Teaching Phonics in Small Group

I love my small group time. Anyone who visits my classroom knows how important I think it is to meet with all my students every day. For me, this time with my students is where I get the most "bang for my buck," because it's the time I do the bulk of my phonics instruction. Now, I know many basals and curriculum guides do a lot of phonics whole group, but I firmly believe that because our students come in with such a variety of background knowledge with letters and sounds, we can make the best use of our time with tailoring our phonics instruction to meet their different needs.
At the beginning of the year, most of my students fall into three categories: 1) Those who know the majority of their letters and sounds 2) Those who know about half of their letters and/or sounds 3) Those who know very few letters or sounds. To start the year, this is how I make my 3 small groups {In Florida, we are capped at 18 kids, so I have 3 groups of 6 kids. However, last year I had 20 kids and did 7, 7, and 6}. Starting in the second or third week of school, I start small groups and all of my groups do the same alphabet lessons. You can read the details here, but it's basically a quick intro or review of the alphabet.
After we finish our 26 alphabet lessons, I do a quick assessment to determine if my groups need to change {which I continually do throughout the year - they are very fluid}. At this point, and moving forward, my 3 groups are never working on the same phonics skills. For my group that is solid with letters and sounds, we move on to blends and digraphs. For the group that is solid on letters, but needs work with sounds, we focus on beginning sounds, and for my group that still needs some work with letters and sounds, we repeat the 26 alphabet lessons.
Although my 3 groups are now working on different phonics focuses, the routine of their small group is essentially the same. Here's a little breakdown {You can click on the picture to download}.
First, we review either the alphabet or blends and digraphs. We chant these together, so we would say A, /a/, apple, B, /b/, ball, etc.
To grab this chart and the blends and digraphs chart, click the pictures below :).



After we chant our chart, we move on to sorts. This is where our phonics skill is our main focus. If we're working on beginning sounds, we might sort pictures under letters. If we're working on digraphs, we might sort pictures under digraph headers. When we move on to word families, we sort words and we do the same when we move on to vowel patterns.
For example, in April last year, my above level group was working on vowel patterns, so we sorted words that had a long a spelled -ay, short a, and long a spelled a_e.
My on level group was reviewing word families, and this week was working with short i, so we sorted -in, -ig, and -it words.

My below level group was reviewing some tricky sounds, so we sorted pictures according to beginning sound. 
While we sort the words or pictures, each student has a sorting mat that is in a dry erase sleeve and a dry erase marker to either write the word or letter that stands for the beginning sound of a picture. By doing this, everyone is engaged and not just watching me do something. It also helps handwriting!
You can grab all of the word sorts for word families and vowel patterns below, along with the student mat.

After we work with our phonics focus, we work on writing words. My students flip their dry erase sleeve over so they have a blank mat, and I either tell them a word to write {everyone writes the same word or we work on it together}, or I give them a card and they write the word. I use various cards from my different packs on TpT for this, and we start with CVC words and build from there. {The cards I like to use the most are from my CVC Mats and Long Vowel Mats because they're smaller}.

Next, we quickly review our sight words. Our county currently requires our students to know 65 sight words. We break these down in groups of 10 and work on them in small group so that groups that are moving more quickly can move ahead, and groups that need more support can get it. I usually use flashcards to do a quick review, and then we play some type of beat the teacher game.

Last, we read! This is my favorite time, and I try my best to not miss this part of our group. I think it is so important that I am reading with all my kids every day! We are fortunate at our school to have a Rigby library, so I have tons of leveled readers at my fingertips. I very much prefer these to decodable readers because they are a mix of decodable words, sight words, and words students have to use context clues and picture clues to figure out. The books I choose for my groups are at somewhat of a level that is difficult for students {but not way too hard}, so that they are getting a challenge {something else I strongly believe in, since I am there to guide them}. We usually do a choral read together first, and then we read it again and I might have one child be our lead reader while the others whisper read, all the boys might lead and the girls whisper {or vise-versa}, but no one is ever not reading or reading alone {so no round robin}. Here's a glimpse at the three levels my different groups were working in.

After my kids read their book in group, they go buddy read it to 2 other friends, which helps their fluency tremendously.
I hope this helps answer some questions about how I teach my small groups, and inspires you to make small groups a priority this year! You can do it!


  1. I am in LOVE with this post!!!! Thank you so much for writing it, and for providing this awesome freebie!!! Printing now!!!!!!

  2. Thank you so much for your post & the freebie! :)


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