6 Tips for Secondary Small Groups

The idea of pulling a small group during class time can be a daunting one, especially for those of us who are relatively new to teaching or who may not relish the planning and organization it implies.  The benefits of incorporating small groups during class, though, are huge – students benefit from the close attention and focus and it saves us from extra time holding tutorials outside of class. 

Our novice teacher development program, Teaching Excellence, recently facilitated a session on secondary small group instruction for YES Prep teachers and these tips are adapted from the principles they presented. 

If you’re new to this or have struggled with it in the past, keep the groups very small.  Try 2-3 students in a group so that each student gets some focused attention and the planning and management doesn’t have to be as perfect yet as when you’re trying to pull 6 students in a group.  Six students also implies a whole table or other dedicated space whereas 2 kids can huddle with you at the side of your desk or on the floor somewhere convenient.  You may also want to consider student personalities for the first couple of times so things run as smoothly as possible until you and the class get comfortable with the routine.

Using recent data, like an exit ticket or recent quiz, identify students who have the same need.  Looking over their work is important for this because you don’t want to simply identify students who struggled with the same objective, you want students who made the same mistake on the same objective.  This way, when you’re planning for what to teach them, it’s a very discreet piece of the skill that can be taught and practiced in a short amount of time versus reteaching an entire lesson.  For more ideas on how to efficiently group students, see our previous post on Grouping Strategies.

Start on a class day with lots of student work time built in.  If the whole class is going to be working in centers or with their groups reviewing for a test, this is a great opportunity to try pulling a small group.  Your start and stop time with the small group will be a little more forgiving on a day like this.  And the students you pull aren’t losing work time on a new skill the way they might if you worked with them on a day you teach a typical lesson with new material. 

Set clear expectations and goals for the rest of the class.  While you work with the small group, you don’t want to have to stop and keep reminding the rest of the class to stay on task.  Make sure they know exactly what to do, how to do it, and how they’ll be held accountable for the work so that they are more likely to stay on task while you focus on your small group.

Allow the rest of the class to work cooperatively while you work with the small group.  There are 2 benefits to this.  First, if there’s a buzz in the room, the students in your small group don’t feel like there’s a spotlight on them and will be more comfortable participating than if it’s silent.  Second, it means the rest of the class can ask each other for help versus interrupting your small group every time they have a question or need something. 

Set a bathroom routine that’s easy to follow and independent of you.  It’s amazing how many kids all of a sudden need to use the restroom as soon as you sit down and start working with your small group!  This probably should have gone first because it’s that important.

What other strategies are you using to keep small group instruction manageable?  Leave your tips in the comments!

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