Using Data to Create Small Reading Groups

Blog Post created by on Jan 12, 2018

As educators, we constantly hear how important data collection is, but are often not given the tools for what to do with data. We need to change that! In this post, I’m tackling how data can be used to design small reading groups (guided reading) in K-2 classrooms. The steps below outline a repeatable framework that can be applied each time you collect data and regroup students according to their reading level.


Assess all students’ reading over the course of 1-5 days. Ideally, assessment occurs 3-5 times per year to provide actionable data. The rationale for testing your entire class over the course of 1-5 days is simply to ensure ALL data is collected within a manageable time frame. Time is a scarce resource for educators, so setting a concrete timeline helps to ensure all students’ reading is assessed. When I taught, I tested in September, December, February, April, and June, and created “Inquiry Week” mini-units (students voted on the unit topic). This provided new, exciting content for students to learn and allowed me to pause my guided reading instruction, so I could test everyone.


Assess multiple reading skills to build a full reader profile of each student. The testing process will look different depending on the grade level, but your overall assessment should include a consistent set of leveled texts that all students read (some read one, some read multiple, but the key is that the texts stay consistent regardless of the student). When reading a text, assess students on the following: concepts of print (Kindergarten only), accuracy, comprehension, rate, and fluency. Most assessments already contain these subtests, but if they don’t, create a quick template for your class so you have data in all the categories listed above.


Analyze the reading data on a class, group, and individual student level. This is the most crucial step in creating your small groups because this is where data becomes action.


  • Class-wide lens: Using your class list, enter each student’s score on all sub-tests to view the data from a class wide lens.
  • Group-wide lens: Using the above, at, and below benchmarks, create small reading groups of about six students each (educators with large class sizes can increase but not exceed eight per group). Students grouped together should be within 1-2 levels of each other to be most effective. As you create these small groups, make note of the most common concepts of print (Kindergarten only), accuracy, comprehension, rate, and fluency instructional needs for the group.
  • Individual-student lens: Once you have each student in a small group, scan the data for the instructional area that is the highest leverage for the student’s reading growth. A helpful question to ask yourself is, “What held this student back from reaching the next level?”


Create mini-instructional units for each small group. Mini-instructional units will guide your small group instruction over the next assessment period. Typically, mini-instructional units cover 4-6 weeks of learning. The timeframe gives students time to learn new skills, apply them in real time with your feedback, and make solid progress. This is where that common goal you set aside during the “group-wide lens” analysis is a big help! Take that goal and backwards plan 4-6 weekly objectives to guide students in meeting that goal. Now that your mini-unit has an instructional focus, drop in the relevant content standards and your daily objectives. To be even MORE precise, add in weekly phonics goals for each group – sometimes referred to as “word work.”


Share individual goals with students! By sharing individual learning goals with students, they begin to take ownership over their learning. You can type out student goals on small strips of paper, print them on labels to create “stickers” for students, or share them verbally. This process begins to shift the continuum of voice from teacher centered to learner centered.


You can use this framework each time you assess your class reading growth to create focused instruction for all your students.


How do you create reading groups? Share your thoughts in the discussion below!


View original blog post on Teach. Learn. Grow here.

About the Author

Amy Schmidt is a content designer on the Professional Learning Design team at NWEA. As a former K-2 classroom teacher, instructional coach, and curriculum designer, she passionately believes all children can and will learn. She loves creating professional learning that creates meaningful growth experiences for teachers and students.