Can Small Group Instruction Enhance Teaching and Learning?

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June 21, 2023

Over the last 17 years, I have taught at the first-grade level, and I have learned and tried many new programs, procedures, strategies and instructional practices. One major practice that I have incorporated into my daily routine is developing and using small, differentiated groups.
Small group differentiation is perfect not only in literacy groups, but in math groups, as well. But creating and utilizing small groups requires careful lesson planning, regular regrouping of students and strong classroom management.
There are many benefits of using small groups. They allow teachers to see where students are academically and provide them with appropriate, individualized instruction and strategies that meet students where they are and challenge them to keep improving. When groups have a smaller number of students, it allows students more opportunities to participate. It also allows teachers the chance to provide more targeted support. Not to mention, it gives students more opportunities to collaborate with each other and infuses independent learning, interest and fun into the school day! 
For my 90-minute literacy block, I use the Daily 5. What exactly is the Daily 5? “Daily 5 is a literacy framework that instills behaviors of independence, creates a classroom of highly engaged readers, writers and learners, and provides teachers with time and structure to meet diverse student needs. Because it holds no curricular content, it can be used to meet any school, district, state or national standards. Daily 5 classrooms produce productive, highly engaged students who develop a true love of literacy.” (
I have been using the Daily 5 for the last 15 years in my first-grade classroom. Prior to using this framework, I was making centers. This meant hours away from my family on the weekend to plan these spectacular centers. Don’t get me wrong, they were great, just very time consuming and labor intensive. Luckily, 15 years ago, a colleague gave me the Daily 5 book to read over the winter break and told me that I should plan on implementing it when we returned from the break.
At first, I was resistant. I was thinking to myself, “I LOVE my centers!” I do not know if I can overhaul my entire system and try something new in this short period of time! However, I read the book and was able to implement the Daily 5 when I returned from break. The Daily 5 is a literacy framework that was developed by two sisters, Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, and it was meant to help support teachers in creating a literacy-based classroom that is filled with many rich literacy opportunities. They developed the Daily 5 and the Literacy Café, and wrote the books for each of these frameworks.
Essentially, the Daily 5 is set up to use five tasks that support the foundations of literacy lessons, allows students independence in their learning and offers them choice about what they read. What I love the most about the Daily 5 is that it allows all students to feel part of their own learning by developing skills that help them to become independent thinkers and learners. It permits teachers to tailor lessons to meet the needs of individual students while helping them build their stamina and gives them choice within their learning. My students read with me, read with each other, work on writing, listen to reading and do word work activities online.

The key elements of the Daily 5 framework are:
  • Building trust and respect
  • Short, focused lessons
  • Student choice
  • Brain and body breaks
  • Fostering independence
Teaching expectations for literacy rotations can take a while. I recommend that you lay the groundwork for Daily 5 and practice it for six to eight weeks with your students to make sure that your classroom expectations are clear, and that your students will be successful in navigating the rotations.
Daily 5 has made my literacy block so much more effective. Because the Daily 5 explicitly teaches you how to organize your literacy block and helps you practice each rotation so your students will be independent and successful. Daily 5 is really a spectacular way to differentiate instruction, build independence and provide students with authentic opportunities to engage in reading and writing.
Click through for further information about getting started using the Daily 5 in your classroom. I would encourage you to buy and read the books!
Like the Daily 5, the framework of Daily 3 Math also helps students with the support and additional practice they need to develop proficiency toward their own math goals. In a previous blog, I mentioned that I use the Daily 3 Math, which consists of three small groups where my students are learning about math in several ways. One is direct instruction with me, another is a small group where they have opportunities to play math games, and lastly, they utilize online math programs to learn math skills in another way. Some of the technology that my students enjoy using during the Daily 3 are Freckle, Moby Max, Xtra Math and Prodigy. This provides students with individualized practice and infuses fun into their learning.
All these spark the kids’ interests, provide them with opportunities to move and allow them to have fun while they are trying new things in their learning processes.
About Nanette Hanson: I am a proud teacher with 20-plus years of varied teaching experiences in several teaching positions, from alternative high school through first grade. I work each day to build safe and supportive relationships that help kids grow and flourish while embracing each child’s needs and individuality. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2022-23, I will strive to continue to build relationships with educational stakeholders to work toward building systems that better offer equitable, inclusive educational opportunities for all students across Michigan.