Small Group Instruction Survival Kit

It's that time of the year, when teachers are thinking about what they're going to do next year.  Some are staying put and many are switching grade levels or subjects.  Schools are running out of time to spend money and are asking teachers what they want to buy and fast!  I have seen a lot teachers asking these types of questions lately.  I have taught 1st and 2nd grade (3 years in 1st and 3 years in 2nd) for the past 6 years and thought maybe a list of my must-haves would help out those who are looking to spend some money on furniture/materials or are looking to get an idea of what they will want for next year.  This is by no means a comprehensive list but I do use all of these things EVERY day while teaching 2nd  grade (I also used them everyday when I taught 1st too).  I chose small group instruction because honestly, the majority of my day is spent teaching small group instruction.  I teach small groups in literacy everyday for an hour and occasionally in math and writing. 

#1. A horseshoe table: I had a round table when I first started teaching and it got the job done but the horseshoe table is much better at keeping everyone focused and engaged in any small group lesson I am teaching.   Here's where it all goes down in my room!

#2. Word Wall:  I LOVE word walls. I have three in the room, one for each literacy, math and science.  This one is for literacy and has all our sight words.  Since it's the end of the year, it has them ALL.  I don't start the year with them all, I introduce about 5-10 words a week. At the beginning of the year we use it more than at the end.  We find words with different phonetic patterns, put words in ABC order, find different parts of speech, sound out phonemes, count syllables.  We also use my Word Wall Work pack as a literacy center.  I put it under my SmartBoard because honestly, this was the only real estate left on my walls!  It just happened to be a perfect spot for my kids to sit and read it! 

#3. Chair Pockets:  These chair pockets were made by my fabulous Nana.  She is a much better seamstress than I am, she used a yard and a half of fabric for each one and with a little mending each year they have held up pretty well.  I take them home occasionally to wash them, I only had a crayon sneak through the wash one time and leave terrible streaks in my dryer.  I was not happy, now I make sure they are completely empty before washing.  The horseshoe table chairs and each student chair has a chair pocket.  At the horseshoe table they hold whiteboards and markers.  At my student's desks, they use them to hold their library books, and ziploc bag of spelling words for the week. (Plus a few other mystery items, which are NOT supposed to be in there, but end up making their way into their chair pockets)

#4. Sand Timers: We use these in small group, literacy centers and math.  They mainly get used for fluency reads, perfect for timing a minute! I used to have digital timers and the beeping drove me nuts!  Plus my kids can't really read digital time very well (especially when it has seconds) but these one minute timers are the best!  

#5. Whiteboards and Markers:  These whiteboards came with my classroom and they're old but they get the job done!  I added pom-poms to the ends of all my Expo markers this year (thanks to Pinterest!) which makes an instant eraser.  The only problem with that is they have to keep up with their caps because they can't put them on the ends.  

#6. Leveled Text:  Obviously if you're teaching small group or guided reading you will need sets of leveled text.  I have acquired quite a few sets from discarded books at school and from ordering through Scholastic Book Clubs. Usually if there's a $1 book in the Lucky or See Saw Scholastic Book Club catalogs, I order 6-7 copies to use as a guided reading book.  We are also lucky to have THIS great room we can use as well but since we have moved away from using a basal, I have loved using trade books instead.  I also use Reading A to Z books, which are great if you're looking for books on a certain theme with all the worksheets that could go with them.  The downside is the amount of paper it takes to make the books.

#7. Fluency Materials:  I work on building fluency in so many ways during small group, centers and whole group instruction.  We begin at the word level, then move to phrases and then passages.  Here's a few of the materials I use.  The first is a big bucket o' words.  These cards used to be in my Word Jar but since moving to 2nd grade, we don't do a lot of fluency at the word level, more at the phrase and passage level so they're now in a big bucket. The words are a lot of HFW's from the Houghton Mifflin series plus some sight words.  The second picture are fluency strips which are old, I have new ones available in my Literacy Center Menu pack and the last picture are Fluency Homework from Second Story Window.  I know it's supposed to be homework and I do use it as homework but I also use old pieces in small group too. 

#8. Pointers:  Tracking print is super important in my small group instruction,.  Even in 2nd grade, we stress that tracking print is important and it's surprising at how many still have trouble tracking print (especially my struggling readers).  These pointers are old, I made them in college when I started student teaching and had no money to buy fancy pointers.  I made them from tracing a star shaped post-it note onto two pieces of sticky foam. Then I stuck them to a popsicle stick that I colored with sharpie, real fancy isn't it?  

#9. Chips:  In 2nd grade I still try to get in as much phonological awareness as I can, even though it's not as much of a focus as in Kindergarten and 1st grade. When we are learning our spelling words, we sound them out by counting phonemes (as you saw HERE) with the chips and later counting syllables.  I like the two-sided colored chips because when we're sliding them and saying the phonemes they flip over the chip that has the sound we are working on, so they can see if it's in the beginning, middle or end of a word.  We also use chips during small group if they answer a question right, or when we're playing a game.  They can keep their chips until the end and then see who has the most.  It's a good incentive to get them engaged and participating.  I bought some dollar tree checkers to use before I had two-sided chips.  

#10. Response Journals:  We use these journals for everything writing.  We answer comprehension questions after reading, we write journal entries in writing, we glue in our spelling words to keep as a reference.  As you can see this one is definitely getting full! I know journaling isn't for everyone, but I am a big believer in journals.  We have a journal for math, writing and science.  At the beginning of the year we decorated them by cutting out pictures of magazines and old Scholastic Book Club order forms.  As you can see they are falling apart, I didn't Mod Podge them this year like I did last year.  Obviously I should have Mod Podged. : )

Well, I hope that has given you a few new ideas of what I keep in my small group "survival kit" and what you may need or want if you're switching to a lower level grade next year!  All of these things are behind my horseshoe table in a big bookcase for easy access.  If you have any questions, or want to know more, please let me know! 


  1. I love this post. I want to go to school right now and clean up my small group space! I also Love the idea of binding those reading a to z books! Do you laminate all of the pages or just the cover?

    Second Grade Math Maniac

    1. I have done both, laminating the pages and just the cover. I always laminate the cover, but depending on our laminating situation at school, I don't laminate the pages. If I don't laminate the pages inside, I print them on cardstock so they hold up better. : )

  2. Thanks so much for this post! Pinning it to my Back to School board so I can hit the ground running next year! Lots of new ideas and a few reminders of ideas I've forgotten about. I'm so jealous of your guided reading shared room! We have absolutely no guided reading books except the SUPER LAME ones that come with our basal, but I like your suggestion of buying sets of the $1 books from Scholastic!

    Across the Hall in 2nd Grade

  3. Great ideas...bookmarking for reference!

    What if you glued the pom pom onto the cap end? Or do you think the students would end up ripping it off when they uncapped the markers?

  4. Such great ideas!!
    I love where your word wall is. Mine is above the smartboard in the same place. But I can never reach the words. So I love your idea. I guess mine will be moving down next year. I also love your fluency ideas. I'm for sure checking those out!!

    The Hive