Small-group reading is an assisted literacy experience. Teachers can support and guide students with texts on their instructional level before, during, and after reading. Each small group consists of two to six students.
This flexible setting allows a teacher to match students' reading abilities to appropriate materials. Then he or she can observe reading behaviors, and model and prompt for specific strategies that will improve students’ word solving, comprehension, and fluency.
The 3 Phases of Small-Group Reading
1. Before Reading
The small-group reading sequence begins by activating prior knowledge about the concepts, people, places, and objects that appear in the text that students will read. This is generally done before making direct references to the books so that students approach the text already having connections to it.
The next crucial step is orienting students to the leveled text. Each member of the group is given his or her own copy. The students then locate the title and author, study the front cover illustration, and collaborate with the teacher in an introductory conversation about the book.
The teacher provides a brief overview of the text and then prompts students to discuss the pictures and the author's intended message. Structure is incorporated by exposing the students to recurring language patterns and by introducing visual or graphophonic cues. In this exercise, students locate a known high-frequency word or predict the letter that they would expect to find at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.
The teacher then sets a purpose for the reading that may include a brief model of what the students' expectations will be during the first read.
2. During Reading
Students whisper-read or read silently depending on their developmental level, as the teacher observes or monitors. To keep interruptions to a minimum, the teacher only intervenes when a student appears to be in jeopardy of losing the meaning of the text. The teacher then uses language prompts to help the student apply a specific problem-solving strategy at the point of difficulty.
3. After Reading
A short book may be read all the way through during the exercise, while a longer book may be divided among two or more days. Students should be asked to reflect on the reading—both their use of specific strategies and their understanding of the content.
Next, the teacher revisits the selection with one or two important teaching points that extend the students' learning to a higher level. These points are based on careful observations of the students' processing behaviors during the reading. The teachers can use this opportunity to validate successful techniques and activate strategies that students neglected or had difficulties with. In addition, students can focus on specific words, text or graphic features, literary elements, or other important components.
Finally, the teacher builds comprehension by:
- Having students retell all or parts of the story
- Helping students make personal connections to the information or story
- Asking concept and text-dependent questions and discussing students' responses
- Helping students complete their graphic organizers
- Working with students to synthesize and assess the reading selection
Over the next few days, students are encouraged to reread all or parts of the text to strengthen the newly made connections, foster cognitive development, and promote fluency. In addition, the teacher uses the familiar text for additional mini-lessons, writing activities, and content connections.