7 Ways to Squeeze MORE Into Your Literacy Block

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.

HERE is a pdf from her presentation.

This literacy training was a game changer for me.

I knew I was an effective reading teacher, but I realized I could be better. So I made some major changes in how I teach literacy so every minute of instruction is used wisely and effectively 

7 of the most important changes I made in my literacy instruction {so that every minute is used wisely} are as follows. 

(Some of these changes were inspired by Jo Robinson’s presentation.)

1.  Know Your 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.

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.

2. 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.

Fluency Graph Example From Targeted Guided Reading

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.

At any time, students should be able to tell you what their individual reading goal is. When students know their reading goal(s), they are more focused on those skills during instruction, and so are you. Consequently, everyone will be using instruction time more wisely.

3. Target and Plan Your Instruction

This could be the biggest game-changer for you.

Now that you 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. 

See my latest post about Targeted Guided Reading HERE

4. 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 by the time I have grabbed that group’s bin, students are sitting at the table, ready to learn. 

5. Don’t Use Rotating Centers

Say What?? No. Seriously.

I found that I wasted soooooo much instruction time turning wheels, moving students, cleaning up centers, redirecting students, etc. when I could be teaching. 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). 

MUST Do MAY Do Basket for the GREEN GROUP

Each group has a different list according to their needs, and a different set of books, a seatwork folder, games, other resources in their baskets according to their needs. Students work down the list doing what they MUST do first and then choose what they MAY do next. They only stop working when the teacher calls them to the table.

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.

Get a FREE copy of an editable version of my MUST Do MAY Do sheet HERE!

6. 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 weeks or so unless there are serious issues.) Make sure they know the routine for partner reading. 

Routine 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 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!

7. 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. 

Explicitly teach these expectations, model them often, and practice them often. Review them periodically. Try to keep your expectations consistent. 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 it perfect every day? No.
But it’s MUCH better!

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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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