How I Differentiate ELA Small Groups

A couple of years ago, I was working in a low income school with low literacy scores. My kids needed support in ELA and, with 29 students, it was ridiculously time-consuming to analyze their iStation data and try to create individual small group interventions for them. 

Enter: Miss DeCarbo on a white horse waving her ELA Intervention Binder in the air. 

Y’all. She is amazing and this binder helped my kids improve SO much during our second semester! In December, I think eight of my 29 students had consistently been Tier 3. By May, six of them had moved up to Tier 1 or 2! 

Here’s how I use the binder to provide individual instruction at my teacher table: 
I split up the ELA binder into several smaller binders. This makes it easy for multiple children to work at once. 

Split it Up
First of all, instead of putting all of the contents in one binder, I split up the eight sections into colorful 3-ring binders:

Red: Letter Identification & Letter Naming
Orange: Letter Sounds & Phoneme Segmentation
Green: CVC Words & Blends/Digraphs
Blue: Nonsense Words & Fluency

Pink: This is actually Edition 2 (it covers things like diphthongs and vowel teams) Kindergarten is NOT expected to get to these skills, but many of them do, so I tell them they’re getting a “head start” on 1st grade 🙂 

I put each and every sheet into a sheet protector. Did this take a long time? Yes. BUT I did it two years ago, when I first bought this packet and those same sheets are still going strong! My kids use dry erase markers to work in the books. Then we just wipe each page off with a tissue before flipping to the next one! It saves a ton of time and paper in the long run! 

(Related: Best Organization Containers for Your Classroom)

Each child has an envelope and a card that shows them which book to get out. Yellow means they are practicing fluency in our classroom decodable readers. 
Individualize It
Having the packet split up into different books makes it easier to have each child at the table working on their own individual level. I give each child a Post-It with their name on it to stick on the top of the page they’re on. When they sit down, they know exactly where to pick up! 

(Read: Best TPT Products for Classroom Organization)

Once a week (on Thursdays), I transfer the most important notes from their index cards into my Student Data binder. 

Track Their Progress
Next to my teacher table, I have a bulletin board of pocket envelopes with each child’s name. Inside each one is an index card that they bring when they sit down at my table. I write notes about what I observe while working with them, such as “mixes up lowercase t and j” or “confuses /a/ and /e/”. The colored index card on top just shows which color book I need to get out for each child. 

This is super helpful while writing report cards and during conferences because it allows me to remember all of the little things I might have otherwise forgotten! Once they fill up one card, I simply get another index card and staple it on top. I have a date stamper so I can keep track of the dates. I also like to record monthly videos of each child’s progress to post to their individual stories on Class Dojo! This helps the parents see just how much progress they’re making from month-to-month and lets them see how they can help at home!

(Related: How I Organize My Lesson Planner)

They LOVE getting to use these little items during their reading! I also have Miss Decarbo’s Text Evidence passages, (equally amazing as her ELA binder) which is what those highlighters are used for!

Make it Interactive
I love Miss DeCarbo’s ideas about using pointers and googly eyes to make this a more kinesthetic learning activity! I have little containers of magnetic letters, dry erase boards, Unifix cubes, mirrors, and other things to make intervention more hands-on. Whenever a child gets stuck on a certain skill/level, we stop and I reteach the material in a hands-on way until the he or she achieves 80% mastery or higher on the current page. 

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Signing up to work at rest time/free choice it 100% voluntary, and they watch this board like hawks for a spot to open up! 
Motivate Them
Originally, I let them choose a sticker each time they get to a new “level” (skill). However, as the year goes on, they get pretty driven by thinking about each section as a level, and they frequently ask if they can come work during free choice! My list of kids wanting to work during their free choice started getting so long that I created this little pocket chart as a “waiting list”. 

When they want to work during free choice, they just get out their laminated name card and put it on the list. Once I work with a child, I take his/her name off, and another spot opens up on the list. I have used this small group system for three years now, in a turnaround school and in a private school, and the student motivation to work on reading has been exactly the same! 

(Related: Encouragement for First Year Teachers)

If you want to see more posts like this, check out the Organized Teaching tab at the top of the page!
This intervention binder has worked in my Kindergarten room for intervention as well as a normal workshop rotation. By Spring, my Kindergarteners can get out the book, dry erase marker, and index card and work independently! I either check their work, or have a child who’s already passed that level check it. 

This binder is $21 on TpT, but I probably use it 160 days of the school year… which is worth it to me! 🙂

How do you run your small groups? Do you have any tips for differentiating or keeping your system efficient? Share them below! 

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