Small Group Classroom Management Strategies

Small Group Classroom Management Strategies

At the end of our first quarter last year, I had to review my small group set up. At this point, my system had been in place 8-10 weeks. Even with some crazy interruptions, this is a good time to evaluate any classroom management system. You’ve probably given enough time to review your expectations and routine multiple times.

For small groups, in general, there are two options: Must Do/May Do lists or rotations/centers/stations.

In Must Do/May Do, students are given a list of tasks they need to accomplish, such as independent work based on a mini-lesson, writing, or computer program-related tasks like iReady or Raz Kids. After, they can choose from May Dos, which may include reading their own book, additional computer resources, reading game, or writing choice board. This works well, especially if you don’t have to differentiate much for students outside of their small group time. May Dos can also be a way to incorporate student choice.

While Must Do/May Do is an efficient system, I’ve been using a rotation system for the last few years. I have about an hour, and my groups rotate every 20 minutes. I can meet with about 2-3 groups daily.

Why do I like rotations? 

  • Students know how long they need to work. This helps students who are struggling with stamina or simply need a break. Super helpful for ADHD students!
  • Students anticipate when they can do more “fun” activities, what’s usually a “May Do” in the Must Do/May Do set up. No one misses out.
  • Students have screen breaks if any work is digital, since they’re only working for 20 minutes or less.
  • Student work can be more differentiated, which has been helpful because I tend to have a wide range of abilities.
  • Students know immediately when they hear the doorbell (or other attention getters), it’s time to move. 

Last year, based on my students’ work stamina (which is low!) and their learning needs, I kept my rotations simple. Independent work, meeting with the teacher, independent reading (their choice), and either writing, an extension activity, or computer time. Between those four, the goal is to have three per day. We kept working towards adding an additional activity, like a game or task cards to the list. 

Whichever system you choose, don’t get overly frustrated. Different systems work with different students. After several students moved and new students came (I work on a military base), I had to transition to a Must Do/May Do system. My new students weren’t able to easily manage our rotations. Next year, I’ll try to use rotations again, but I’m willing to switch if needed. Remember, the strength of a system doesn’t always go with the strength of the teacher’s management skills. Every class is different. As evidenced by my students who moved, the dynamics of a classroom are affected by even just one new student.

When you decide if you need a change, start by reviewing your procedures with your students, especially if it’s been a few weeks. Since you’ve given the direct instructions multiple times, have your students tell you what they’re supposed to do. They can point out visuals you have for reminders. If you realize they don’t remember, consider adding visuals like a “What if” anchor chart. “What if I can’t find my pencil?” “Ask a friend.” I created a simple “When it’s okay to interrupt” and “When it’s not okay to interrupt” chart for my students, and we also reviewed problem solving. If this doesn’t work, consider if you need to switch to a simpler approach.

When we added new students, we reviewed the expectations multiple times. Even with switching to Must Do/May Do, the same basic expectations were in place. Everyone knew what work needed to be done and to not interrupt my time with small groups unless it was an emergency. The priority for me as a teacher was to maximize that small group time and have my other students able to work independently.

Struggling with classroom management or small groups? Here are some tools you might find useful:

  1. Kickstart Your Classroom Management (5 Day FREE Email Course)
  2. Classroom Management Reboot Planning Guide FREE (if you already have a system, but need to reengage your students!)
  3. Tools for Small Group Reading: 5 Things Every Teacher Needs

Read more classroom management strategies here including the morning messages that changed my life!

The Morning Messages You Need and Three Reasons why these will change your classroom

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