Setting Up Data Driven Reading Groups

Last week, I blogged about why I said goodbye to guided reading.  

But that doesn’t mean I gave up on small groups altogether.  

This teacher LOVES her some small group intervention time.

So, if not guided reading for literacy intervention, then what? 
Data driven groups.  That’s what.

But what does that look like?  Is it a complete 180 from guided
reading?  How much relearning am I really gonna have to do here? (Pssst:
not much.  It’s really much easier than you’d think!)

Let’s chat about data-driven reading groups.  I’ll walk you through a
sample class data set.  We’ll talk about how I assess, set up groups,
plan for them, and what my schedule for meeting with kiddos looks like!

Assess the Standards

In traditional guided reading, the first thing we did was test our kids’
reading level, right?  In
data driven reading groups, we also assess first!

But the evidence from the science of reading tells us that levelized readers
aren’t the best way to grow readers.  Levels can be subjective, and word
difficulty doesn’t consistently increase with the level.  The criteria
for leveling books is multi-faceted and so none of the components fully
consider word recognition.  

In data driven reading groups, I assess the standards.  To make it
simple, I started with the assessments the school I was at already required:
Acadience (formally, DIBELS)
and PAST.  There was no need
in adding additional stress with additional assessments–UNLESS I needed more

Acadience (DIBELS) takes
care of letter naming, segmenting sounds, decoding CVC words and Oral

PAST takes care of phonemic
awareness.  Beginning in 2nd grade, the MAZE (part of Acadience)
addresses some comprehension portions of reading.

As a kinder teacher (at the time I started data driven groups), those were all
of the assessments I needed.  And I was already doing them. 

What assessments is your school already requiring?  Can you use those to
find skills to target with your students?  If you are in a school that
still requires you to assess reading levels, are you also asked to use
Acadience/DIBELS with your kids?  If not, the full
Acadience and
PAST assessments are available
online for free and are surprisingly quick and easy!

Record the Data

Once I’m finished assessing my kids, I record the data.  Well, actually,
I record the data as I go, but who’s counting?? 🙂

I use
this digital data wall literally assess a kid and then type it in on my laptop.  This digital
template is already set up for first grade with the DIBELS and PAST benchmarks
already listed.  But it is easy to edit for the grade and assessments you
are using.

Then, after I’m finished assessing, I go back and color code my data for at
risk (very below), low risk (bubble kids), on grade level and above. 

Group By Data Points

Now, I’m ready to group my kids.  

I print out the grouping pages that I need from my
Data Driven Groups resource.  These three pages shown below are the ones I’ll be walking through in
this post.  You can find tons of different grouping pages

For my phonemic awareness groups, I printed out a
blank page
because all of the skills I need to address were on multiple pages…so I’m
just saving paper!  In the top category boxes, I wrote in each skill from
PAST that I need to address with at least one of my kids in my sample
class.  Then, I wrote the names of the kids for each category. 
Notice that for the PAST, kids are only in one category…the stage they are
currently working on becoming automatic at.  Also, notice I combined D1
& D2 and E2 & E3 because they are very similar and both skill groups
were very small.  When I do this, I just note which subskill each kid
needs to focus on so I can do that individually in the group.

For my phonics groups, I had some pre-alphabetic readers and early alphabetic
readers.  Not all of the skills need to be addressed with my kids, so
I’ll only use the columns I need.  Again, I wrote down the kids’ names
under EACH category they need help with.  Notice that for phonics, they
may be in multiple categories.  I will not put kids in two of the same
type of subcategories though.  For example, I will not have a kid in boy
the read VC and read CVC columns even if they can’t do both of those, because
they need to first focus on VC, then I can move them to CVC.  But I could
have a kid in read VC and spell beginning sounds, because those are different
types of sub skills–decoding and spelling.

I also have oral language and comprehension group pages as well that I can add
kids to.  Often times, my oral language kids are my ELL kids or low
language kids.  I can add those kids based on their ELL level or
anecdotally as I notice oral language skills that need more work.

I want to make sure every kid is in a group.  If not, I need to consider
what extension groups I could offer for those kids.  This is often where
my comprehension groups come in. And for those kids with great comprehension,
we work on writing their comprehension skills, like writing a retelling of a
story, etc.

Now that I have my kids listed in groups, I’m ready to plan!

Plan the Lessons

Once I sort out my groups, the planning starts.  This is where
data driven reading groups
become much, much simpler than guided reading.  I look at each skill
group and ask myself…

What content should I plan for this skill?  I preplan my list of words or letters we will work on for the
week.  I typically only work a week at a time because I like to adjust as
my kids grow or struggle.   

What supplies do I need to work on this skill?  For many groups, I will want some manipulatives like colored blocks or
felt squares for my phonemic awareness groups.  Dry erase markers, marker
boards….anything that I would need for those groups.  Then I get it all
together and make sure those things are organized and easily available near my
small group table.

I can add all of this information to my
lesson planning pages
and add them to my small group binder.  Now all I’ll need to do is open
up to our lesson plan and get started!

As a side note….the lesson planning page is basically the longer version of
the groups page.  You do you. 🙂  If you like one better than the
other, use it.  If you like both, go for it!  For me personally, I
like to do just the groups page and I keep a separate list of words by sound
or feature to reference!

Meet With Kids 

Remember stressing over your schedule with guided reading?   In my
head, I was like,
“Ok, 2 groups a day, but I have 5 reading groups.  2 of my groups need
to see me every day, but that won’t work.  Can I manage to just meet
with my highest group once or twice a week.  Wait, what about my bubble
  Am I right??

This is the main thing I LOVE about switching my small group mindset to
data driven groups.  There is no schedule.  No really.

For those of you who know me in real life, I know you are shocked. 
Because I LOVE me a schedule.  I LIVE by a schedule.  But this was
the most freeing part for me with data driven groups.  Remember those
group pages I filled out?

Those became my “schedule.”  Or, more accurately, my

So, how does that work? Well, because I am a Type A teacher, I just simply go
in order and use those columns like a checklist. 

In this sample class, I would start with my Phonemic Awareness Groups and meet
with that PAST level D group.  Then, I would add the date we met (and
minutes if needed for RTI) and any notes I had.  

As soon as I finished that group, I would call the next group, and so

For these skill groups I’m showcasing in this post, they are short. 
Sometimes just 5 or 10 minutes.  Maybe 15 minutes.  So I can fit way
more groups in than the old school guided reading groups. (Yes, I continued to
do reading groups with decodable texts.  That blog post is coming
next….hang tight!)

My main focus for small group time when I was in kinder was during their
center time.  The teacher I was long term subbing for used traditional
kinder centers.  I pulled during that time and I didn’t just pull one
group per center.  I just called a group back and moved on through the
groups, switching centers with my timer, not based on when I finished a

Other kinder teachers had the kids on a class set of Chromebooks doing
independent interventions while they pulled.  

The other **fabulous** thing about data driven groups is because they were so
short, I was able to meet with them throughout the day, not just during
centers.  If I had it together one morning and finished attendance early,
I could pull a skill group or oral language group during morning work.  I
pulled a group or two during snack time.  Or while kids were finishing up
their writing work.  Any part of my literacy block where I had a “free”
minute where I didn’t need to walk around and monitor kids, I could pull

So, in this sample class, I have a total of 14 skill groups.  Like I
mentioned before, these are not all of the skills or intervention groups I
would have.  This is just a sample!  Once I make it through all 14
groups, I start back over and do it over again.  

On average, I would say I had about 20 or so literacy skill groups in my
kinder class and was able to get through all groups at least once a
week.  But that doesn’t mean I only met with each kid once a week. 
In my sample class we’ve been using, that would mean that my highest kid,
“William” would be met with twice a rotation for just these skills and my
lowest kid, “Cooper” would be met with 7 times per rotation for just these

Want to use all the Data Driven Binder Organizational Things??  You can
find them

Okay.  Whoah.  That was a TON of info.  Maybe more than I
initially intended to share.  Have I convinced you to make the switch
yet?  What questions do you still have?  Drop your questions in the
comments and let’s keep the conversation going!

And next up on the blog, we’ll be talking about using decodable texts as a
reading group!