Small Groups with Benchmark Advance

small groups planner

I’ve had a lot of questions about how to set up and run small groups using Benchmark Advance. I’m here for you! Today’s blog post will outline exactly how I run small groups in my classroom, and I have a TON of amazing resources to support your workshop time.

First, I want to define a couple of terms for us: Teams vs. Reading Groups. My small group teams are the mixed level, heterogeneous groups who work together at their stations, independent of the teacher. 

My guided reading groups are homogeneous groups of kids at approximately the same reading level. For example, I have a group of struggling readers, mid-level readers, and advanced readers. I pull these students from their teams to work on guided reading with me, while their teammates continue at their stations. I see each reading group once a week (twice a week for struggling students). 

I’ll show you exactly how I create these groups in a bit. For now, let’s jump into the FAQs I’ve gotten about my small group setup.

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    Q: Why do you have your groups travel to different centers each day? Can they stay in their seats?

    A: Let me preface by saying that every classroom is different, and there is no single right way to do it. Some teachers choose to have teams stay at their tables to work together; some will have students work independently at their desks; and others, like me, have them travel to their centers. 

    For me, the benefit is that the students are more motivated and have more buy-in. They love the collaborative atmosphere that comes from moving together as a team. I have flexible seating in my room, so my centers look different based on needs. My tech center is at a low table with benches. My writing center is at a round table with yoga balls. The read-to-self center is on the carpet. Do what makes sense for you and your space!

    Another benefit for me is that once students know their teams, it’s easy to have them work in their teams for other activities and subject areas, too. Working on a STEM project? Do it with your team. Group research project on a natural hazard? You and your team go for it!

    Q: How do you pull your homogenous group to read with you from the heterogeneous groups without them missing the independent workstations? 

    A: They will miss work, and honestly that’s okay with me. Most of the time, they will finish on Fridays, which are designated catch-up days. If they don’t finish their independent center work each week, I don’t stress too much. 

    Q: Can I implement my own centers? 

    A: Definitely! The key to running a successful workshop-style classroom is to be responsive to your students’ needs and providing meaningful practice to address those needs. A lot of teachers will do Daily 5 style centers: read to self, word work, listening, etc. There are resources in Benchmark for a wide variety of centers, like cursive for upper grades and handwriting for primary. You could add a social studies or science center. These subjects integrate really well with the Benchmark curriculum. I also love the idea of having a PBL center where kids get to work on an ongoing project each week. 

    Q: What do they kids actually do at the centers? Ideas for activities? 

    A: Because I was the least confident about small group center time when I first started with Benchmark, I created a TON of resources for centers. I’ll link those below! But, don’t forget to check your BA resources, too. Just go on Benchmark Universe, click on your program, and find the practice tab. There are several kinds of resources you can print: text evidence questions, cursive and handwriting, spelling and vocabulary worksheets, etc. Students can also complete the “independent practice” portions from their whole group mini-lessons.

    Q: How do you create your teams of students that work independently? 

    A: My goal in creating student small group teams is to have self-sufficient groups that can work independently while I’m working with my guided reading group. Some guidelines to keep in mind: 

    • Not too many playground friends in the same group. 
    • A balanced boy-to-girl ratio.
    • A leader to keep everyone on task. 
    • Mixed reading abilities and independence levels.
    • At least 1-2 student tutors who are able and willing to help peers academically.

    A heterogeneous mix is so important here if you’re going to achieve independence! A group of all struggling students won’t work, and you won’t be able to work with your guided reading kids. I have a chart to help you plan teams, and team posters to keep students visually organized and on track. 

    Sign up here to get my free small group planning chart and team posters!

    Q: Can I see the guided reading lesson in action? 

    A: I can definitely talk you through my method! I use the leveled readers that come with Benchmark for my reading groups. My structure is typically to preview the book and discuss how it connects to the unit theme. Most of the time, I read it out loud first, then I have them read with a buddy. This is a great opportunity for them to work on fluency and for you to listen and take notes on their abilities. 

    With struggling readers, we first focus on the key details, main idea, and graphic features. More advanced readers will begin comparing and contrasting, discussing the author’s purpose, etc. You can weave in the higher-level standards with your groups using a text that is at their level. Most days, I continue working on skills introduced during whole group mini-lessons if the flow feels right for that group of kids. Another option is to follow the lessons that come in the Teacher Guide for each leveled reader. The ‘First Read’ always has a key details/main idea lesson. The ‘Close Reading’ has several lessons to choose from. The ‘Extend Meaning’ is for phonics support, and ‘Independent Learning’ has reading, writing, word work, and collaboration prompts.

    Benchmark Advance “Amazing Animals” Leveled Reader Teacher Guide

    Q: How do you handle disruptive students? 

    A: First of all, I try to head this off by doing a full-week trial run. I go over expectations, review and routines, and procedures. During my week-long trial run, I don’t pull the guided reading groups. Instead, I walk around to troubleshoot, answer questions, and observe how teammates are working together. If I notice some kids not working well together, I’ll make some minor adjustments. I do this during unit 1 so that students actually have unit-related tasks to work on during the trial.

    When a student does get off task or disruptive, my typical response is a quick verbal reminder. If it’s ongoing, we’ll have a chat together and I will let the student know that his or her behavior didn’t work for me today. I also use positive reinforcement by assigning points or classroom dollars to each team. 

    Q: What are some resources that can help support small group time?

    As I said before, because I found this part of Benchmark Advance so intimidating at first, I create a TON of resources to help structure the learning in my classroom. I’m super excited to share them with you. Don’t stress and try to reinvent the wheel!

    1. Text-Dependent Questions Bookmarks: These are for grades 2 and up. I consolidated the text-evidence questions from Benchmark and made them into a student-friendly format. Students use these bookmarks as they read the weekly text. They keep one bookmark for the whole unit, so when you print double-sided, you save a ton of paper.
    2. Word Work Pamphlets: Spelling, Vocabulary, and Grammar practice for grades 1-5. While you could print word work from the Benchmark resources, I find it wasteful to print out each 5 question paper. Plus, the kids seem to love the fact that the paper is folded up like a little brochure. I use these for whole and small group. With the whole class, I explicitly teach the skill and model how to complete each type of question. Then students complete it independently during center work.  I also have a completely paperless alternative called the Digital Word Work line. You can find that here.
    3. Writing Companions: These follow the weekly writing lessons for grades 1-6. Use every day in whole group writing lesson, and then you can have students continue in the writing center as one of their options.
    4. Close Reading Companions: Use these alongside whole group close reading lessons. These walk students through the comprehension of literature and informational texts. I recommend completing a portion during whole group guided practice and then allowing students to continue it in their independent practice at centers or for test prep. 
    5. Response to Reading Question Strips: Includes question strips for both fiction and non-fiction. I print each genre on a different color, cut the strips, and then place them in a bucket. Students choose one at random based on text type and then answer on their recording sheet or in their notebook. Great for the reading center! 
    6. Annotating and Close Reading Sticky Notes: 30+ printable sticky notes to use for annotating non-consumable texts. You can use these during guided reading time or at a reading center. 
    7. Digital Maps and Graphic Organizers: 37 interactive Google slides full of activities for students to complete at their technology center. Includes reading comprehension practice, interactive thinking maps, spelling and grammar, vocabulary, writing practice, and more. 
    8. Small Group Visual Timers: Use these Powerpoint timers to keep groups on track and to help students budget their time. 
    9. Mentor Texts Writing Prompt Bundle: Includes over 55 prompts to use at your writing center! These can also be purchased individually for themes like Giving Thanks, Fall Fun, and History & Culture. 

    Let me know what caught your eye!! Still have questions? Join us in the Facebook group for community, collaboration, and all things Benchmark Advance. See you there! And remember, You Got This!

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