Let’s continue with how the science of reading may look in a first grade classroom. The last post discussed phonemic awareness, phonics, spelling, and high-frequency word instruction in a whole group setting, as well as differentiated spelling instruction. In this post, I’ll discuss what small-group reading instruction, when informed by research, may look like in a first grade classroom, specifically for a group approaching grade-level. In future posts, I’ll discuss how reading comprehension, vocabulary, handwriting, and writing played out in my classroom. I’m also hoping to do more on various levels of small group instruction (including chapter book readers!).
As I stated in the first post, this is meant to be descriptive–showing what instruction informed by evidence looked like in my setting–rather than prescriptive.
Let’s first clear up why I use certain terminology in this post. I use the term small group reading instruction to mean just that–any method that teaching students how to read using small groups. I do not use the term Guided Reading (capital G-R) to describe what I did in the classroom. Guided Reading is a method created by Fountas & Pinnell. It refers to a specific way to group students (based on GR levels), assess students (most notably by using running records and MSV analysis), and instruct students (starting with predictable texts in kindergarten, which leads to the necessity of teaching the three-cueing, or multicueing, system). Lots of things not supported by the larger body of research.
Guided Reading is based on the faulty assumption that people learn to read like they learn to speak–naturally. If we begin with predictable texts (“I see the cow on the farm; I see the pig on the farm; I see the horse on the farm”) kids will naturally pick up on how our orthography (written system) works and gradually be able to break the complex written code implicitly, on their own.
It focuses much of its attention early on learning “sight words,” by which it refers to high-frequency words, so that students can “read” some of the text and then use pictures and context clues to “hypothesize” what the other words in the sentence might be based on teacher guidance.
In contrast, the large body of research suggests we should be teaching kids explicitly how to break the code. This means we don’t start with whole words units (high-frequency words) and patterned texts for them to use various “strategies” to figure it out on their own. Instead, we can instruct them in letter-sound correspondences and teach them about phonology (the sound system) and orthography (the written system) explicitly and systematically so that they can gradually learn how to break the code. This is all done while building their oral language comprehension through content-rich instruction.
How might small group reading instruction look?
As teachers, we always need to start with assessment–the beginning of the year is the time when I would get to know my students academic needs. Although screeners (such as DIBELS PSF, NWF, ORF) are good to identify students at-risk, they aren’t necessarily designed to give you detailed diagnostic information use to plan instruction. They are a helpful starting point, but I always liked more in-depth information to help me understand my students’ needs and a starting point for instruction. Some common measures you could use to group students for decoding instruction are CORE’s Assessing Reading: Multiple Measures (phoneme segmentation, phonics survey, high-frequency words).
Once you have that information, you can group students based on common areas of need. These groups were always flexible, and I’d commonly have students moving between groups throughout the year based on differences in their individual growth rates. Once grouped, I would identify the areas to teach within each small group.
What does this look like for a group approaching grade-level?
At the beginning of the year in my contexts, it was common to have a small group of students who were still needing instruction in single letter-sounds, short vowels, and phoneme segmentation and blending. For these students who were approaching grade-level, I would meet with them everyday in order to consistently build their skills and provide the daily practice they needed to catch up to grade level. For students who were on-level, I would meet with them about 3 times a week. For students who were above-level, to the point of independently reading around a beginning of 2nd grade level, I would meet with them 1-2 times a week.
My small group reading instruction for approaching (and on, at the beginning of the year) would include:
- review of grapheme phoneme correspondences (1-2 minutes),
- new phonics skill (every 2-3 days, 3 minutes),
- word building or word chaining (3-5 minutes),
- irregular high-frequency word instruction (1-2 minutes), and
- reading of decodable text (5-7 minutes).
They would then go to reread the text with a partner. This would result in about 15-20 minutes of instruction plus partner re-reading. I’ll expand on each of these below, but first a note on routines and expectations.
Routines and consistent, clear expectations allow for efficiency in teaching. Once routines are built and expectations for on-task behavior are in place, everything else takes less time. Students know what to do and how to do it because it’s been explained, modeled, and they have been given immediate, positive, and corrective feedback. The following practices will take much longer time periods for beginning lessons in order to set in place, but once in place times for instruction in small groups can be much more efficient.
Review of grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs, 1-2 minutes)
Here I would use the same GPC deck that I used for whole group instruction. We would quickly review (similar to a visual drill in OG) the graphemes and corresponding sounds. Some days, I would instead call out the sounds and students would write the corresponding graphemes on their white boards (similar to an auditory drill in OG).
New phonics skill (3 minutes)
If it was a day to introduce a new skill, I would take about 3 minutes to introduce a new GPC, for example. This would support mwhat they were learning in whole group it systematically full gaps in knowledge. This might look like below:
- Our new grapheme today makes the sound [say sound] /k/–and we spell it [spell grapheme] C-K. When we see the card, we will say /k/.
- What is our new grapheme?
- Good, “C-K”. What is the sound?
- Yes, /k/. When the /k/ sound is at the end of a word after a short vowel (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/), we spell it “C-K”. When do we spell /k/ as “C-K”?
- Yes, after a short vowel. Tell your partner the sound.
- Touch and say it for me.
- Let’s write it on our whiteboards 3 times while we say the sound.
- Good! This is the grapheme [say sound] /k/–and we spell it [spell grapheme] C-K.
- When the /k/ sound is at the end of a word after a short vowel (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/), we spell it “CK”
- Let’s read some words with “ck”
- Practice blending the written words (on my dry-erase board) tick, jack, muck. Sometimes I would quickly write a word on each of their boards to try individually.
If we were not learning a new sound, we would review the last learned sound and practice decoding individual words with that sound.
Word building or Word chaining (3-5 minutes)
During this time, students would spell words with the target skill. Some people use “phoneme-grapheme mapping” to accomplish this. In traditional PG mapping, students move a chip in each box while segmenting the sounds in a word, then move the chip out of each box to write each sound’s corresponding grapheme. In my small groups, I taught it a bit differently to save on materials/time. Students would segment each sound and draw a short, horizontal line on their board for each sound segmented. For example, for the word “lock” students would draw _ _ _ while segmenting the sounds. I would check and provide feedback; then, they would go back and assign a grapheme to each sound blank drawn.
Some days, we would “chain” these words. So instead of building a word, erasing, then building. the next word, the words would all be connected. For example, if students are learning “ck,” I might ask them to spell lock, then change it to lot, then slot, then sock. Each time, they have to attend to the letters, say the sounds, figure out which have switched, and the make appropriate changes.
I’ve also used word sorts during this time (draw 2 columns, for example, short a and long a words, and sort (point with their finger) then spell) depending on the skill they are trying to master.
On days when a new skill was introduced, all words would contain that skill. On other days, examples and non-examples, along with review words would be used.
High-frequency word instruction (1-2 minutes)
This is the time when students would learn irregular high-frequency words that were specified by the curriculum or were pulled from their decodable text for the day. I would say a word; they would repeat and then draw blanks to segment it. Then I showed the word and we segmented it again while matching sounds to graphemes on the word card. We would identify the part(s) of the word that was irregular to them (either permanently or temporarily, because they hadn’t yet learned a specific skill).
They would then write the word in their sound blanks and circle the part they had to learn by heart. They’d erase and we’d then practice segmenting and writing the word about 3 times so they had practice remembering the part they had to learn by heart.
If there were no new words for the day, we’d review previous words (either quickly by reading on cards or by spelling them on white boards). They could also practice reviewing with a rapid recognition chart with a partner afterward (if I was organized enough to print one out).
Decodable text reading (7 minutes)
During this time, students would practice “whisper reading” the text on each page while I would listen in. They would stop at the end of each page or few pages (depending on the book, group, and time of year) to then read it chorally with the whole group. This provided a chance for students to practice decoding each word on their own and then begin to build fluency by reading it again with the group chorally.
As they were whisper reading, I’d listen in and provide feedback. Sometimes, this feedback was just pointing at the word I wanted them to sound out and blend again (without saying anything). If they then said a specific GPC incorrectly, I would provide it and have them reblend the word together. Other times, if the word was an irregular word, I would point to the part they were supposed to know “by heart” and follow a similar procedure as above if they didn’t know it–supply it and reblend.
During the text reading, I would periodically ask text-dependent questions and ask students to point in the text how they knew the answer. Then I’d call on a student to share out or ask them to turn and tell their partners.
Finally, I would pair students up to read the selection again with a partner (without me). They would go to their place in the room, whisper read it either chorally or by taking turns and providing feedback (also explicitly taught at the beginning of the year), depending on the day and my instructions.
Note: I typically used decodable text that came with the curriculum to introduce the week’s phonics pattern and then alternated with the leveled text throughout the week about equally. The leveled text (as long as it was NOT predictable text, which doesn’t require students to attend closely to the letters on the page) was an amalgamation of phonics patterns they had mostly learned up to that point and the same hfw in the decodable text and basal series. If students encountered a phonics skill they weren’t sure of and couldn’t flex sounds to figure out the word, I provided the sound/spelling and had them reblend. Talking to students about figuring out difficult words and (informally) mapping sounds to spellings once figured out can help them try these on their own during independent reading, attending to the letters closely. We don’t have much empirical research comparing the amounts or types of connected text to use with students, but we do know teaching students to attend to the letters on the page (rather than the pictures) and matching them with sounds is important for reading those words/sounds in a different context in the future. Once students were reading first grade texts fluently (what you may know as the ORF assessment from DIBELS or level J from F&P), I used more trade books with groups (rather than leveled readers) such as Henry and Mudge, Frog & Toad, Poppleton… then Magic Tree House fiction/nonfiction, Freckle Juice, My Father’s Dragon… and the wide world of other wonderful chapter books!
I hope this was a helpful look into one of my first-grade small groups! Feel free to leave questions and comments below.
Subscribe for future posts: