Reading Level Groups vs. Strategy Groups

We all know that teaching reading in small groups is an effective way to help students improve their reading. But not all reading groups are created equal.

Traditionally, reading groups in the classroom have been organized by reading level, but more recently, teachers are making the shift to “strategy groups”, or reading groups organized by a specific reading strategy or skill. I would like to discuss both ways of grouping students and provide a diagnostic solution that will help you create data-based reading groups.

Benefits of Reading Groups

  • Small groups allow for individualized attention. When there are less students in front of you, it is easier to provide mini-lessons that are specific to a child’s needs. This also allows you to better assess students and collect individualized anecdotal notes and data to plan future lessons and grouping.
  •  Differentiation is much easier within a small group. You can quickly assess the needs of students with working with a portion of your class.
  • Small group instruction provides an opportunity for collaboration. Within their groups, students can work together to problem-solve, discuss ideas, and provide feedback to one another.
  • In a small group setting, students are often more engaged in the learning process. They may feel more comfortable asking questions and participating in discussions, which can help them develop a deeper understanding of the material.
  • Teaching in small groups can be more efficient than teaching to an entire class. You can provide targeted instruction to each group, which can help students make progress more quickly.

Organizing Small Groups Based on Reading Level

One approach to creating groups is to identify students together based on their current level and to focus on providing instruction that’s appropriate for their current reading ability. Grouping students by reading level can allow you to provide instruction within a text that students can access. If a group of students is reading at a lower level, you can target foundational reading skills, such as phonemic awareness and decoding using decodable texts.

It is important to note that in this example (within that lower level), there can still be very different needs. When using this approach, it is assumed that all students who are at the same reading level have the same strengths and weaknesses. This is not always the case, and some students may be struggling with specific reading skills that are not being addressed in their current group. This can be a drawback to using this method to form groups.

Organizing Small Groups Based on Skill/Strategy

An alternative strategy is to group students based on the skills they have not yet mastered. When students are grouped by skill, instruction is planned specifically to each group’s needs. In this case, if a group of students is struggling with comprehension, you can provide instruction that focuses on specific comprehension strategies. During these meetings, a single strategy would be the basis of the lesson. The goal of the strategy group is to equip students to apply the strategy to their independent reading without your support.

Using Data to Create Small Groups

 When creating groups based on skills, using data is the best approach! I would recommend using diagnostic assessments to determine individual needs and begin the grouping of students. To make this process a breeze, I have created Diagnostic Comprehension Assessments for each informational reading standard for first through fifth grade. Each set has passages that come in a variety of levels and includes pre + post tests that assess each reading strategy.

To use these, you should choose the passage that pertains to the reading strategy you’ll be teaching. Then, have students answer the 3 tiered questions on the pre-assessment. Each question gets more complex. Once complete, the individual responses can be used to quickly create groups based on the extent of support needed to learn the strategy.

Using this method and incorporating regular assessment creates a sustainable system that monitors the progress of each student. This also helps to provide ongoing data to modify groups or focus as needed.

Flexibility in Grouping

When teaching and grouping students, it is important to be flexible. A variety of approaches should be used to meet the individual needs of each student. Data-driven decisions should be made when grouping students.

Guided reading by reading level can be a good thing for some students, but it may not be the best approach for all students. Next time you regroup your kids, try a strategy or skill-based group and see what you can accomplish.

Do you group your students by reading level or by strategy? How is it working for you? Let me know in the comments!

Free Diagnostic Reading Passage + Assessment

Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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