Small group instruction is vital to helping your students meet their academic goals. I will never go back to whole group math instruction since starting guided math groups. Up until last year, I used guided reading groups during my reading instruction. Then, I found out about strategy groups, and they are so much more effective. Keep reading to find out how to set them up in your classroom.
How Are Strategy Groups Different From Guided Reading Groups?
Traditional guided reading groups are made of students who are all at the same level reading the same book. They are all focused on the same strategy, even if some of the students have already mastered it. Guided reading groups generally stay the same for the whole year – or until a student moves a reading level.
Strategy groups are made of readers at all levels who need help with the same strategy. You may pull a common text for everyone to use if you’re teaching something that isn’t in every book. However, if you’re teaching something like character traits that is in every fiction book, the students can bring their own independent books. Strategy groups change all the time – either weekly or even more often. Focusing on the specific skills the students need really helps them improve.
How to Set Up Strategy Groups
#1 – Collect data on your students.
To form strategy groups, you’re going to need to know your students’ strengths and weaknesses in reading. You can use a benchmark assessment, individual conferences, or weekly assessments to collect data. Every Friday, my students take a quick 4-question quiz on the reading standard we covered that week. I use that data to form strategy groups for the following week.
Check out my reading assessments for third grade at the following links.
#2 – Use your data to form strategy groups.
I try to keep my strategy groups to about 4 or 5 students. I look at my Friday assessment and put students who missed question #1 in a strategy group. That group focuses on the most basic level of the standard. For example, if I’m teaching character traits, we’ll look at a list of character traits and pick one to describe the character. Then, we’ll go back into the text to find text evidence.
Other groups are working on writing to explain why they chose a specific character trait and choosing more interesting words to describe a character. Despite what third graders may think, nice and good are not the best adjectives to use for character traits.
I use data from my individual student conferences to form strategy groups based on fluency and accuracy. If I see three students who are struggling with putting endings on words, I’ll pull them in a strategy group and review this skill.
#3 – Decide how you will teach the lesson to the group.
The easiest way to teach a strategy group is to have the students bring their independent reading books to the group. This cuts out a lot of the planning time. I used to spend hours gathering materials for my guided reading groups. Now, if the strategy can be found in most books, I just have the students bring their books to group.
If I’m teaching a strategy that I don’t think will be in all of their books, like making inferences, I will choose a short passage that lends itself to that strategy. Then, I’ll send my students off to look for it in their own books.
All strategy group lessons have the same basic parts:
Set the purpose – Let the students know why you have brought them together. What are you going to be teaching them?
Model – Use a text and model the skill you want them to learn.
Guided Practice – Have the students try to apply the skill while you coach them.
Give an Assignment – Tell the students what you want them to work on during their independent reading time to improve their reading.
My strategy groups usually last about 10 minutes. Then, I follow up with my students during reading workshop time to see how they are applying the lesson.
Download my editable strategy groups planning template at the bottom of this post.
#4 – Decide when you will meet with groups.
I meet with strategy groups during our RtII time and during reading workshop time. I’m usually able to meet with 2 groups during RtII after getting the rest of my class started on another activity. Usually that involves listening to a story on the Chromebook or partner reading.
During reading workshop time, I pull a group right after my minilesson. Then, I spend the rest of the time conferencing with students. That’s when I check in with my higher students who didn’t need a strategy group that day or I see how the students are applying the skills they learned in the strategy group.
Why I Like Strategy Groups More Than Guided Reading
There are several reasons I prefer strategy groups over guided reading groups.
- The main reason is because I see so much more growth in my students with strategy groups. We focus on one skill, and I’m really able to see my students improve in that one area. We recently finished learning about main idea and supporting details in nonfiction. I gave a Friday assessment to see how my students were doing with it. I created strategy groups based on their needs. Some worked on identifying the main idea and writing it in a complete sentence. Others focused on finding supporting details that related back to their main idea. The highest group worked on summarizing nonfiction texts. The next week I gave another assessment on main ideas and supporting details, and I could see the progress. My students really applied what they learned in the strategy groups.
- Another reason I like strategy groups better is because I don’t have to meet with every student every day. When I did guided reading groups, I felt an obligation to meet with every student every day. Now that I use strategy groups, my lower readers are naturally in a group each day, and I don’t feel guilty for not meeting with my higher students, because I know they’ve mastered the skill I’m teaching.
- Strategy groups also take less time than guided reading groups. I spent at least 20 minutes per guided reading group, because my students had to read a whole chapter or article. Now, strategy groups take half the time. We only read about a paragraph together for modeling and guided practice. Then, I send them off to read more independently. This allows me to meet with more students and hold more one-on-one conferences.
- Finally, strategy groups have cut my prep time in half. I used to spend hours pulling books and activities for 4 different guided reading groups. I also planned 3 other centers for the students to do while they weren’t meeting with me. It took forever! Now, the most I have to do is pull a few short articles or stories for my groups when their books aren’t going to lend themselves to the strategy. The rest of my class is engaged in meaningful reading.
5 Days to a Successful Reading Workshop
Are you just getting started with reading workshop? Do you want some help setting it up? Join me for a 5-day email course where I’ll give you all the tips you need to Rock Reading Workshop next school year.
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What Do You Think?
Have you tried strategy groups in your classroom?
Let me know in the comments below.
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