As teachers, we know that keeping the rest of the class engaged during small group instruction can be a challenge. Planning independent work time options (i.e. centers, workstations) can feel like a mountain to climb. This does not need to be the case.
We should not expect (nor desire) to scale Mount Everest on day one (or two or three). Instead, we can view this mountain as a series of individual steps to be carefully orchestrated in advance. Follow these easy steps to get you started in your own classroom. With patience and planning, you will reach the summit in no time!
The Plan: What should my students do while I pull groups?
Step One: Make a list of all the independent options for your own class. A great place to start is with independent reading. Other options include independent writing, word work, buddy reading and listening center. Click here to see a more comprehensive list that you can adapt to your students:
Step Two: Once you have decided on options for your class, it’s time to plan out all the materials. For example, if you are introducing independent reading, you will need leveled books, book baggies and/or bins, pencils, reading logs, sticky notes, etc. Write this out for each center that you plan to introduce.
Step Three: Now decide on the procedures that you need to teach for each workstation/activity. When deciding on procedures, don’t assume anything! Sometimes it’s helpful to think of your students as visitors from another planet. Don’t assume that they know to push in their chair and throw trash in the wastebasket. Take time to teach exactly what’s expected. To continue with the independent reading example, you will need to teach routines such as: how to choose books, how to know if a book is “Just Right,” how to return books in the library, where to sit during this activity, etc.
Step Four: The final planning step is to decide when to introduce each center. Plan to allow for at least one week between each activity, so the students have time to practice and build stamina. Then be flexible and adjust as needed.
So you’ve made a list of ideas, procedures to teach, materials needed and due dates. (Click here for a chart that you can use with your colleagues: Independent Work Time Planning Sheet). What now? Where to go next?
Start by introducing one thing, such as independent reading or another item on your list. Take it slow and give your students time to practice.
Other resources to support meaningful independent work activities include Literacy Workstations, The Daily Five and Words Their Way.
P.S. This is a great video on the subject of establishing procedures for independent work time during guided reading: