Hey hey, teacher friends, I’m excited to begin the first of a 5 part series to help you set up and maintain the literacy stations in your classroom. This one is perhaps the most important, as it’s all about your students! It is important to always keep your kiddos in mind as you’re beginning to plan your independent reading groups. So in this article, I’m going to give you some excellent tips about organizing your independent reading student groups.
I taught in the classroom for twenty-two years, with the last sixteen in first grade. Organizing reading groups didn’t come easy to me. I made the mistake to organize the content and materials of my literacy stations first, and fit my students in wherever and however at the last minute.
Oh boy, was that where I went wrong. I had no control over my classroom, and I thought that literacy stations were too difficult to manage. What I didn’t realize was that I was working backward. Instead, I needed to focus on my students FIRST. Once I did that, my literacy stations ran like clockwork! I’m excited to share these strategies with you!
Before we begin, you’re going to need this FREE Literacy Stations Planner. Download it here first, and fill it out as we go through this series of articles.
What Do Your Students Need?
Let’s start with the overall makeup of your class. I’m sure you’ve had all the experiences over the years you’ve been teaching where your student’s reading levels are anywhere from low to high to all over the place. Each poses its own challenges to face, with decisions to make. How do you group your students when it comes to independent reading groups?
Begin by thinking about what your students need the most. Do they need a lot more remediation during their reading groups? Or are there students who need to have an enriching challenge? Do you have students who prefer to work independently as opposed to with a partner or a group? All of these considerations have to be kept in mind as you make your groups. I would jot down notes on sticky notes everywhere but found out that got really messy, really fast! So make sure you jot down notes in the literacy planner!
I learned early on that my independent reading groups were not a one-size-fits-all deal. Instead, I had a mixture of large and small groups, with varying abilities. Some groups had students of the same ability, and some would vary. If I had a student who needed help, I would place them with a buddy or two that could help them with tasks like logging onto an app, or remembering where the materials were kept. I also knew there were some of my students who could get frustrated with that task, so I made sure that they were placed in a group of kiddos with approximately the same ability.
All of this is a big jigsaw puzzle, but it’s worth it to give it some thought before you do anything else. Especially when you know that your students will have to carry on without you once you’ve begun taking guided reading groups.
Student’s Behavior At Their Independent Small Groups
Student behavior is a big part of deciding how your students will be grouped. Don’t worry, managing student behavior and teaching your expectations is going to be a part of this series, so stay tuned!
You know your students better than anyone. You know the students who can and can not work together. When I was in high school, I actually had my own mother as a teacher. The funniest part was that so did my best friend, Kara. In the same class. My mom made the mistake of sitting us next to each other as if we wouldn’t talk the whole period! Overall, it wasn’t bad to have my mom as a teacher, but the conversation at the dinner table was awkward. And naturally, the next day, Kara was on one side of the classroom with me on the other side.
So you know your Rachaels and Karas that you need to separate. You also know which students irritate each other or bicker. You know which ones like to work alone, and which ones need someone to motivate them to finish a task.
Take a moment now, and make those notes for your students. This will help you form your student groups. Don’t get too comfy with your groups just yet, there are still some things to keep in mind.
Will Students Be Pulled From Their Independent Reading Groups?
Unless your guided reading groups are a part of a literacy station rotation, chances are you’ll need to pull students from a few of your independent reading groups. If your school is a Title I school, or aligned with another kind of reading remediation program, you might even have students pulled during independent reading. This is all something to consider when mapping out your student groups. If you’re taking a whole group, then this is easy. But if you’re taking a student or two from multiple groups, then it’s a little more difficult. You’ll have to look at the remaining kiddos at the reading group to see if you’ve left a lopsided group or a student without a necessary partner.
This is where using sticky notes did come in handy, or making those notes on the literacy stations planner. Some of my literacy stations needed more than one student for partner work while some stations could have one student working alone. More on the types of stations you’re going to set up for your independent reading groups in a future article.
Your Independent Reading Groups Are Fluid
What’s important to realize is that you don’t have to come up with the best grouping for your students today. In fact, you shouldn’t! You’ll revisit this often as your student’s needs change. I tried to look over my independent reading groups at least once a month to see what was working, what wasn’t working, and if my students needed a change. Sometimes I would move one or two kiddos around, sometimes, I would do a complete overhaul and start from scratch. But always remember that this is the most important part to organize. When you start with your students in mind, your literacy stations will flow so much smoother!
Stay tuned for the next article in the literacy stations series: “What Literacy Stations Should I Set Out For My Students?”