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Small group 2nd grade

Small Group Time in 2nd Grade- EXPOSED!

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Lately, I’ve been receiving so many questions about how I run my small group in 2nd grade. So, I thought I would try to address all those questions and more in a blog post.

Small group 2nd grade

Now, before I begin sharing, I have to come clean about a few things when it comes to small group instruction.
  1. Until VERY recently… I hated small group time. (As in just a few years ago…)
  2. I’ve spent 6 years trying to find the “perfect” small group time routine and I am still working on it (and I am pretty sure I will continue working on it for the next 20 years because there is just always something new and your kiddos are NEVER the same!)
  3. The state I teach in (Florida) requires I have 60 minutes of small group time (for reading) a day.
  4. What I am about to share with you is what works for me in my classroom at the moment. It is not the be all end all. I am not the authority of small group time. It took me a lot of trial and errors to get to this point.

Small Group in 2nd Grade

Ok… Now that I’ve gotten that off my shoulders let’s dive into my small group time!

How is Center Time Organized?

I like to keep things simple. The thing that works best for me in second grade is three groups and three stations.  In the past, I’ve done six groups and six centers, four groups and NO CENTERS (only a packet of work-which I hated!) and even student choice centers of ten buckets a week. I found all them exhausting, hard to manage, and hard to keep up with. That is not to say they are not good methods. I’ve seen these structures work wonders in classrooms before, they just weren’t my style. I like to keep it simple/streamlined and so I’ve stuck with three and three!


Sample small group schedule for 2nd grade- in this model, teacher is able to meet with students everyday. Small Group in 2nd grade-TheAppliciousTeacher.com


So that’s a general layout of how I organize my groups and rotations so I can see every student every day. Remember, this is what works for me. You may have different issues, like when another teacher comes to pull students or something, so don’t worry about making it perfect right away. You’ll have time to revamp and tweak as you go.

A Simple Three Center Set Up

Like I said earlier, I like to keep things super simple in my room! That means three groups and three centers.

My three stations are:

  1. Teacher
  2. Independent work
  3. Group work

Teacher Station:

This is when students come to see me! For Teacher station, I work to see EVERY GROUP EVER DAY! I’ve never fully understood this notation that because a student is working well or excelling in a subject, it means they don’t need anytime with the teacher. Every kid deserves time with a teacher! I couldn’t imagine being told by a teacher that my son doesn’t receive small group instruction because he’s doing well.
Independent Station:
This is a time for students to practice working independently. Sometimes they’re reading a book and completing an activity, sometimes it’s a leveled worksheet, and sometimes it’s an actual group activity with an independent piece at the end.
Group Work:
At this center, students work with their group to complete an activity. I try to make this a hands-on game, a computer activity using my laptop and the overhead, or a group reading.
Like these signs? You can grab them here

How Many Kids in Each Group?

With three centers and three groups, ideally, I’d only have six students in each group. We are hard capped at 18 students in the state of Florida. This year though, I have five in my low group, six in my on, and seven in my high. These groups are flexible and I often pull kids from other groups to come to my center depending on the lesson I’m teaching.
I love the flexibility of this and encourage all teachers to group your students homogeneously at first, but be willing to use your data to either frequently rework groups, or do spot pulls throughout the week.

Here’s an example of how I used flexible grouping in my classroom this year. Read here about how I comb through my data.

After completing my beginning of the year DRA assessments, I placed my students into three groups:

  • on-level (DRA 16-20) 
  • below-level (DRA 14 and below)
  • above level (DRA 20+)

From there, we worked on general guided reading lessons for second grade-mostly focusing in on reading fluency and reading comprehension. After a few weeks (and some more data) I reworked my below and on-level group. I noticed that a few of my students who had higher DRA scores leaving 1st grade were still struggling with phonics. My phonics instruction routine more intense in my lower group (with daily practice instead of just a few times a week). 

I also noticed one of my higher students struggled with vocabulary, so any time I worked on vocabulary lessons with my on-level group, I pulled that student to double dip. This meant that student sat for their own lesson, then came again when I was meeting with the on-level group.  This type of flexibility allowed me to give my students what they needed right then and there, not when I finally decided to rearrange groups. 


How Do You Differentiate Your Centers?

This is a biggie and the hardest! I used to differentiate more last year and the beginning of this year, and then I got tired… REAL tired. (I’m being honest, folks!) So… I got lazy and started putting the same activities for each group of kids at every center. Sometimes it worked… sometimes not so much. But then, I noticed an uptick in behavior issues at centers. Students were finishing too fast or not at all… Then, I remembered that as tired as I am, there really is no excuse to not give students what they need. I just needed to find a way that worked for both my students AND me.
So, I got to brainstorming easier ways to differentiate.
Some simple (read: not too much prep work) ways I found to differentiate:
  • Having students fill out specific information on different level books. If we’re studying central topic this week, each group will have a different level of book to read and ID the topic and supporting details. For my lower kids, I’ll often have part of the activity started to keep them on track.
  • Using the same center activity in different ways- like I spoke about here.
  • Using the same activity, but providing different extensions for the activity for each group. I’ve done this with older centers I have that are not necessarily rigorous. For example,  after completing a syllabic word activity, I might have my lower group create sentences using the words. My on-level group might do a story with the words and my highest group would write a story, then come up with their own multi-syllabic words for the next group to use.
  • Pulling different leveled worksheets on the same concept and put them into separate folders (Like I talk about here).
  • Using different leveled material that covers the same concept. I do this often with sight word games. I might have only review units (or even 1st grade words) for my lower kids (aligned with where they are currently in their sight word acquisition) Whereas my on level kiddos would do the same game using words we are currently working on, and my highers would be using future words/3rd grade words.

How Do You Keep Your Kids Quiet?

I am not a fan of the “quiet classroom” notation. When did it become the norm that quiet = engaged?
I do not expect my students to be quiet during centers.
To me conversing is learning. In the workplace, some of my best thinking is done through conversing with a teammate. I do, however, expect them to use level one voices (whispers) and to complete their work. If students can’t handle this, then they are not being responsible (one of our classroom expectations) and they have to move a clip. (You can read more about my positive classroom management system here)
I have found though that you do need to have certain structures in place to run a successful center time. Things to keep in mind when organizing your small group time:
  • What are students expected to do while you are teaching your small group lesson? Make sure it is clearly explained.
  • What should students do if they complete their centers before time is up? Downtime is where most kiddos find themselves getting into trouble. Prevent this! Have routines in place so students know exactly what to do if they finish early. Mine? Read a book or work on unfinished work!
  • How do students get help? I like the three before me rule. This year, I’ve also instituted a class genius who is in charge of answering questions during small group time (highly coveted position!) After asking three people in their group AND the genius, then they can come ask me.

Where Do You Get Your Activities?

Well… LOTS of places! Some I make and some I grab off TpT. Small Group in 2nd Grade- Center activities that you can use all year for 2nd grade-The Applicious Teacher
Click here or the picture to snag 2nd-grade reading centers for the entire year!

I also found that having a few center games prepped and ready to go made life waaayyy easier. Instead of worrying about what activities my students were going to complete, I could just walk right over to my centers filing cabinet, grab out a station activity and BAM! Center was ready to go.

So, I started using my summers as a time to make, print, and prep a few activities. After 2 summers, I was fully stocked on stations that were standards-aligned, differentiated, and easy to pull and go!

Some are just things I create using resources in my classroom! Never underestimate the power of a book, sight word cards, and “I Have, Who Has Games”!  Most of my center activities are focused on what we are learning that week in reading, although I do sometimes throw review centers, or general skills centers in every once in a while to keep it fresh. Two that I use often? This one and this one!

How Do You Manage All the Recording Pages?

I am a HUGE fan of the “Unfinished Work” folder idea. At the beginning of the year, students choose one folder to be their “Unfinished Work” folder. In years past I’ve done specific colored folders, but this year I didn’t.  We label each pocket, “unfinished” and “finished”. Anything that doesn’t get done, gets put in the “unfinished” side. Center work that is completed gets put in the finished side. (Whole group work gets turned in to my “finished work bin”.)
This year, at the end of the week, instead of formal center rotations, I did a “Catch-Ups and Pickles”.  Students who are not completed with their work, use this time to “Catch-Up” and those who are done are allowed to “Pickles” their reading based activities. This unstructured center time is a great time for me to reteach lessons, pull students for assessments, or conference with students one on one. This is a wildly popular time in my room!
But that paper thing…
Ok… here’s a little secret… I don’t always have my kiddos complete a page when they are done with their activity.
Because I don’t always need to “see” that they completed a center.  These kinds of centers are often games where completing the center is enough for me. I will also often only print 6 copies of the recording sheet and slip them into page protectors. Gotta help the environment in some way!  I will often have kiddos write responses in their RRJ’s after a center, which also cuts down on the paper being used during centers.


Small group routine for 2nd grade- Ever wondered what another teacher's center time looks like? This post pulls back the curtain on small group and explains how one teacher was able to rework her schedule so that she can see every student, everyday. TheAppliciousTeacher.com

Do you, boo!

So all this is to say this is what is currently working in my classroom with my schedule and my students. I always keep an open mind about how things are going in my room and have no issue changing things up if they just aren’t working. (Like that one time I had to add another group because I had too many low kids and we just weren’t getting along well in the groups!) The moral is: do you, boo! See what works and what doesn’t. As long as your students are your guide, you can’t go wrong!

WHEW! What a post! I know I probably only scratched the surface with some of your questions, but I hope this at least helped you get an idea of what my small group time looks/feels like. How do you structure your center time? Is there anything else you would like to hear more about? This *may* have to be a 2 part-er!


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Hi, I'm Leigh.

The Applicious Teacher is all about creating hands-on and engaging lessons that align with the standards while still having time for your life. This is your place for ideas, tips, and resources for the REAL teacher!


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