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7 Ways to Squeeze MORE Into Your Literacy Block Now!

A few years ago, educators in our school district had the opportunity to learn from Jo Robinson, a phenomenal reading specialist. In her presentation, she talked about getting more out of our core reading program and using reading instruction time more efficiently and effectively. I immediately took that information and transformed my literacy block.

This literacy training was a REAL game-changer for me!

I knew I was an effective reading teacher, but I realized I could be better. So,

7 of the most important changes I made in my literacy block and instruction {so that every minute is used wisely} are as follows. (Some of these changes were inspired by Jo Robinson’s presentation.)

Know your students’ specific needs

The first thing I changed in my literacy block was the knowing of my students’ specific needs! Not all of your students need sight word practice. Some of them can already blend CVC words. Some are ready for fluency skills, whereas others still need intensive instruction with sound-by-sound blending

We identify these specific needs by conducting periodic testing. Progress monitoring students once or twice per month on sight words, phonics, blending, fluency, and comprehension is essential to identify individual needs, to track progress, set individual goals, and to accurately place students into reading groups. 

Doctors are expected to test and diagnose our illnesses so that a proper prescription can be given. It is hoped that a doctor would never just prescribe medicine to fit what most of their patients need. In conclusion, we too must test and diagnose our students’ specific reading needs so that we can target instruction to meet individual needs…not just what the majority of the class needs.

Knowing each student’s skill set in reading will help you more efficiently use your instruction time.

Set goals with your students

After progress monitoring students individually, it is important for students to know their next set of reading goals. Students must take responsibility for their learning in order for them to achieve at a higher rate!

Using a graph to identify current progress and to set goals for the next testing date is one way to set goals with students. If using DIBELS testing, you can get K-3 Progress Monitoring Graphs HERE. I’m sure they could be adapted to use with any assessment program.

Have students color in the graph and decide what their next goal(s) should be. Have them repeat it to you and tell you how they can best reach their goal. When you test next time, show them their graph, reminding them of the goal(s) they set. Read all about how to help your students set their own goals here!

At any time, students should be able to tell you what their individual reading goal is.

 Consequently, everyone will be using instruction time more wisely.

Target and plan your instruction

This could be the biggest game-changer for your new and improved literacy block! Now that know you need to know your students’ needs, you are ready to place them in like groups and plan small group instruction.

I have created a Targeted Guided Reading Plan that helps the instructor stay focused on the goal(s) for each group. With this plan, instruction will be targeted on what your students need most. Read all about how to implement your new targeted guided reading plan HERE.

Organize your resources

Once you have your Targeted Guided Reading plans in place, you can get your materials prepared and ready to pull out in seconds. I like to use labeled bins. Inside the bins, I place my Targeted Guided Reading Plan sheet, sight word flash cards, word family drills, leveled readers, etc. Whatever the plan has called for.

Each bin will be different according to student needs recorded on the plan. I call up my next group, and

Don’t use rotating centers

Say What?? This change to your literacy block may shock you, but no. Seriously.

I found that I wasted too much instruction time turning wheels, moving students, cleaning up centers, redirecting students, etc. when I could be using that time to teach.

With a Must Do May Do system, students DO NOT rotate from center to center according to a set time. Instead, each table has a basket with a list of Must Do’s (things they MUST do) and May Do’s (things they can choose from). 

Each group has a different list according to their needs, and a different set of books, a seatwork folder, games, and other resources in their baskets according to their needs.

Here is an example of the green group. This is the Must Do May Do sheet that provides a list of activities to work on for the MUST Do and once that is done they MAY Do those activities.

This is the key. They finish their work. They don’t waste time as a whole cleaning up unfinished work because the teacher said that time was up. And it doesn’t take forever for students to get to the reading table!

Check out my blog on using Must Do May Do instead of Rotating Reading Centers HERE.

Grab a FREE editable template of my MUST DO MAY DO Sheet down below:

Establish Routines

More is not always better. Keep it simple and keep the same routines. Trust me. Whenever you throw some complicated wheel turning or moving of names on the board or some new, tricky game at students, there will be questions, interruptions, confusion, and chaos!

Keep the same partners for partner reading for a while. (It won’t kill them to have the same partner for a couple of weeks or so unless there are serious issues.) Make sure they know the routine for partner reading. 

Most importantlyRoutine doesn’t have to mean boring!

Routine to students means confidence in knowing what to do and what is expected. It doesn’t mean that the same books, games, and materials are provided. It means that there are no surprises. Materials and rules are simple to use and familiar. A familiar game from last month may be used again later, but with a different level of words. But it’s routine, familiar, and simple to follow. 

Also, keep the same schedule. Call up groups at the same time every day so students know approximately when to expect to be called up. No surprises. No problems.

Routines mean a nice flow with few interruptions and more instruction squeezed in to you literacy block!

Teach and Review Expectations

If there are questions about where to sit on the floor for partner reading, the expectations have not been explicitly taught. Make sure students know where to go, what to do, when to do it, where to get materials, who they can go to for help, etc. Learn how to,

Try to keep your expectations consistent like:

  • Who should they talk to if there is a problem or they don’t understand directions on their seatwork?
  • Do you have an expert that students can go to, or do they tend to interrupt you?
  •  How do you want them to sit at your reading table or at their seats?
  •  Who reads first? What does the partner do when the reader is reading?
  • What should the baskets look like when it is time to clean up?

Now I love teaching small reading groups more than ever!

Students love it too! They know their goals, my expectations, and our routines. Is the literacy block perfect every day? No. But it’s MUCH better! I hope these help you as much as they have me.

Please comment below with any questions or ideas!

Thanks for stopping by!

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1st Grade Pandamania

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I am a newly retired first-grade teacher in the beautiful state of Colorado. I taught for 32 years (17 of those in 1st grade.) Watching my students learn and grow was such a blessing for me, and I'm excited to share what I've learned over the years with you. Read More

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