One of the first things I do when I have my own classroom, is set up the routine of a 'small group rotation'.
It is invaluable to get you students into this basic structured routine.
Not only does it allow you to 'whip up a rotation' in a matter of minutes (if you need to) but it provides a host of benefits to your students. With structure and routine comes a sense of belonging, familiarity, security and ownership in their learning. The comfort that a structure provides your students and the predictability of 'what will happen' today will ease student anxiety and allow them to feel confident and secure in their learning.
Once you have this routine set up, and your students have become familiar with it, the only new addition each week is new activities. That saves you a whole lot of time and a whole lot of 'verbal instruction' clogging up your daily timetable. The thing I like about established routines, such as this one, in my classrooms, is that I can peel away the clutter and get right into learning as quick as possible.
Basically for this small group rotation routine, you set up a visual display of your activities. House your activity equipment tubs nearby. Label them to match.
Create a 'visual' for each of your activities. These will move around the rotation board from group to group. I attach mine with a paperclip, however you could use velcro or blue-tac.
So, the group signs are fixed, the activities move around to show what students are doing today.
Notice how I have placed an arrow between each activity, this is to assist in students learning the flow of activities. After a while, they will understand the flow and be able to work out what activity they will do during the next rotation (usually the next day) - this will build confidence and encouragement in your students. I always hear students say "I cant wait to come to school tomorrow, I am doing the puzzles".
When I have worked in a job share situation, we had the procedure that the pictures were not rotated until just before activity time, on the day of the activity. It worked well, as we always knew as teachers, where we were up to, and the students got to WATCH us move the pictures around the circle of groups. They could see the flow and understand that they would get a turn of all the activities.
Later in the year, when I begin to differentiate activities for group needs, I just switch out activity pictures for the day.
In the group tubs, I keep every item the students will need. Even an additional set of pencils, if needed. Having every item available will minimise student disruption, especially from students that only need one small trigger (like leaving the group to get a pencil) to be distracted. It means I can squeeze more in my timetable as well. If you normally allow 30 minutes for groups (because it takes such a long time for students to settle and become engaged) shaving off unnecessary clutter from your procedures, may mean you can make your groups just as academically successful, but only take 20 minutes.
I take all equipment out of pouches, baggies and packets - again saving time and the normal squabble between students as they decide who is going to open packets etc.
You can easily take your activity visuals down through the day, and put new ones up to create a new rotation.
I like to provide 'play' or social type activities as a rotation for Kindergarten or for social programs, where students need to learn about sharing and working with others.
You can even create a 'craft' rotation to help students learn creative skills and have fine motor practice. Here you can see I have switched out my reading activities for games and crafts.
Develop a display of group names somewhere in your classroom. If you laminate them, you can just use a dry erase marker to write the names in. I like to change my students every 10 weeks, so they get used to working with other peers. You may also like to have special groupings for certain activities (like reading) that are levelled for differentiation purposes.
Here are some ideas for creating simple 'visuals' for your group boards.
Students will understand instantly when they see this picture, what they are doing. On the first day of 'new activities' - explain each activity, demonstrate and show the students how you would like them to complete each activity.
For the first few rotation days, ask a few students at the conclusion of group time, to share what they accomplished during their activity. This will provide an opportunity for students to lean to talk to the group and also give you an opportunity to reinforce and revise the expectations you established on the first day.
Attach a game card from the activity - this group is doing 'Alphabet Bingo' today.
Keep pictures from the boxes and instructions of commercially produced activities. This group is painting with dot markers.
Fold up a worksheet that is associated with an activity. This group is doing an Alphabet Punch Sheet.
Attach a sample from the art or craft activity the group is doing. This group is making paper chains today.
You can quickly make your own visuals by writing a word and doing a quick sketch on a piece of paper. Kids are not fussy and this takes just a second to prepare.
Take a photo of activities - even incorporating how you would like your students to set up the equipment as a reminder. This group is doing 'Tap Tap' today.
Keep all of these visuals in a box - an alphabetical tabbed recipe box or index box makes a great solution. As you develop more activities, add them to your box. Then, when you need to 'whip up' a rotation, you have everything you need ready to go!
This rotation set up is easy t o make yourself, but if you would like to print the posters and labels I have used, you can find them in my TpT store, by clicking on they image below. It includes an editable option, so you can change your group names and fonts. It provides for up to 8 groups.
I have a few other techniques to share with you, for small group rotations and will blog about them in the coming weeks.
Please let me know your tips and tricks for small groups too!
I will be back very soon to share my lesson plans for the reading groups shown in the photos above!