The Top 5 Literacy Skills to Teach in Small Groups

In this post, I share 5 literacy skills to teach your small groups. I define each skill, explain why it is important and how it helps students to become skilled, fluent readers.

I have been sharing a lot about small-group instruction because we know it positively impacts student literacy development.  In earlier posts, I explained why small group instruction was important and offered you tips for making your it more effective.  While many of you found this information helpful, you wanted more… You told me you need information on what literacy skills to teach in your small groups. 

With so many important literacy skills out there it can be hard to know which are best taught in small groups. So today I am excited to share a list of skills to teach in small groups. Instruction on these essential skills helps students to become skilled, fluent readers.

The Best Literacy Skills to Teach in Small Groups

The following skills and types of practice are ideal for small-group instruction.  Please note that you are NOT expected to do all of these things in one sitting.  Instead, think about how you can weave these skills and activities in throughout the week.  

1. Phonemic Awareness 

Phonemic Awareness is the ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. This includes isolating sounds, blending, segmenting, deleting, adding, and substituting sounds in words. 

Examples of phonemic awareness include:

  • recognizing words that begin with the same sound
    (“Run, Rake, and Risk all have /r/ at the beginning.”)
  • isolating and saying the first or last sound in a word
    (“The beginning sound of bat is /b/.” “The ending sound of cat is /t/.”)
  • combining, or blending the separate sounds in a word to say the word
    (“/t/, /a/, /g/ – tag.”)
  • breaking, or segmenting a word into its separate sounds
    (“up – /u/, /p/.”)

2. High-Frequency Words

Orthographic mapping is the mental process we use to permanently store words for immediate retrieval and become fluent readers.  It is how we take an unfamiliar word and immediately turn it into a sight word.  While orthographic mapping is not something you can teach, you can offer activities that promote this process and help students learn high-frequency words. 

Word mapping is an activity that promotes orthographic mapping and is an excellent choice for small-group instruction. Word mapping activities are a physical way to represent the relationship between the phonemes and graphemes.  They allow students to physically connect or match the letters with the sounds they represent and help promote the process of orthographic mapping. Ultimately word mapping activities build word recognition and decoding skills that improve fluency in both reading and writing.  

For irregular high-frequency words, take time to explicitly teach the tricky or irregular phonics pattern to students.

3. Encoding

Encoding is what we refer to as spelling. Dictation is an activity that offers students guided spelling practice. It is a systematic way for you to connect the skills you teach in reading to student writing.  

We know that children progress at a much faster rate in phonics when the majority of the time is spent applying the skills to authentic reading and writing experiences.  Dictation practice allows them to apply the skills to their writing.

Dictation is not an assessment. It allows you to check students’ understanding of sound-spelling correspondences, but do not expect mastery.  When there are errors, provide them with immediate corrective feedback.

Looking for more information about dictation?  Check out this post where I share a step-by-step dictation routine.  

4. Decoding

Decoding the process of translating printed words into speech and involves the use of phonics. Decodable texts are controlled texts that only include previously taught phonics skills words, current phonics skills word, and high-frequency words.  

Just as dictation allows students to apply the phonics skills you have taught to their writing, decodable texts allow students to apply them to their reading.

Decodable texts are controlled texts that only include previously taught phonics skills words, current phonics skills word and high-frequency words.  

Decodable books also allow time for comprehension work and help to ensure students are developing the language comprehension strands of Scarborough’s Reading Rope. 

5. Word Awareness

Word Awareness activities offer students the opportunity to play with and explore letter sounds. According to Wiley Blevins, this exploration is critical for students to consolidate and solidify their learning of how words work. The two best types of exploration activities that increase a student’s word awareness are word building and word sorts

Word sorts require students to think about how words work by drawing their attention to common spelling patterns.  Students are given a set of words that all have something in common and asked to sort them by the common feature. 

In word building, students are given a set of letter cards and asked to create a series of words in a specified sequence. For example, students might be asked to build, or make with letter cards, these words in sequence: cat, sat, sad, mad. Notice how each word varies from the preceding word by only one sound spelling.

I hope the information I have shared helps you to identify and plan the skills you will teach your students in their small groups.  Be on the lookout for my next post where I will share the best low-prep resources to help you to teach each of these skills.

✔️ K-2 systematic scope & sequences

✔️ K-2 explicit structured literacy lesson plans

✔️K-2 high-impact student activities

✔️ Aligned with the Science of Reading

….and so much more!

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