Small Group Sessions

Small group sessions support students to practice the content in a smaller setting to support mastery
326 teachers like this strategy
Small Group Sessions in Action

About This Strategy

Small group sessions are opportunities for students to work in smaller groups or one-on-one to practice content that they have not yet mastered or content that would extend their learning. During small group sessions, teachers strategically group students to provide specific interventions or extensions that enable students to practice content in order to move towards mastery. Frequently assessing students' understanding is the key to successful small group sessions.

Implementation Steps

30-60 minutes
  1. Frequently assess students to determine their levels of understanding.

  2. Determine which strategic groups to work with.

    • Will you work with all students during the period or with certain groups?

    • Will you work with students who have not yet mastered the content?

    • Will you use the small group sessions for extensions?

  3. Based on the proficiency levels you plan on working with, curate a lesson that aligns to the purpose.

    • If you are remediating work, consider a mini-lesson for reteaching with additional time to practice.

    • If you are extending students' understanding, consider what is the next step in the progression to support students to continue learning.

  4. Complete a mini-lesson or provide additional practice within the small group session.

  5. Re-assess student understanding to determine if the session was effective.

Small Group Sessions for Distance Learning

Small group sessions are opportunities for students to work in smaller groups or one-on-one to practice content that they have not yet mastered or content that would extend their learning. These sessions can be a great opportunity to connect with and to support learners in a distance learning format. 

Implementation steps:

  1. Decide if you will use small group sessions or 1:1 sessions. 

  2. Determine how you will group students. 

    • Consider grouping students by a particular need, such as reteaching of a particular skill students have been practicing independently or students who need an extension.

  3. Schedule your sessions using a video platform. Consider using Zoom or Google Meet. For tutorials, check the resources in the resource section below.

    • For students with limited technology, consider working with their parents to set up a phone call to walk through the session. Consider using Google Voice to do so. See a tutorial in the resource section below for more information.

  4. Based on the goals for the session, create a lesson plan for the small group session.

    • If you are remediating work, consider a mini-lesson for reteaching with additional time to practice.

    • If you are extending students' understanding, consider what the next step in the progression is to support students to continue learning.

    • Consider using the team for relationship building as distance learning can be challenging for students.

  5. Reflect on the session to determine if it was effective.

    • Consider having students complete a quick formative assessment to determine if the session supported their growth.

    • Consider asking students for feedback on the small group session and what they liked or didn't like.

  6. Continue scheduling small group sessions as needed to meet specific goals in the distance learning format.




Small Group Interventions

As students work, use in-the-moment data collection to respond to student groups in real time. When formative assessment is ingrained as part of the learning process, students become more accustomed to feedback and get better at revising work to produce higher-quality finished products.

Implementation Steps:

  1. While students work in groups, monitor their progress. This can be done by circulating and monitoring or by using technology to monitor their progress via whatever tech tool students are using. 
  2. When you see that a group needs feedback, check in with the group to give students the targeted support they need, exactly when they need it. 
  3. Consider providing a direct communication avenue between students - either via a signal or digital tool - to enable students who feel unsure about their work to direct questions to their teacher geared at clearing up misconceptions.

Small Group Instruction in an Open Up Math Classroom

Krystal Bankston
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

While small group and small group instruction is not explicitly detailed throughout the lessons, there are opportunities for small group activities and instruction. Whether it be through allotted flex time or RTI time provided by the school schedule or the extra days allotted within the unit, the teacher can create the opportunity to meet with students in a small group and have students work collaboratively in a small group. This strategy can be used for grades 6th - 8th Math teachers using the Open-Up Math curriculum.

Implementation Steps:

  1. Small group instruction and small group work can occur within the lesson through the activities as well as with the student practice problems. Both of these areas in the Math curriculum could be turned into small group work, while the teacher works with small groups to remediate or support student needs.

  2. Small group instruction and work can also take place during scheduled flex time or RTI time, determined by the school schedule. Students can work on activities or practice problems within the curriculum or can use this time to practice specific areas they are struggling with. Teachers can scaffold student work based on data that has been gathered throughout the unit.

  3. Small group instruction and group work can also take place during the added days within the scope and sequence of each unit. Each unit has approximately 18-19 lessons, but allots 20-21 days to complete the unit. This provides the teacher with a few days of flexibility to use small group instruction or have students work in small groups to move towards mastery of the content.

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Small group sessions support students with disabilities by providing a structured opportunity for them to receive more feedback in a closely supervised setting.

Effective small group sessions require teachers to prepare for the bevy of skills they require from students' executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.) skills, written expression skills, reading skills, and/or verbal skills.  In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas consider the following modifications:


  1. Teachers should thoughtfully plan modifications for any activities planned in small group sessions.   A variety of modifications should be considered for each group’s activities, i.e. allow students with disabilities in a group access to read aloud for a text or provide sentence stems to write responses to a text for learners with writing impairments.   

  2. Use visual aids, timers, and verbal reminders to help students with task initiation and task completion in small group activities. As an example, a teacher may say, “Now you will have two minutes to finish activity number one in your group packet.  After the timer for two minutes goes off, all groups must move on to activity number two in their group packet.” 

  3. If multiple teachers are present in a setting, consider using different co-teaching models when planning small group sessions to provide a variety of access points for students. See the "Co-teaching Strategies" and the "Alternative Teaching Model" resources in the resource section below for more information.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

Small group sessions provide an excellent opportunity for teachers to formatively assess English learners. This strategy also provides learners with abundant feedback and authentic language practice. English learners will also benefit from the ability to pose questions in a small group setting. 

English learners are required to use all four domains of language while working in small groups. Learners need to convey their questions in writing or by speaking and discuss their work with teachers and peers.In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:


  1. Consciously group English learners. Alongside assessment data, consider social dynamics as well as language skills to ensure all learners’ participation. Consider assigning roles to individual learners. Consider anchoring learners at lower levels of proficiency with learners who speak the same home language to allow for idea generation in the home language. See the "How should ELLs be grouped for instruction?" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  2. Ensure English learners understand all directions for their group before beginning independent work e.g., ask for learners to restate directions. If the activities are new to learners, consider previewing or partnering with learners’ language specialist to preview for learners at lower levels of proficiency. See the "Teacher Tool: Leveled Question Stems" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Provide a variety of ways for learners at lower levels of proficiency to express learning including drawing, short phrases, matching words and pictures, multiple-choice, and cloze worksheets. 

  4. Perform 1:1 check-ins with English learners. Use the small group work time to give English learners an opportunity to use their academic language, and teachers a chance to formatively assess content language use. When remediating content, consider consulting with learners’ language specialist for accommodations and modifications appropriate for learners’ language level.

  5. Provide English learners with familiar reference sheets such as graphic organizers, word banks, sentence stems, formula sheets, etc., to use as needed during activities. 

  6. Provide comprehensible content in activities that require learners to read-to-learn. Consider providing home language content as available during independent or technology-based activities. When available, home language content can be a powerful tool in developing and progressing skills. See the "Research and Bilingual Content Sources for English Learners" resource in the resource section below for more information.


Questions to Consider

  1. What expectations and norm do you need to set to ensure that everyone is on task during small group sessions?

  2. How can you create a classroom culture that fosters small group sessions? How can you ensure students do not feel targeted when needing to attend small group sessions?

Tech Tools


  • Plickers is a tech tool that lets teachers collect real-time formative assessment data without the need for student devices. Students are handed cards with a different symbol on each side. Each side represents one out of 4 possible answers. The teachers scans the group with a smartphone or a tablet and instantly get data on a specific question.

  • Plickers supports this strategy by providing a simple tech free to check for understanding and analyze the impact of a small group intervention