Supercharge Small Group Success with these 6 Classroom Management Procedures

Inside: Six classroom management procedures to limit small group interruptions

Have you ever sat down to work with a small group only to be interrupted about a million times?

“But this is fast, I promise.”

“I REALLY have to go to the bathroom.”

“What are we supposed to be doing again?”

No matter how many opportunities I provide for questions or how many reminders I give about no interrupting, someone was bound to interrupt.

I was tired of my stomach knotting up every time my small group was interrupted.

My schedule was already super-tight. I couldn’t afford even one minute. Not even for something “important”.

Bonus: If you’d like to get specific to reading groups, make sure to grab my free Reading Engagement Bundle at the end of this post.

Don’t Do It!

At times, I am tempted to answer these quick questions, but I have learned the hard way that there are consequences for this.

  • You are reinforcing a behavior you are trying to eliminate
  • Your students in the small group are not getting the attention they deserve
  • By answering one question, you are opening the floodgates for the parade of questions that is bound to follow.
Teachers can get frustrated when their small groups are constantly interrupted.
Constant interruptions can be very frustrating! Photo by Krakenimages.

Many procedures have come and gone in my classroom over the past 30+ years. These six remain and almost eliminated interruptions.

Consistency is key. Once the students understand how everyone benefits, they will buy in to the classroom procedures. You will get back some precious minutes with your small groups, as well as a bit of your sanity.

1. An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

Like so many other problems in the classroom, the best strategy is prevention. If you make your expectations crystal clear, you will see a decrease in the number of small group interruptions.

Students need to know how and when to use tools like anchor charts, manipulatives, and their best buddies.

In my classroom, we have the following procedures.

  1. Reread the directions or question
  2. Use tools to help
  3. Ask three friends
  4. Write your number on the board
  5. Get on Lexia or Dreambox until the teacher is free to help.
This anchor chart provides clear classroom procedures for when students are stuck.
Make sure procedures are clear and easily accessible.

As soon as I finish my small group, I address the students who need help.

I chose to have them work on Dreambox or Lexia while they wait so I know they are not wasting their time. However, you can use any activity that your students can work on independently.

2. Create an S.O.S. Signal

Students need to be heard. Some legitimately don’t understand, others struggle to work independently, there may be others who spaced out during your lesson. This does not mean you need to stop your small group to listen.

It’s been lifesaving (or at least group-saving) to have a signal that lets me know a student is at a frustration point, AKA send out an S.O.S. That way students are “heard” without actually speaking.

Giving students a way to let you know they need help can really improve your small group classroom management.
Students need a way to send you an S.O.S. Photo by pavel1964

In my classroom, students write their number on the board when they need help. This sends a clear signal to me and students know I will meet with them as soon as I can.

Here are three other suggestions for an S.O.S. signal.

  • Students jot their questions on an index card and put them in a designated place in the classroom.
  • Put a question mark on a chair. Students sit there when they have a question.
  • Students put something on their desks like a red cup.

Important: Make sure students have an independent activity while they wait.

3. Wait to Start Your Small Groups

A little bit of wait time can go a long way. Checking in to make sure students are started on the task (or an appropriate alternative) can make all the difference.

During this time you can answer quick questions, assign buddies to work together, and take care of any inappropriate alternatives.

4. Lead by Example

The importance of modeling has been one constant of effective teaching. It is also an important element for improving small group classroom management.

In addition to clear directions having a model available helps in two ways.

  • Students can be proactive by using the model to answer their questions.
  • If a student needs to ask a friend, the friend can use the model to help explain.

Models can be displayed on slides with directions or posted nearby for easy referral.

This slide shows clear directions and an example for students.
Here is a sample Slide I displayed for a page in our reading scrapbooks.

5. Pass on the Pass

For the bathroom question, I have found a solution that has worked when I taught fifth, fourth, and second grade.

There is a place on the board where students can sign out. All they do is write their number in the appropriate spot. Students know that only one boy and one girl can go at a time, and they know the appropriate times to take the pass.

This works out so much better than a pass that could easily get lost. Or worse, get covered with bathroom germs.

Yes, I have noticed there are one or two students each year who tend to overuse the sign-out. Some candid conversations and limitations usually nip this problem quickly.

6. Visual Signal

This year, I added a little something to make sure there was no mistaking when I was with a small group.

Inspired by a teammate, I bought a lightbox, and I turn it on every time I am working with one of my small groups.

This sign makes it clear that the teacher needs to focus on the small group.
There are no mixed signals here!

Here are some additional suggestions for a visual signal.

  • A small light
  • A sign in a frame
  • Have students make you “Do NOT Disturb” signs.

Everyone Benefits!

Implementing clear classroom management procedures can enhance student engagement and create a more organized learning environment. By establishing consistent routines and expectations, students will feel more secure and focused during independent work time.

Making procedures clear and consistent allows you to give 100% of your focus to your small group. Say goodbye to all those “important” questions and embrace the confidence that comes with systems that work.

Time to Get Specific

Let’s talk about reading groups.

To have successful reading groups, you need to make sure your students have just right books and are fully engaged in their reading.

To address persistent fake readers, check out my Reading Engagement Bundle. It provides all the necessary tools to eliminate disruptions and dedicate your valuable time to your small group.

Here’s what’s included.

  • reading interest inventory – No more guessing which books your students will love
  • An engagement inventory – Find the sneaky fake readers
  • Five small group lessons – Dive deep and give your students a purpose for reading
  • 12 prompts to get your students back on track in a snap

When your students are fully engaged in their reading, there’s no need for them to interrupt you small group.

To access the bundle, fill out the form below, and it will be sent straight to your inbox!

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Teaching blogger for elementary teachers

Mary Wingert, licensed educator (K-12 Special Ed. & 1-8 General Ed)

I started teaching in 1993.   I have taught special education, fifth grade, and fourth grade.  I moved to second grade in 2015, and I am still there today.  

I believe in teaching strategies that are effective, differentiated, and engaging. I am looking forward to building a community of teachers who feels the same!  Read more here.