How to Use Reading Strategy Groups in Your Classroom

Learn how implementing strategy groups totally changed one teacher's perspective on reading instruction.

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Reading Strategy Groups

Reading used to be my least favorite subject to teach.

I didn’t feel like I was helping my students grow as readers; they weren’t making the progress I wanted to see. That all changed when I started using reading strategy groups.

Guided Reading vs. Strategy Groups

During college and my first years of teaching, guided reading was the way to teach reading. I attended dozens of trainings, watched videos of other teachers doing guided reading groups, and planned hundreds of lessons.

Despite all the effort I was putting in, I just wasn’t seeing much growth in my students’ reading abilities. I spent hours selecting books and planning lessons. I modeled all the strategies. My students just weren’t able to apply them independently.

I first heard about strategy groups when I switched to a reading workshop model. While the students were reading independently, I started to pull small groups of students who all needed help with the same strategy.

The thing I love most about strategy groups is that they focus on my students’ needs. They are only in the groups that focus on the strategies they need to practice. The rest of the time they are engaged in meaningful reading.

Let's break it down:

  Guided Reading Strategy Groups
Text All students read the same book. Students bring their just-right books.
Reading Level All students are on the same reading level. Students are at a variety of reading levels.
Length 15-20 minutes 10 minutes
Activities Word work, fluency practice, comprehension skills Focus on 1 reading strategy
Flexibility Groups stay the same for most of the year Groups change daily or weekly

How to Implement Strategy Groups in Your Classroom

1. Collect data on your students.

To form strategy groups, you're going to need to know your students' strengths and weaknesses in reading. You can use a benchmark assessment, individual conferences, or weekly assessments to collect data.

Every Friday, my students take a quick four-question quiz on the reading standard we covered that week. I use that data to form strategy groups for the following week.

2. Use your data to form strategy groups.

I try to keep my strategy groups to about four or five students. I look at my Friday assessment and put students who missed question #1 in a strategy group. That group focuses on the most basic level of the standard. For example, if I'm teaching character traits, we'll look at a list of character traits and pick one to describe the character. Then, we'll go back into the text to find evidence.

Other groups are working on writing to explain why they chose a specific character trait and choosing more interesting words to describe a character. Despite what third graders may think, nice and good are not the best adjectives to use for character traits.

I use data from my individual student conferences to form strategy groups based on fluency and accuracy. If I see three students who are struggling with putting endings on words, I'll pull them in a strategy group and review this skill.

3. Decide how you will teach the lesson to the group.

The easiest way to teach a strategy group is to have the students bring their independent reading books to the group. This cuts out a lot of the planning time. I used to spend hours gathering materials for my guided reading groups. Now, if the strategy can be found in most books, I just have the students bring their books to group.

If I'm teaching a strategy that I don't think will be in all of their books, like making inferences, I will choose a short passage that lends itself to that strategy. Then, I'll send my students off to look for it in their own books.

All strategy group lessons have the same basic parts:

  • Set the purpose: Let the students know why you have brought them together. What are you going to be teaching them?
  • Model: Use a text and model the skill you want them to learn.
  • Guided Practice: Have the students try to apply the skill while you coach them.
  • Give an Assignment: Tell the students what you want them to work on during their independent reading time to improve their reading.

My strategy groups usually last about 10 minutes. Then, I follow up with my students during reading workshop time to see how they are applying the lesson.

4. Decide when you will meet with groups.

I meet with strategy groups during our RtII time and during reading workshop. I'm usually able to meet with two groups during RtII after getting the rest of my class started on another activity.

During reading workshop time, I pull a group right after my minilesson. Then, I spend the rest of the time conferencing with students. That's when I check in with my higher students who didn't need a strategy group that day or I see how the students are applying the skills they learned in the strategy group.

Learn more about how to set up reading workshop in your classroom.

Strategy Group Success

Since I started using strategy groups in my classroom, I have seen so much growth in my students! They are applying the reading strategies, and they are spending so much more time interacting with books. Watching my students develop into strategic readers has completely changed my feelings toward teaching reading. Now, it’s my favorite subject to teach.

Download my Strategy Group Planning Sheet. Just click “Make a Copy,” and start planning your groups today.

What is your favorite strategy for reading instruction? Share with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Author Bio:

Tara Dusko is a 3rd-grade teacher and mom of two. She blogs about ways to have a fun, low-stress year as a teacher at Teach Without Tears and about time and money-saving tips for moms at Flavors, Fashion, and Fun.

Want more from this author? Check out Tara's tips for relieving your students' test-taking anxiety, managing a chatty class and her money-saving ideas for teachers.
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