It’s no surprise that small group instruction is essential when trying to meet the needs of all of the learners in your classroom. However, in order to have successful small groups, your other students need to be doing something else. In my classroom, during my Guided Math and Guided Reading groups, my other students are actively engaged at centers.
During Guided Reading I use a version of the Daily 5. My students go to 6 different stations daily:
1. Read to Self (where students read from their book boxes)
2. Work on Writing (where students work on writing)
3. Centers (where students get to choose literacy based centers)
4. The “Activity Table” (where students practice skills/interactive notebooks/handwriting)
5. Technology (iPads/listen to reading)
6. Guided Reading (with me!)
I use a rotational wheel in my classroom so that my students know exactly where they need to go. It is set to a timer and plays quiet music in the background while my students are at their rotations. Then, once that group’s time is up, the “clean up song” turns on and my students have a minute and a half to clean up their center.
This is the wheel that I have used in the past: https://vimeo.com/112013764
I know many of you can not use that wheel because it uses Christian songs but it gives you an idea of what I use. I love it because once my students are trained, they can run the rotation by themselves. Every day they know exactly what to do, where to go, how to clean up, and what needs to be accomplished. However, many of you ask me HOW do I train them to do this. Hopefully this post will help with those questions.
Step One: Setting Expectations
Starting on day one of school, I start to slowly and introduce how my centers will work in my classroom. During the first 2 weeks, we focus on a few things:
1. The volume of our voices while working with our friends
2. Where work can be accomplished
3. How to solve problems
4 How to make choices
All of these items are essential to the success of my small groups later on in the year. I start day one launching “Read to Self.”
Before the first day of school, I prepare a book box for each of my students. I put (at least) 10 books in each box and make sure I include at least one Nonfiction book, an easy reader, a math book, and books with familiar characters. This is completely on purpose. I have found the students LOVE to look at nonfiction books– the real life pictures FASCINATE them. They also enjoy math books because they can read numbers easily on the first day of school. Books with familiar characters create a sense of comfort and familiarity. By putting 10 books in my student’s book bins, they are able to last for a good amount of time on day one when I launch Read To Self. You can read about how I launch it HERE. I practice this 2 times on the first day of school. (To give you an understanding of how long kinders can last, it’s normally about 2-5 minutes on the first day– I quickly stop any behavior that I don’t want my students to get used to doing! I want my student’s bodies to get used to relaxing into Read to Self.)
Also on day one, we DO have a “center time.” During this time I only have a few rules: you can go to any activity you want. If you want to change activities, you have to clean up what you were just using first. We use kind, quiet voices at centers.
The reason why it works on day one is because I use items that students are familiar playing with or that they will be actively engaged in.
Last year I let my students explore the materials during our first center time for about 20 minutes. During that time I was able to chat with all of my students and it gave me an idea of what types of activities that they enjoyed. During the first week of school I ran a similar center time each afternoon. Each day I introduced 1-2 new activities and let my students choose what they wanted to use.
By the end of the first week my students had explored teddy bear counters, Bingo daubers, blocks, magnetic letters, linking chains, the sensory table, white boards and markers, and many fine motor activities.
All of these activities were completely open ended and not academic in nature– all of that will come eventually. During this time what I am working on and training my students on is how to make choices, how to clean up, and how to be a friend when engaged in a task. I help my students solve problems and show them how they can be independent.
After each center time we debrief as a class at our meeting space. I have my students discuss what they enjoyed doing. We also talk about how they solved problems. Creating this dialogue helps students hear other students say how they solved a problem. It shows them that they CAN be successful and that they are problem solvers.
During week 2 I introduce the writing table. I only do this after I have taught a few mini-lessons on how we are writers. The writing table sometimes has the ability to turn into the drawing table and that is something that I try to avoid. While my students can and do draw pictures at the writing table, these are only a part of their writing. By teaching the mini-lessons before the writing table is open, my students already know that they are writers and that I expect them to listen for sounds in the pictures they are drawing and label their illustrations. They know how to use a few of the writing resources and are more apt to WRITE then just to draw.
During the second week of school, I still use open ended, play based centers, but I also start to sneak in a few “academic” activities.
This week I put my unifix cubes with letters into one of our sensory bins and had my students “dig” through the bin, take out a letter, and then color the correct letter on their coloring sheet.
I also had my students match magnetic letters to letter cards.
This week I also teach 2-4 students each day a partner game. By the end of the week, I make sure that I have helped each student play a “partner game” at least once.
Each day I gave my students 4-5 choices and let them work with whoever they wanted to work with. I only let 2-3 friends work at each activity at a time. I should probably note that I place all the activities around my classroom so that students know where they can use them. I also dismiss my students from the carpet one at a time so that there is not a “mad rush” for one center. Once a center has 2-3 friends, I tell my students that the center is now closed and they will need to make a different choice. (How do I handle the student who didn’t get to go to his favorite or first choice? Let me warn you, it WILL come up!! In fact, I’m glad it comes up because it allows us to have a conversation about other things they might be interested in doing. This is a hard lesson for some students and it’s important to retrain this bad habit. I always tell my students that once a friend leaves that station that they will get a chance to go there and guide them towards a different activity. This teachable moment is HUGE because during my center rotations, my students get to choose their centers for the day. They are NOT allowed to wait for their preferred center to become available. They must make a choice and this prepares them for that. Helping my students who struggle with this during week 2 prepares them for what is to come.)
Step Two: Practice!
During week 3 I introduce a few more academic centers and start teaching my students where they will be in the classroom. I show them how to take materials off of the shelves and how to put them back where they belong. In using this gradual release model, my students become slowly accustomed to all of the things that make center/small group time a success in my classroom.
By week 4, my students are ready to learn the rotational wheel and I officially start small group instruction. During my small group instruction my students travel from rotation to rotation. When they get to the “center” rotation, they are allowed to choose anything they want from the literacy center shelf. I keep the shelf stocked with about 12 differentiated centers. I switch out only a few centers at a time so that my students always know how to play all of the centers on the shelf. Occasionally I suggest a center for my students to play; however, I like that my students get to choose the centers that interest them.
I hope that this post helped!! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below! I love to hear from you.