Planning a Small Group Lesson That’s Science of Reading Aligned

I get questions and DMs all the time about lesson plans for small
groups.   For teachers (like me), that “grew up” teaching small
groups, it’s part of our DNA.  Yet, we know now that guided reading is
not the way. 

Over the last several years, I’ve dedicated this space to sharing
why I said goodbye to guided reading.  And then, sharing
how I set up small groups that aligned with the science of reading.  If you haven’t read
those posts, and want more background, go read those now and then come
back!  We will wait for ya! 🙂

Today, let’s talk about what makes a good, research based reading group lesson
plan.  From start to finish.  We will talk about lesson planning a
decoding-focused small group, choosing materials for the lesson, and what the
actual lesson looks like!  And most importantly, it will be familiar
enough for us small group loving teachers, but still aligned to the science of

Assessing and Placing Kids In Small Groups

I’m not going to go into lots of detail about how I assess kids since I spill
ALLLLLL the details on that in
this blog post, but I will say that for decoding focused groups, I use
these decoding screeners
to help me decide who needs to work on what decoding skill! 

When I’m finished assessing decoding levels at the beginning of the year, I
this record
to update throughout the year.

Our decodable reader sets have checkups at the end of each set that I use as
formative assessments in between our benchmark assessments at the beginnning,
middle and end of the year. As kids master a decoding skill, I update our
record sheet.

The record sheet is how I group my kids.  I write down the lowest
decoding level for each kid and group them in this folder accordingly.

(The teams I’ve taught with in the past have worked together to combine
groups as needed so that none of us has more than 4-5 groups.  For
example, if I only have 2 CVC kids, and my partner teacher has 4, I will
give her my 2 CVC kids and that frees up a group for me to take some extra
CVCe kids or whatever.  Maybe I’ll blog about that process in the
future…. let me know if you’d be more interested in hearing about all of

Focused Lesson Planning for Small Groups

Once we have our groups organized, we are ready to plan the

The first thing I do is write down the focus sound we need to work on and the
title of the book or passage I will be using.  In case it’s not clear
yet, I do NOT used leveled readers.  Period.  I only use decodable
texts.  These decodable readers to be specific.  

Warning: Some texts are labeled “decodable” and far from it. 
In order to be a true decodable, the majority of words should be words
that are currently or previously have been taught.  The scope and
sequence of the decodables should align with the science of reading. 
And the books should actually be interesting!  That’s exactly why I
created these K-2 decodables.

Once I have my decodable text planned, I start honing in on each of the 4
parts of a decoding small group reading lesson plan:
Activate, Preview, Read, and Retell.

Let’s take a closer look at each one of them.

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Activate

The first part of a decoding small group lesson is activate.  The purpose
is to review or teach the focus sound of the text.  In this kindergarten
lesson plan
example, we are focusing on the
short o sound
in CVC words.  I chose some words to practice blending.  These will
be 3-5 words that come straight from the
we will read.  For this example, I chose the words
pin, cop, top, pot, and pops

Pin should be a review word because these kids have already mastered short
i.  They have already learned the letter sounds for the consonants p, n,
c, t, and s, so the only new sound should be /o/.

There are all kinds of ways to blend the words, so I will write how I plan to
blend them as well.  A few blending practice ideas that I use are…

  • Use magnetic letters to build and blend each word.  
  • Have students write each word on dry erase boards and blend.
  • Write the word on your dry erase board and have students use their arm to
    tap and blend the sounds.
  • Use pencil boxes with sand in them to let kids write the word in sand and
There are obviously more ways, but these are my favorite and go to
ideas.  For this lesson, we will build and blend each word because it
will be one of their first exposures to this new sound.  I love using
these word building mats to help us.

The last part of activating is scanning the text for vocabulary words.  I
will list out any words I think we need to talk about their meaning.  My
kindergarten reading lesson plan example does not have any vocab words so we
will skip this part, but for
this 2nd grade decodable reader, I wrote down the words fetch and hutch.  We will quickly go
over what these mean and I will have a photo of a hutch to help teach that

The activate section should take about 5-10 minutes depending on the number of
words and how use choose to activate!

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Preview

Back in our guided reading days, this part was called the “Picture
Walk.”  But previewing is slightly different.  In a guided reading
picture walk you are basically giving away the story so that the kids know how
to guess and read based on the pictures.

A preview is not about guessing.  It’s about building some background
knowledge to support comprehension of the text. 

In our
kindergarten reading lesson plan
example, I will show kids the cover and say, this book is called,
Pop! Pop!  It is about things that make a popping sound.  What kinds of
things do you know about that can pop?  

We will list out things that can pop.  Then, I will say, “Let’s read to
find out what pops in this book.”  In this way, we have given them a
preview of what’s to come in the book without giving it away AND given
them a purpose to read the book.

This preview and purpose section is VERY short.  Like 2-3 minutes.
Max.  Don’t spend too much time here so that you can get to the real meat
of the lesson…

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Read

Now that we have activated their decoding skills, previewed the book and given
kids a purpose for reading, we are ready to READ!

This part of the lesson depends on your kids.  If it is a review, you may
want them to just read independently and listen in to individual kids to
record how they are reading the decodable book. 

If it is a brand new skill, you may want to read together!  However you
choose to read, I like to give us time to read it at least 3 times to give
them rereading practice.  

For my kindergarten
reading lesson plan
example, we will choral read together one time and then I will let them read
independently the next 2 times.  For my 2nd grade reading lesson plan
example, they will read it twice independently and then we will read it
together to review.

As they are reading independently, I like to listen in and record how kids are
reading and decoding.  This is just an informal way to check in with
kids, track our interventions for RTI purposes, and share with parents or
other colleagues on how a kid is doing.

The reading part of the lesson can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending
on the length of the book.

Decodable Small Group Lesson Plan: Retell

Once we have read the book 3 times, we are ready to focus on
comprehension.  Full disclosure, most of the time we stop here for the
day and come back to this part the next day.  It just depends on how long
it takes to get through the lesson.  I like to keep small group lessons
20 minutes or less.  If we are under 20 minutes and I really just want to
quickly do the retelling, we will just orally go through the steps and be

But, if we’ve already been working for 20 minutes, I save the retell part for
the next meeting time.  At that point, I will have kids jump in and start
independently reading the decodable text right away for 5 minutes or so as a
review and then we will move into retelling.

I start by planning a language or comprehension goal.  For this 2nd grade
reading lesson plan
example, we will be practicing retelling using key details. 

Our focus question is, “What key detail is most important from the
beginning/middle/end of the story?”

We will use one of the retelling graphic organizers from this small group
planning resource and fill this out together!

Retelling orally can take 3-5 minutes.  But if we work on writing the
retelling with a graphic organizer and go more in depth, it will take 15-20
minutes and need to be done as a follow up lesson.

A Few Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use this same reading lesson plan format for whole group reading

Yes!  This lesson structure works great for whole group when teaching on
grade level decoding skills and texts.  It may take a little longer, and
could actually be stretched out across several days, but I have used this very
successfully in kindergarten and first grade.  You can read more about my
whole group decodable routines for the week

Where do you store the materials and plans to stay organized?

The decodable books are stored in tubs with labels for each skill set.

I also keep a binder that has the current weeks lesson(s) for each
group.  I use these color-coded tabs to correlate with the color group
they are in on my groups folder. In each tab pocket, I keep the lesson plan
and book for that group.

How do you have time to write multiple lesson plans each week for multiple

I don’t! Ha!  It’s more work in the beginning, but as you go, you will
reuse the lessons over and over.  The key is to keep the lesson plan copy
after you write it and put it in a small group lesson plan folder.  Use
tabs to organize them by the skill.  

The next time you are needing to use that same book or skill, you will already
have a lesson plan ready to go!  And if you are blessed like I have been
to work with a great team, you can have a grade level binder of lesson plans
that everyone is filling up and you will be shocked how fast you can get
dozens of small group lessons ready to pull and teach!

Where can I find the resources used in these lessons?

All of the lesson plan templates, teacher organization tools and graphic
organizers are in
this small group planning resource.

You can shop all of the decodable texts here.  You can find a decodable reader that focuses on any phonics skill
from kinder to second grade–from letter sounds to greek and latin roots!

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