I introduce small groups and learning centers.  I teach my kids EXACTLY what to do in their learning centers and model for them what I expect to see when they're working cooperatively and independently.  This is SO important!  I start slow so that I can finish strong.  While my kids are practicing the learning center routine, I start pulling kids up to the teacher table for small group activities.  Since I haven't administered any DRA's or started my literacy assessments, I use this time to teach my kids simple small group games and informally assess and observe their abilities.  This set-up also makes me available to any of my kids who have questions or challenges in their learning centers.

When my Kindergarten friends visit me for small groups during those first few weeks before formal assessments, here are some things we might be doing in our small groups....

1.  I always start the linking chart routine the first week of school.  I include motions for each letter and sound as well.  This carries over into a quick warm-up activity for small group until October.  You can read more about how I use this chart HERE.

2.  Alphabet Puzzles - I will only lay out a handful of different letters...maybe 8-10...and then have the kids work with me to assemble them.  This makes a great assessment, too.

3.  Roll & Remove -

One of our favorite small group games for reinforcing letters and letter sounds is Roll & Remove.  We just fill up our board with counters, roll the letter die, listen for the beginning sound or identify the matching letter, and remove our counters.  The first player to remove all of their counters from the board, wins!  This is so much fun to play in a small group setting.  Not only is it great for reinforcement and review, but it's great for intervention, too!!  Once my kids have the hang of this game in small group, I leave it out in their anchor tubs (fast finisher activities) for repeated practice. Consistency and repetition is the key!!

These are such fun games!  I love teaching them how to play them in a small group setting so that I can eventually put them in their literacy centers for independent use.

4.  Interactive Alphabet Notebooks - I introduce our Alphabet Notebooks during our small group time together.  I give each of my students a notebook and we work in it a little each day during small group until I feel like they have a firm grasp of how to do this independently.  You can read more about our Alphabet Notebooks HERE.

5.  It's Time to Rhyme - We play several different games using our rhyming and non-rhyming pair cards. This is a great skill to implement during those first few weeks of small group since most kids have been exposed to rhyming prior to Kindergarten.  And if they haven't been exposed to rhyming by the time we play these games, I know right away who will need intervention/more exposure.

When we start small groups in First Grade, our kids have already (typically) been exposed to a variety of literacy concepts and skills, so I like to introduce games and activities covering various skills to assess ability and understanding.  This is what some of those activities might look like.

1.  Short Vowel Word Puzzles - I will only lay out a handful of different word families...maybe 5-6...and then have the kids work with me to assemble them.  I like to teach them how to do this activity in small groups so that I can eventually transfer them to their literacy stations along with the rest of the short vowel activities.

2.  Deep Dish Digraphs - this is seriously a classroom favorite every single year!  Who doesn't love pizza?! I love teaching digraphs.  I typically start with these around November when we're in Kindergarten because they see these spelling patterns in so many of their leveled readers.  Equipping them with the knowledge they need to be successful is important to me, but to make this skill exciting and relevant we play this little game.  I have some old Domino's pizza boxes (not used) and I store the pizza pieces inside.  I place the box in the center of the group/table and then choose a digraph spinner.  I have spinners for all different vs. sh, ch/th/ph/wh/sh, etc.  Just depends on what I've introduced, the objective, and what I want to review/practice.  Each of my kids gets a pizza pan (on cardstock).  The pizza slices are placed in the box face down.  I spin the digraph spinner and then each of the kids reaches into the box and pulls out a pizza slice.  If they pull out a slice with the matching digraph sound, they place it on their pizza pan.  If not, they wait 'til the next spin.  The first person to build a pizza pie, wins!  They LOVE this game!!!!  They eat it up (<-------see what I did there?!?!?!)

I would say that in my experience, most kids come to me with a pretty good working knowledge of digraphs and digraph sounds.  They LOVE this game and I love that I can see who does/doesn't understand these spelling patterns. 

3.  Spin & Cover Long and Short Vowel Games - Small group is a great time to informally assess my kids' understanding of long and short vowels.  These games are great because they're hands-on and engaging and the kids LOVE to play.  They're great for playing when trying to establish routine and perfect for reinforcing these concepts throughout the year.  

4.  CVC/CCVC/CVCe Isolate, Identify, & Build - I love incorporating this activity the first few weeks of small group because it helps me to identify the kids that might need intervention.  We isolate a target sound, identify the position of that sound in a word, and then build the word...independently.  Of course, I model first, then let them independently practice while I observe.  Anytime I create something for small group practice, I try to make sure it can be used independently too.  That's what I love about these cards.  They have to look at the picture and then isolate the indicated sound in the top left corner that they hear in the word.  Then they have to identify where they hear the sound in the word...beginning/middle/end.  To extend the isolation and identification piece, they build the word as well.  I set out a tray of my letter tiles OR I give them dry erase markers and a dry erase sleeve.  Just depends on the time we have and what my objective is for the day.  I always introduce the CVC cards first and then we move onto the CCVC and eventually the CVCe.  By the time we get to the more challenging skills and concepts, they're already familiar with the activity and catch on really quickly.  This makes a great warm-up and/or fast finisher/anchor activity, too.

5.  Roll & Remove Phonics Games - this is pretty much the same thing we're doing the first few weeks in Kindergarten, but incorporating different phonics skills. 

6.  Initial Substitution and Final Consonant Deletion - both such important foundational skills, yet tricky to master!!  I use these prompt cards and game boards the first few weeks in 1st grade mostly for assessment purposes, but then continue to incorporate them throughout the year for repeated practice.   It gives me the opportunity to informally assess my kids and check in with their abilities.  Then I know who needs intervention, more one-on-one, etc.  Because the prompt cards aren't necessarily "exciting" for the kids, I made some game boards to go with it.  I read the prompt cards aloud and the kids have to find the picture on their game board that matches the new word.  So, if the prompt card says "Say the word BEEP.  Now say the word BEEP with a /j/", they have to find the picture of a JEEP on their game board and cover it with a counter.  The first person to cover X amount of pictures (4 in a row..3 down...4 corners..blackout, etc.), wins.  They LOVE this!!!  I love taking these kinds of skills and turning them into games that are fun for the kids, but also provide learning opportunities!

Here's the same concept for a related consonant deletion. Prompt cards and game boards. 

And just to switch things up from time to time, I'll add in these
final consonant deletion activity puzzles.   I know this seems more like an independent activity...and that's what it eventually becomes...but when I'm first introducing the concept of final consonant deletion, these puzzles are key!  These visuals take an abstract concept and make it more concrete.  I'll place about 8-10 puzzles in the middle of the group/table and then have my kids race to assemble correctly.  Sometimes I'll set a timer and see who can match the most pairs in 1/2/3 minutes, etc. or I'll have them play 'til my sand timer runs out.  Eventually...after most of my kids have mastered this concept...I'll move this activity to my fast finisher tubs and give them more opportunities for repeated practice.

7.  CVC Puzzles - again with the puzzles, but I like to teach them small group so they can be used independently in centers.

So in a nutshell, this is how I set up small groups at the beginning of the year.  We might not be reading right away, but we're practice important phonics concepts and skills necessary to build a strong foundation in decoding and reading words in and out of context.  If you're looking for some small group phonics based activities to implement into your instruction, you can check out my
  BIG bundle of Guided Reading Phonics Activities (Volume 1)   and Guided Reading Phonics Activities (Volume 2).

You can also click on the links mentioned above in the small group activity descriptions for more!!

I also think it's important to keep resources readily available for students to help empower them to problem solve.  It's one of the biggest keys to their independent success!!  I mean, we use resources all the time to help us when we don't know something, right?!  SO why wouldn't we provide our kids with the same?!?!  I keep these Sound Anchors displayed behind my teacher table.  I display the alphabet cards on a binder ring (because the alphabet is displayed in so many places around my room already) and the phonics posters/spelling patterns are placed on the wall behind my teacher table.  I also keep a set of linking charts at my teacher table, too so that kids can have hands-on access to these resources.

Now what about literacy centers?!  What are my kids doing independently the first few weeks??  
Sounds crazy that I would expect them to work independently (successfully!!!) the first few weeks, doesn't it?!  Not so at all!!!  

You remember me saying earlier that I need my kids to know exactly what to do and what my expectations are while they're working independently before I can successfully manage my guided reading groups?!?!?  This is SO important.  I don't want 20 little bodies interrupting my guided reading instruction and these first few weeks before administering the DRA are key to training my kids in literacy centers.  I make sure that the activities on which they are working are easy enough to complete independently without a ton of redirection and reteaching while still being hands-on and engaging.  No busy work. I want them truly engaged.

Here's an example of an activity I'd introduce at teacher table in a small group setting...warm-up, review, etc....and then I'll move to centers & fast finisher tubs (depending on where we're at during the year).  Fast and easy.  You can use clothespins to clip the sound OR seasonal counters & math manipulatives to cover the sound as well.  I like to add sand timers to the mix when they're working on these independently.  I'll give them a goal...say 10 cards...and tell them they need to race to beat the timer and correctly cover 10 sounds before the timer runs out.  Keeps them engaged and interested while working on something meaningful at the same time!
At the beginning of the year, these are a great review and quick assessment for my first grade friends.  In Kindergarten, we use these for skill introduction, reinforcement, and spiral review throughout the course of the school year.

Another activity my kids LOVE in their center and fast finisher tubs are these Syllable Tower game boards.  Sometimes our kids need help VISUALLY seeing the sounds in a word and building those sounds as they're identifying syllables helps to make an abstract concept a little more concrete and kinesthetic.  I first introduce these during guided reading and use them as a quick warm-up as I'm fanning out fires in the classroom.  You know what I'm talking about ;)  Then I move them to centers and change them out with our themes and seasons...I have game boards for pretty much every theme we cover during the year.

In Kindergarten and 1st grade, this is what my writing center looks like.  There are plenty of differentiated activities from which my kids can choose (I definitely limit the choices) and they can choose based on interest.  You can read more about my writing center HERE.

In first grade we're practicing reading & writing simple sentences, so these activities will slowly be added to centers as well.  I typically introduce these mid-year for our Kinder babies.  You can read more about them HERE.
My Word Work stations house a variety of activities like these...

Sight Word Spelling Sticks perfect for BOY first grade.  I introduce these after the first month of school in Kindergarten.
CVC games and activities AND CVCe games & activities (just depending on the time of the year)....

Digraph activities to reinforce these spelling patterns and sounds....

In Kindergarten, we're working on lots of alphabet and name activities the first few weeks of school.
In First Grade, I'm incorporating a lot of different remedial skills just to get them used to the routine.  Some concepts I include are beginning/ending sounds, medial vowels (short and long), building CVC words, sight word sorts...just to name a few. The key is independence and building routine.  

If you get nothing else from this post, just remember that it takes time to establish routines and procedures.  The more you practice and the more time you take establish those routines and procedures, the less time you'll take out of your instruction to reteach and redirect.  
Start simple.  Hands-on, engaging activities in centers and hands-on, engaging games & activities in small group.  Assess and observe.  Reteach & redirect when necessary.  Establish your expectations.  


In the meantime, the annual Teachers Pay Teachers sitewide sale is in full swing.  You can grab some great resources to start your year at a big savings!!  Just make sure to use the promo code BESTYEAR at checkout to save big!! 

Here's a quick little shopping tip.  

If you're looking to see if I have something you might need, you can always type keywords in the "Quick Find" bar (pictured below).  For example, if you're wondering if I have any Apple themed resources, you can type in "apples" and the products I have relating to that keyword will pop up.

You can also browse through the Custom Categories tab on the left hand side of my store.  This is a great way to search based on specific concepts/skills, thematically, subject area, etc.  

And by request, I bundled all of my best selling back to school resources!  This bundle will only be available through August.  This bundle is deeply discounted and includes TWO bonus freebies that aren't included in the price.  Perfect for starting the year in Kindergarten and First Grade!!


  1. I was searching for help on the internet to get my ex lover whom will got divorced back, i came across this wonderful man called DR.AGBAZARA of AGBAZARA TEMPLE who did a nice job by helping me to get my divorced husband back within 48hours.. I never believe that such things like this can be possible but now i am a living testimony to it because AGBAZARA TEMPLE actually brought my lover back, If you are having any relationship problems why not contact DR.AGBAZARA TEMPLE via email on: ( ) OR ( ), Then i promise you that after 48hours you will have reasons to celebrate like me.

    from USA

  2. Let Us Celebrate Happy Frinedship Day 2016 Get Friendship Day 2016 SMS,Posters,Pictures,Poems, Wallpaper for Happy Friendship Day 2016 Events here given link