10 Things You Need to Run Fabulous Reading Groups

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Reading Groups! My whole day is made up of reading groups. I teach K-5 reading intervention, so my entire day, week and year is made up of small literacy groups. I love teaching reading, so for me, it is a good thing. However, I know that setting up, managing and planning for guided reading groups can be overwhelming. My friend Jenn, from Reading in Room 11, shared Ten Things that will Revolutionize your Reading Groups, and I'm here today to share 10 more things that will help you on your way to having fabulous reading groups. 

Color-Coded Group Materials
For me, this is the crux of my small group organization. I see at least 8 small groups per day, and having student supplies color coded is a must. My school uses the Fountas and Pinnell Level Literacy Intervention (LLI) system, and each kit (grade level) is color coded. So, my supplies for each grade level group matches the color of the grade level kit. This helps me as I am picking out books for each group, so I do not have to think too hard about what color LLI boxes I need to pull from. In each bin, I keep the books, and activities I need for that week. I also keep the students' color coded folders. These folders hold student progress monitoring assessments, sight word books, student reference charts (Fundations alphabet chart, RACE response and close reading mini anchor charts) and anything else my students may need to reference on a regular basis.
I took my color coding a step farther this year, by color coding our benchmark assessment materials. We copied student booklets and teacher recording sheets to follow the color coded system. This way, as we look back into student folders, we can clearly see what work has been saved from each grade. It may be a little too Type A for some, but I think anything you can do to make your job a little easier is worth doing.


Magnetic BINGO chips and wand
I use these materials every day, and I have found so many uses for them. I initially purchased them for practice isolating and segmenting sounds in words, and blending sounds together. For example, I may provide a word like 'brush' and ask my students to identify where they hear the 'sh' sound. They would then use one of their Magnetic BINGO chips to indicate initial, medial or final sound placement on Elkonin boxes. I may also provide the students with a picture of a word like 'crib' and they would push the chips into Elkonin boxes to represent the initial, medial and final sounds, before using the Magnetic BINGO wand to swipe all the chips and blend the word together.
But like I said, I use these tools all the time. I have used them to count syllables, represent points awarded in a game and to play actual BINGO. I have also recently started using them as a behavior management tool for one of my students. He has the "blurts" and I now give him three blurt chips (we started at 5), and when he blurts, I take a chip. When he has exhausted all of his chips, he misses out on earning a point on his classroom daily sheet.

Phoneme-Grapheme Flashcards and Blending Binder
Incorporating spiral review into lessons was not a strength of mine. That is...until I introduced Orton-Gillingham strategies into my small groups. A big part of Orton-Gillingham is building upon the skills the students have already learned to help them be successful with the new skills. The Phoneme-Grapheme flashcards and Blending Binder make this "building block" like instruction not only possible, but very easy. These cards help you execute visual, tactile and blending drills into your daily whole group, or small group lessons. By showing the students a card, they can orally produce the sound the letter(s) make, or you can produce a sound and have the student produce the letter(s) in tubs of rice or sand. Additionally, for blending practice you can put these cards in a three ring binder (initial sounds in the first ring, vowel sounds in the middle ring, and final sounds in the third ring) and have the students practice applying their skills to blending words and syllables.

Coffee stirrers
Yes, I said coffee stirrers! Such a simple item has become one of the top 10 things I use during my reading groups. I was teaching my student how to decode a word using syllables, and my students were understandably using a bit of trial and error to figure out where to divide their word. I was trying to have them use their finger to to cover part of the word, but that wasn't working because they still needed to see the rest of the word. I needed something skinny that would allow them to manipulate the parts of the word, and still see the part that was currently hiding under their finger. So, I quickly ran to the cafeteria and asked for some coffee stirrers. Now my students can try different syllable patterns, and practice decoding easily.

The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo
This book should be gifted to teachers the way The First Days of School (Harry Wong) currently is! The Reading Strategies Book, is a must for all elementary teachers. This professional development text helps support step-by step strategies for skilled reading. It is not only the what to teach, but the HOW TO teach it. The book is organized into chapters focusing on engagement, early reading, comprehension (fiction and non-fiction) fluency, vocabulary and writing in response to reading. The strategies are research based and reading levels suggesting the appropriateness of the strategies are listed. Serravallo provides a guide for prompting students to use the strategies, as well as a visual that could easily be recreated. I have re-created many of her visual prompts into mini anchor charts. I use the large index cards, and introduce the visual image to help my students to understand the strategy a little more. They are great to pull out for a non-verbal reminder to prompt my students to use the strategy.

Phonics Notebooks
I was looking for a hands-on way to practice phonics skills, that would compliment my Orton-Gillingham routines. I really liked the idea of an interactive notebook, but with only seeing my groups for 30 minutes each day, I knew I could not commit time to the cutting and assembly required for many of the interactive notebooks. So I made my own. These phonics notebooks provide picture cues to help students recall the sound each focus skill makes, encoding (spelling) practice, multisyllabic word decoding practice, picture sort, sentence writing and word building using a spinner game. I started using these this year in my classroom, and my students are loving them because they are predicable (each skill has the same/similar components) and they feel successful. My colleagues are loving them because there are opportunities to practice reading phonetically regular words, encoding, decoding, phonemic awareness, and writing.


Sticky Notes
I feel like sticky notes are a must for every aspect of the day. There are just so many uses. I use sticky notes to write observations regarding my students' progress, or general notes about a teaching point I want to make at a late date. I add these notes into my planbook, or the communication log I share with classroom teachers and other providers. I write on the fly questions, like "Has ______ had an OT eval? Noticing _______" and later follow up with an email to the OT and school psychologist. I also write little "love notes" to my students praising them for something great they did or as a little take away about a strategy they should keep using in the classroom.

Technology/Apps
Two of my favorite apps to use in my small reading groups are Class Dojo and Epic! Books for Kids.
Class Dojo has been a great way to promote positive reading behaviors like persistence and stamina, as well as communicate easily with families. The format of Class Dojo is really inviting, as it mimics familiar social media, and I have found that my parents are more likely to communicate through the app, than by email. My students also like receiving an occasional surprise reading challenge, that (if they choose to accept) helps them to earn a reward.
Epic! Books for Kids is a great app that can provide unlimited access to books for your readers. My students have been greatly motivated for the opportunity to read on the iPads. They enjoy the different format, and Epic! has audiobooks they really enjoy. These audiobooks are great for assessment days because it allows me to create a listening center, which needs almost no teacher support. I have also used these digital books for a guided reading lesson. Many of our students will develop into digital readers, and I thought it was a good idea to start engaging them with digital reading opportunities.
There are many other ways to incorporate technology into your small group lessons, these two apps are just the ones that have had the greatest impact.

Plastic Canvas
This is another tool I didn't know I needed, until I discovered the great effect it had for my students. You can add this plastic canvas to the introduction of sight words, and integrate a multi-sensory approach. For your tactile learners, this method could have an impact on the way they acquire their sight words. You can read more about using this tactile approach in my blog series about sight words. The best part of using this "bumpy board" as my students call it, is that your students will leave your small group with a crayon rubbing of their new sight word that they can use for later practice and review.

Games
Encouraging your students to learn through play is one of the easiest and fun ways for them to meet your learning outcomes. I try to use games as often as possible in my small groups. Jenn has a great game called Students vs Teacher that I use all the time to warm up my students and review skills previously taught.
A big thing that I have learned about games, is to be consistent. Learning a new game takes time. Time that your students are not practicing content. So really, that means less time is being spent on meeting your objectives. To keep consistency, most often, my students play one of four games. These four games keep the novelty fresh, but also allow us to jump right into the game and have more practice. You can grab these games for FREE, and start using them right away with your students.

I hope the tips and tools I have shared will be helpful or inspiring for you. Reading groups can be difficult to establish, manage and plan for, but after some adjusting to figure out what works for you, they can become really fun to teach. If you have other things that are MUST HAVES for your small reading groups, please share them with me. I'm always looking for new and exciting things to share with my students. 

Don't forget to check out other great posts sharing more tips to improve your literacy instruction, from The Reading Crew

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