An Investment in Small Group Instruction Will Pay Off

What is Small Group Instruction?

Teacher helping students in classroom
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Small group instruction typically refers to a teacher working with a small group of students on a specific learning objective. These groups consist of 2-4 students and provide these students with a reduced student-teacher ratio. Small group instruction usually follows whole group instruction. It allows teachers to work more closely with each student, reinforce skills learned in the whole group instruction, and check for student understanding.

It allows students more of the teacher's attention and gives them a chance to ask specific questions they may have about what they learned. Teachers can use small group instruction to provide struggling students with intervention as well.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to size. Bigger is better versus less is more. In education circles, the latter is definitely the more universally accepted way to go.  In part because of the increased popularity of programs such as "Response to Intervention", small group instruction is now commonplace in most schools. Teachers see the value in this approach. Student-teacher ratios have always been a factor at the heart of school improvement conversations. In some ways, utilizing small group instruction on a regular basis can be a way to improve that student-teacher ratio.

Small group instruction gives teachers a natural opportunity to provide targeted, differentiated instruction for small groups of students.

It gives the teacher an opportunity to evaluate and assess what each student can do more closely and to build strategic plans for each student around those assessments. Students who may struggle to ask questions and participate in a whole group setting may thrive in a small group where they feel more comfortable and are not so overwhelmed.

  Furthermore, small group instruction is fast-paced which typically helps students maintain focus.

The biggest problem with small group instruction is establishing a routine and managing the other students whom you are not working directly in. In a class of 20-30 students, you may have 5-6 small groups to work with during small group instruction time. The other groups must be working on something. Students must be taught to work independently during this time. The easiest way to ensure that this is happening is to create several engaging center activities for the other students to work on. These activities reinforce skills being taught during whole group instruction and do not require new instruction freeing the teacher to work with one specific group. Students can then rotate from one station to another with each group eventually getting the small group instruction with the teacher.

Committing to making small group instruction work may not be an easy task. It is an approach that does take a lot of preparation time and effort. However, the powerful opportunities it provides can pay big dividends for your students. Ultimately, providing your students with high-quality small group instruction can make a significant academic difference for all of your students.