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  • Writer's pictureKristin Phillips

Small Group Instruction as Proactive Feedback

We often think of guided reading or guided instruction as a primary technique, but really it is good for students at all grade levels.  When you plan for small group guided instruction you are being proactive in your approach.  You are using student work to guide your teaching decisions.

Small group instruction is an ideal way to provide effective feedback to students in all subjects.  As the students are working you are right there giving on- the-spot-as-they-work feedback.  Guided instruction is when students are doing their work as you observe and offer “guidance”.  They should be working on something that is slightly above what they could do independently.


  1. Guided Reading:   Students are reading a text with which they may struggle to read easily on their own.  You set the purpose for reading (eg. “In the first passage you will meet the main      character.  Think about what the author says he is like”).  You then  will guide the students through the story stopping to check for comprehension as you go.  You will  have already determined where in the passage it is important that the students pick up critical information.   You will help them to see how the author helps the reader to understand so that they can one day do it on their own.

  2. Guided Writing:  As students are working on their writing you are there to help with editing or word choice or text organization.  You will have thought ahead of time how to group your students around a common need (e.g. generating ideas or writing dialogue or embedding the plot in the dialogue or showing not telling).  You may start with a short mini-lesson and then help them to apply the teaching to their writing.

  3. Guided Mathematics:   Within the problem solving model, you may choose to group students      so that one group works with you.   Or, during practice time, you work with students who still have yet to master the concept.  You may work with a group to redo the previous problem in a supportive environment and  so that you can better understand their thinking.

  4. Guided Science/History/Geography:  often in these subjects there are some students who will require your help to access the text book.  You can use a guided lesson for this—how do they use the headings, make predictions or use new vocabulary.  Sometimes you will use guided      instruction to reteach concepts or help students make connections between ideas.

  5. Guided PE:   When a small group of students continues to struggle with a particular skill, you will want to work with them in a small group to help them master it, instead of trying to help them within the larger class where they would feel self-conscious.

  6. Guided Art or Music:  Small groups of students may be ready to learn particular techniques or to relearn them.  You could review with a small group the timing of a piece, how to play F sharp      or how to create effective brush strokes.

Small group instruction should be planned and purposeful.  It is a way to be proactive instead of reactive.  If you find that during work time you have a long line of students or you are constantly answering questions, then you are being reactive to the students’ issues.  If you plan to work with a group of students then you are being proactive and many of your issues and line ups will disappear.  Make sure that your students know not to interrupt you during guided instruction unless it is an emergency.  They can do that.  If you allow interruptions then your small group instruction will be disjointed and unfocussed.

Students have been working in small groups since kindergarten so don’t shy away from it in the later grades because you think the kids can’t handle it.  Always face the class and have the small group face you, away from the class.  You can always set a task for the small group and get up and deal with a class issue.  You will have fewer interruptions if you have easy-to-manage washroom routines and “experts” in the class that students can turn to for help.

You should do more small group instruction than you do large group instruction for most concepts.  In most classes your introduction should be about 7-15 minutes long.  Students should be working in groups or independently for the bulk of the class time.  You may have some time at the end to debrief.

Small group instruction is part of your regular practice when you realize that most of your day has been spent working with small groups of students, not standing in front of the class or sitting at your desk or wandering around seeing who needs help.  With small group instruction you are being proactive with your time which is precious enough.  It helps you to make every moment count.

Write it into your daybook plans.  It won’t happen if you don’t plan for it. 

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