The University of Iowa

Successfully Using Small Group Instruction Tip #2

Small group of students reading a book

Students in small groups who are not meeting directly with the teacher during small group instruction can rotate through different centers.


Posted on: August 2, 2016

Last week, we shared the first tip to implementing small group instruction to differentiate lessons and address each students’ literacy needs: use data to determine what skills to teach to whom. This week we will continue with a new tip.  

Tip 2 is to be organized and set clear expectations for students.

One of the biggest challenges to using small group instruction is figuring out what to do with the rest of the students when they are not the ones meeting with the teacher. This requires additional planning. Spending small segments of time on seatwork or silently reading may be appropriate, but students can lose focus quickly. So, it is important to provide engaging and meaningful instructional activities for independent work in centers and to have students rotate through different centers.  

To make this successful, teachers must develop a system and set routines for using centers. Part of this is managing transitions between centers. A simple solution is to have visual cues, such as color-coded signs or different sounds, that indicate work time, clean-up, and switch. As you are providing small group instruction, you can flip the colored signs and provide an auditory cue to help students know what to do.  

Centers will vary for different students or groups because they are designed to meet individual needs. The small groups may stay intact and rotate through two or three centers together. Alternatively, students may pick their activities within the limits set by the teacher on individualized reading passports. The passports assign where students are to go each day or the students can sign-up for centers that meet specific guidelines or choices the teacher establishes. For example, a student who needs extra phonics practice may be assigned four rotations to the phonics center but only one rotation of silent reading that week.