Small group instruction is one of the most common ways of teaching in early childhood education. When you have a classroom of 15-25 students, all with varying skill sets, you kind of need small groups! Small group instruction is when you teach the students in groupings of 2-6 students. As ages go up, small group may often follow whole group instruction. You might teach the whole class a big idea, and then divide them into group to hone into the skills. For early childhood, small group instruction is gold! From arts and crafts activity to circle time to social groups, it's the way to go!
What Are the Best Strategies for Small Group Instruction?
Some of my favorite strategies for early childhood group instruction are in this blog post. I think my number one tip is to keep them as close to me as possible. I like to sit on itty bitty stools and have them all around me almost knee-to-knee. At a kidney desk is OK, but I really like the engagement I can get from a little circle on the floor. Close second is giving them LOTS of opportunity to interact… with me, with each other, with materials. And keep things moving! Plan ahead so that your in-the-moment pacing flows to keep them engaged and interested!
How do you manage small group instruction in the classroom?
If you have enough students to group in separate, smaller groups, consider the goal of the group. If you're working on a skill, then group students with similar skills sets (duh!). But if you're working on social skills or simple fun, consider grouping students with unique and diverse needs, those with different strengths that can learn from each other.
And while some teachers may like to break up students who like to be together, I love to foster those relationships! I mean, as long as they're staying with the group (mentally and physically), if you can pair kids up who like to be together, do it! Don't you like to sit with your friends during teacher development day? 😄
The adaptive IEP goals and programs listed here contain lots of materials you might find helpful when teaching adaptive skills to your child or student. Whether you are a parent, a special education teacher, an Occupational Therapist, or a BCBA working on the ABLLS-R® assessment, I hope this helps!
- IEP goal written with SMART framework. Objectives broken down for you! If you want editable programs, check out these.
- Data collection set up with paper data PLUS Google™ Sheets data which will even graph the results for you.
- Task analysis for each skill all prepared for you.
- Teacher and student reference cards. You can use these as visual prompts and support.
- Visuals reinforcement and other prompts like token boards, coloring pages, practice activities, and completion certificates.
Sits during Small Group Instruction
One of the first things you need a student to do is SIT. Sometimes, that's all we can get! There are some students where just sitting and not engaging in disruptive behavior is A-OK with us! We can work on engaging in the group later, but sometimes, we just want them to BE part of the group. So, the first goal for small group instruction may just be to sit in group!
Example Adaptive IEP goal for Sitting in Group: When given group instruction of at least 4 students, STUDENT will sit without engaging in disruptive behaviors (using a fidget or non-distracting object is allowed) improving group instruction from BASELINE to 15 minutes on 3 consecutive data collection days as measured by staff observation, daily tasks, and data records.
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Sits AND Attends
Once students master sitting alongside their peers, we want them to be able to attend to what's going on. When I say “attend,” I mean shifting attention to who is talking or what activity is going on. I don't get fixated on “eye contact,” per say, but shifting attention means they do “check in” with eyes periodically (to show they're thinking about the group) but also are participating in a similar way as their peers, be it answering questions or holding certain materials or doing certain actions. In other words, they're tuned in!
Example Adaptive IEP goal for Sitting and Attending: When given a group instruction, STUDENT will attend to the person or activity (i.e., eyes on speaker or task, raise hand before speaking or talking out, hands to self or on task, body calm and on task) without disruptive behavior improving group instruction from BASELINE to, in a group of at least 4, attending at least 75% of the time of a 15-minute group on 3 consecutive data collection days as measured by staff observation, daily tasks, and data records.
Follows Small Group Instruction to Do Something
The next stage of small group instruction is to follow directions to do something simple. This may involve everyone doing the same thing (e.g., “Everyone, put your hands on your head) or doing something different, requiring a discrimination, (e.g., “Everyone wearing red, stand up).
Example Adaptive IEP goal for Follows Group Instruction to Act: When given a group instruction that requires a discrimination (e.g., if you have a green shirt, stand up), STUDENT will follow the instruction within 3 seconds improving group instruction from BASELINE to, in a group of at least 4, responding with the correct discrimination in 4 out of 5 opportunities on 3 consecutive data collection days as measured by staff observation, daily tasks, and data records.
Raises Hand during Small Group Instruction
There is a lot we can do with raising hand behavior in small group instruction. We might work on raising a hand to volunteer (e.g., “Who wants to pick a song?”) to answer a question (simple like “Who is wearing purple” to more complex like “What letter starts the word cat?”). Now for students who struggle with impulse control, this can take time and patience to teach! Make sure you are reinforcing them frequently as they are learning by calling on them! 🙂
Example Adaptive IEP goal for Raises Hand: When given a group of at last 4 students and a question to answer, STUDENT will raise hand, wait to be called on, and give an answer about items or information that are not present improving group instruction from BASELINE to 4 out of 5 consecutive opportunities on 3 consecutive data collection days as measured by staff observation, daily tasks, and data records.
Takes Turns during Small Group Instruction
One of the last things we can have students master in the early stages of small group instruction is being able to take simple turns during group. This can be as simple as putting items in a container to getting items for an activity to taking a turn in a simple group game.
Example Adaptive IEP goal for Taking Turns: When given a group instruction that requires turn taking, STUDENT will take their turn within 3 seconds and wait appropriately for their next turn improving group instruction from BASELINE to 4 out of 5 consecutive opportunities on 3 consecutive data collection days as measured by staff observation, daily tasks, and data records.