Ideas for teaching low reading groups for maximum effectiveness


My stomach tightened a little as I pulled out my small group data sheet.

I had been working with a group of some of the lower readers pulled from each class in my grade level. I was taking care of the other teachers’ babies and I hoped they would be happy with my efforts.

“Wow!,” said one of my coworkers. “Those guys have really made some progress!”

Phew!! Big relief! And they wanted to know how I’d done it. Looking back on that year, these are the most impactful things I did with my low reading groups:


Effective instruction for low reading groups, ideas and techniques for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teachers


Make Time for Fluency


Research tells us that repeated reading of the same materials helps kids build their reading fluency.

It’s easy to build fluency into your reading group routine:

*At the beginning of group time have out a couple of books the kids have already read.

*Kids choose one and whisper read it to themselves.

*Listen to a couple of kids read each day to hold them accountable.


Phonics Review

I quickly noticed a big problem with my provided reading materials.

When I started working with struggling 2nd-grade readers, I was using the Soar to Success books which drill a specific phonics pattern in each book.  By the time we had read a book through a couple of times, kids were pretty good at the featured pattern.

However, a few days later they would see the same pattern in another book and wouldn’t remember it.

I quickly learned that “once and done” does NOT work for struggling readers.

They are struggling because they aren’t retaining and generalizing phonics patterns as well as their peers.  I made a series of booklets with a few phonics patterns and corresponding word lists on each page.  We would chorally read a few of these lists each day in our group.


Find out more about phonics mini books HERE

It was so helpful for kids to see the patterns again every few days just to keep those brain connections strong.


Use Visual Aids

The reading comprehension skills we teach kids are abstract so it helps to have some kind of visual to refer to.  I like having a few of my favorites in page protectors in my reading group binder so they are ready at a moment’s notice.  Here’s an example you can grab for FREE:

free sequence graphic organizer for teaching reading comprehension in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade classroom       free sequence graphic organizer for teaching reading comprehension in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd grade classroom
Find more reading comprehension graphic organizers HERE
It’s also helpful to have a few visuals for phonics.  It’s easier to remember what sounds each of the vowels makes if you have a chart to refer to with pictures.


Include Meaning

Don’t forget to spend a little bit of time on the meaning of the text, even with the low groups who read some of the duller stories.  Even if you just ask the kids who the characters were and what the problem and solution of the story was, you’re showing them that we read text to get meaning from it.


Maximize Reading Time

Reading group time is so precious and it’s easy to lose minutes to shuffling materials around, explaining things, waiting for kids to get ready, etc.

With the low groups, it’s especially important to spend as much of the group time reading as possible.  I decided this topic deserves its own chart:


How to make reading groups effective by maximizing time spent reading


Choral Reading: Whether you’re having students read flash cards, practice a phonics pattern, or reading a text, have them read it chorally.  That means everybody, out loud, all together. This doesn’t have to be noisy.  You can train your students to use a quiet voice.  Choral reading gives everybody a chance to read, every time.

Whisper Reading: Sometimes you will want to hear one student read at a time to check their progress.  While one student is reading to you, the others can be reading on their own with a whisper phone.  This way, no one is spending precious reading group time waiting around.



Transitions: Getting materials ready and all the right kids at your table can take a couple of minutes.  Make a habit of having books out (or train the kids to get them out) so they can silently/whisper read until the group is ready to start.  If you need a minute to get the next activity ready, have kids read over their sight word cards, previous text, or phonics word list.  You could even have one of the kids lead this, wouldn’t they love that!?

-Routines and Expectations: Reading groups run smoothly when kids know the order of activities.  If you’re consistent, they can help get materials out/put away quickly.  Behavior issues can bog down the pace of a reading group.  Don’t spend too much time giving warnings and redirections.  If someone cannot handle the group expectations, they can leave the group and read with you at lunch or recess.  It usually only takes one instance of this consequence for a student to get the message.


Pin this chart to come back to these ideas later!


what low group gurus do - ideas for making reading groups as effective as possible, for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teachers

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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.