Small Group Warm Ups To Maximize Time at the Table
I have always believed the time my students and I spend at the small group table is THE most important time of our day. If you have followed my blog for any amount of time, you know how strongly I believe in the power of small group instruction within the classroom. Over the past few years, I have been blessed to be able to share organization, management, and instructional practices about small group instruction with other primary teachers. Without question, one of the most common questions and concerns for teachers is how to maximize the amount of TIME we spend with our students at the small group table. Small group time is precious! I have three “rounds” of small reading groups in my classroom each day, for approximately 20 minutes a round. If we waste several minutes transitioning to the table and into our lesson, those wasted minutes can REALLY add up throughout the week!
There are many ways to maximize time within our lessons, but today, let’s talk about those first critical 3-5 minutes. Those first five minutes of a small group lesson is where I often see the most wasted time. The following (and many more) commonly contribute to those first 3-5 minutes going down the drain:
*Students arrive at the table and then sit (and chat) while waiting for the teacher to begin.
*The teacher waits for EVERYBODY in the group to arrive at the small group table before beginning instruction.
*The first instructional activity of the teachers’ lesson for the day is a whole group activity.
*The initial instructional activity for small group time varies from day to day, leaving no predictable routine for the students to become accustomed to during small group instruction.
Do any of these sound familiar? Today, let’s talk about two really great and EASY “small group warm-up” activities that are student-led and student-initiated. The idea is that your students know exactly what to do the second they reach the small group table. In this way, students can get started on their reading practice as soon as they reach the small group table, automatically knowing what to do, without the teacher’s directions.
#1 Fluency Baskets
Every one of my reading groups is assigned a specific colored basket. When a student reaches the small group table during reading time, the child immediately grabs yesterday’s guided reading book, or a previously read book, from the group’s designated fluency basket and starts re-reading. This is a very easy and effective way to build fluency practice into your small group time. It is a “warm-up” that the students can complete on their own, without wasting valuable time. Students can continue to read books from their group’s fluency basket, while the teacher works one on one with a student, does a running record on a child, or listens to a child read yesterday’s guided reading book.
#2: Sight Word Recognition
In the primary grades, sight words are an important part of small group instruction. Of course, there are MANY instructional activities to help students with sight word recognition, but one of the easiest “warm-ups” for the small group table is sight word practice! All students are capable of practicing words they already know, and words they are currently learning. I use to have students quickly work through their sight word flashcard baggies when they reached the small group table. They would sit down, and immediately grab their word baggies to practice while we waited those 2-3 minutes for everyone to settle in for my instruction and activities for the day.
There was only one problem with our flashcard baggies.
They were boring.
Sure, they served their purpose. My kids were instantly getting started without my help, which maximized the amount of productivity time at the small group table. But they were bored. To make this “warm-up” more engaging, I created Sight Word Spinners:
The concept is simple. Students grab the Sight Word Spinner they are working on that week from a basket (or the teacher can already have this laid out on the table before students arrive to group time). Then, they spin the spinner with a pointer or a pencil (and a paperclip) and practice reading the word list that matches the picture on the spinner as quickly as they can. Then, they repeat this activity by spinning again!
I also like to have these out for students to begin once they finish reading their book from our fluency basket. Then, we do not run into a student who zips through a previously read book, and then sits there waiting for his friends to finish. (Sounds familiar, huh?!) Once the book is completed, the child begins working on his or her Sight Word Spinner.
In the picture below, you can see that I had Sight Word Spinners laid out for students to get started on as soon as they reached the table. In this picture, the group was all working on the same list of words. However, this pack covers the first 500 Fry Words, so you can easily differentiate from student to student or group to group, based on which set of words they need to practice and learn! 🙂
You can organize each of the 100 Fry Word Lists by printing them on different colored card stock. You might even choose to laminate the spinners so that you can simply reuse them over and over again each year! 🙂
Feel free to pin the image below to save this idea for your classroom and teacher friends!
I hope this little post gave you two ideas you can quickly and easily implement into your small group lesson plan and routine! 🙂 When we maximize time at the table by getting our students to independently get started right away on something, we minimize management problems and boost reading skills! It’s a win-win for the students AND the teacher! 🙂