As you may know, small group instruction is a vital part of any elementary classroom. Small groups allow you to provide instruction that meets each child or group of children right where they are at the time, not where the curriculum says they should be. Furthermore, it provides students a chance to practice specific skills and get immediate teacher feedback. For these reasons, small group time should be a HUGE priority in the classroom. As you know, though, time in the classroom is extremely limited – which means small group time is extremely limited. Each and every minute you have with those kiddos is precious, and that time should be used to it’s fullest potential. That’s why I am telling you about 10 materials you can use to keep your small group area organized and ready to go! I have personally used each of these items, and they have helped me so much. I hope they can do the same for you!
10 Materials to Keep Your Small Group Area Organized
1. Stick-On Dry Erase Dots
These brightly colored dots are the perfect addition to your small group table. They function as dry erase boards, which means you can get rid of your regular dry erase boards. This saves you the time you would usually spend passing out boards, reminding students to keep their boards on the table, refereeing arguments over boards, and so on. Plus, the kids think it’s really cool to write on the table! These dots also work very well as space definers. Instead of students squabbling over where exactly their spots are or how close they are to each other, each child has their own clearly defined area. Finally, these dots are easy to install and easy to move. Just peel and stick wherever you want them. An easy way to keep your small group area organized during groups!
2.Slim Supply Baskets
During small group instruction, students need supplies. To make this quick and easy, I have an individual supply basket for each student that stays at the small group table. You can have the trays already set out when students come to group, so everyone has all of the materials they need right there. This also prevents students from arguing over supplies or worrying that they won’t have what they need. In each supply basket, I usually keep: 2 sharpened pencils, an eraser, a dry erase marker, a dry erase board eraser (or a small square of felt), a highlighter, and 2 different colored markers. In the upper grades, you may also consider adding some post-it notes or notecards. After small groups are over, I stack them up and store them with my other small group materials, which helps keep my small group area organized from day to day.
3. Cardboard Magazine Holders
When I teach small groups, I like to have the materials for each group ready to go as soon as the students come to the table. Cardboard magazine holders are a great way to keep each group’s materials organized. You can place the holders on their side on a shelf behind or next to your small group table for easy access. Then, you can use a post-it or tape to label each box. I like to write the group name/number, the students in that group, and the reading level or math focus skill on each label. In each box, I put the books, manipulatives, worksheets, or other materials that I will use. That way, you can just grab whatever is in the box and are ready to teach! This keeps my materials organized and prevents my small group table from becoming too cluttered. You can find them on Amazon (click on the picture for a direct link!), at most teacher stores, or at office supply stores. Some schools even give them to their teachers for free (if you’re lucky!).
4. Planning Binders
Another useful tool to keep your small group area organized is a planning binder. I usually keep one for guided reading and one for guided math. In each binder, I have data sheets to track class and student progress, as well as planning sheets for each group. Along with the planning sheets, I have space to make notes during group. This is a great way to stay organized both with your small group planning as well as your data collection. You can also use your binders to organize student information for the year, which helps with small groups and for your classroom in general.
5. Marius Stools from Ikea
Most teachers use regular classroom chairs as the seating for their small group table, but this takes up a lot of space and can be a hassle, especially if students have to bring the chairs from their spots to the table. A better option to keep your small group area organized: these simple stools! They come in different colors and fit comfortably under any small group table. You can easily fit 6 stools at a regular sized table, and they stack on top of each other for convenient storage. Plus, the kids love them! I use the Marius stools from Ikea, but any stool would work. One teacher I know found cheap wooden stools at a yard sale and painted them with beautiful bright colors. It looked so good! One note of caution about the Marius stools: Make sure you keep the screws tightened. They can sometimes loosen, which makes the stools a bit wobbly. This can be distracting and even dangerous, so make sure you check the screws occasionally.
6. Reusable Dry Erase Pockets
Sometimes, you have a worksheet you want students to complete, but you don’t want to collect it. Since they are doing it during small group time, you will literally be sitting there watching them complete it. This is the perfect time to break out your reusable dry erase pockets! They come in a variety of colors and can be used over and over again with dry erase markers. Not only does this save your copy numbers, but it also cuts down on the amount of paper piling up in your small group area. You can use them with any worksheet, your students get to practice the skill with your immediate feedback, and you can use the worksheets again with the next group or the next year. A perfect way to keep your small group area organized from year to year!
7. Magnetic Letter Trays
A major component of small group reading will be word work, especially in the lower grades. Ideally, this time will include hands-on activities, as research shows that many students learn best kinesthetically. That is why it is helpful to have letter trays prepped and ready! Here’s what you do: First, buy some small metal cookie trays. Then, print a sheet with the alphabet on it. I find it helpful to add two of each vowel, because you often need them to build words. Make sure the sheet fits in the tray you have purchased. Next, glue or tape the printed alphabet inside the tray and put a magnetic letter on each printed letter. Keep these trays in a stack behind your small group table and use them whenever you want students to build or manipulate words. This keeps your small group area organized because you don’t have letters everywhere!
8. Math Manipulatives
Just as having tangible letters to manipulate helps students learn words, having math manipulatives often helps students learn and visualize math concepts. During small group math, I like to keep a variety of math manipulatives close at hand. You can keep them organized in tubs behind your small group table, one tub for each type of manipulative. This way, whenever you need them, you can just pull out the right tub!
Sometimes, you need to use small group time to review math facts, sight words, letters, or other things. For this purpose, it is useful to keep a variety of flashcards at your small group area. This way, you can pull them out whenever you have a few extra minutes, or when you notice a certain group just needs some more time to practice. If the flashcards are already there, you don’t need to do any more prep or waste small group time finding materials! You can either buy flashcards or create your own.
10. Post-Its and Note Cards
At my small group table, I always have some extra post-its and note cards because they can be used for so many different things, especially during guided reading. You can use post-its as a bookmark, to record anecdotal notes about students, to have students answer an exit slip-type question, for students to make notes as they read or do a math problem, or to practice math facts. You can easily color code them for different purposes, too. Note cards are also useful. They can be used as flashcards, to record student responses, to take anecdotal notes, and many other things.
Hopefully, you have discovered some materials to help keep your small group area organized and your groups running smoothly. This time is such an important component of a successful classroom, and I hope this post helps small group time become the best part of your day!
Are there any other materials that you use to keep your small group area organized? If so, please leave a comment below or send me an email!