Guided Reading and Small Groups in Middle School PART III: Lessons and Novel Units

If you want to read my first two posts, click here for Part I and Part II. 

Hi friends, 

I am back with part 3 of this series on guided reading and small group in middle grades. This one is kind of different than the other two, but I think it is still relevant. 

I wanted to explain what I do during my lessons and how they then lead into my small group time. 

I will start by revisiting my ELA schedule. I have been blessed with the ability to make the schedule I have, because I teach middle school in an Elementary Schools, so our kids only switch a few times a day. 

Anyway, I have about 100-110 minutes with each class for ELA. 

My Schedule (ELA Routine-Twice a Day) 

10 min: ELA Bell Ringer
30 min: Collections (my ELA curriculum) Lesson
20 min: Round 1 (small group and Daily 5)
25 min: Novel Lesson- Reading (10 min), Socratic Seminar (7 min), Reading Response (8 min). 
20 min: Round 2 (small group and Daily 5)

Why is my ELA block broken up like this? 

Using the ideals of "The Daily 5," I wanted my lessons broken up and my workshop time broken up.

Sixth graders are no better inclined to sit for extensive amounts of time than any other grade. I wish my lessons were even shorter sometimes, but in general, I work hard to keep them engaged and moving when I can.

This is what I do for each section of time.

ELA Bell Ringers

I literally just made these, because I needed my ELA blocks to start out way better than they were.

I swear I am not product pushing when I say that they are the best thing I ever did. They are simple, routined, and engaging. My classes have been PERFECT ever since I started these.

CLICK HERE or on any of the image below to check them out.



CLICK HERE or on the image below to try out THREE FREE WEEKS. 


Collections is the curriculum my district purchased for all 6th graders. The rest of my school teaches Journey's because they are K-5. This is kind of a blessing and a curse at the same time.

I get to figure it out and do what works for me, but I don't really have anyone to collaborate with.

I found Collections to actually be a pretty good curriculum, once I started using it with fidelity. The stories are rigorous, everything is mapped out for me, there are TONS of online resources for me to teach with, and Collections Close Readers are amazing.

My favorite part of Collections is the actual "Collections." This means there are 5-6 stores, fiction and non-fiction, that are all about the same content. It's great for analysis, paired texts, writing, reading responses, presentations, class discussions, and cross-cirricular teaching.

On that same note, the stories are kind of long, and like I said, rigorous, so they take me awhile to get through, but here is how I tend to do it.

Day 1: (Each Collections lesson takes about 25-30 minutes each day)

This is the massive stack of books I have for my students. I have a white board that tells them what to get and they know to grab what we need for the day.

Now, it's a competition to see how high we they can get them :).

  • Review the performance task and the Collections vocabulary (see below). We talk about what they will be expected to do at the end (usually a writing analysis, media presentation, group presentation, or research/argumentative paper). 
  • Watch the History Channel video: There is a usually an engaging introduction video for us to watch (i.e. our Collections now is about Disasters, so we watched a tsunami video.
  • The chart paper stays up for the whole Collection. The vocabulary on top is for the whole Collection. The multicolored ones on bottom are from our stories and we define those in our reading notebooks. 

Day 2:
  • Story one vocabulary: We use the organizational structure below and we write, define, syllabify, and illustrate each word for the story before we read each one. They end up looking like the image below and we reference them throughout the whole story. They also always ace their vocabulary tests  :). 

Day 3: 
  • Introduce the Demonstration of Learning/Essential question. I tell the students what I want them to be looking for or thinking about while we are reading (i.e. What was the cause and three effects, using textual evidence, of the tsunami in the story?) 
  • I used to hate writing them on the board, but now I see the benefits :). I mostly just have to change my Demonstration of Learning each day. 
  • Listen to the audio of the story. I LOVE this. I ALWAYS read our novels, but I was getting so worn out reading the textbook and the novels for both of my classes. I love that they have audio for all of our stories. I just play it, and pause to talk about vocabulary and about evidence of the essential question. The best part about all of this is that I can read all the teacher notes on the side of the text, while the audio reads the story. 
  • Demonstration of Learning Socratic Seminar: Basically we have a class discussion about the questions, I chart their responses on the board (example below), and then students write their answer in their notebooks. The board is to help students write strong responses by utilizing each other's thinking. It's basically a BIG collaborative discussion. I LOVE the Socratic Seminar and use it for everything. 
Day 4: 
  • Demonstration of Learning and Essential Questions
  • Listen to Audio 
  • Socratic Seminar
  • Demonstration of Learning writing Response. 
Day 5: 
  • Demonstration of Learning and Essential Questions
  • Listen to Audio - Finish the story. They typically take me 3-4 days to finish reading each story. 
  • Socratic Seminar
  • Analyzing the text questions: There are typically 5 questions at the end that we discuss and or write/type about. 
Day 6: 
  • Comprehension and vocabulary test. Most of my students do REALLY well on these because we work on the story and vocabulary for 3-4 days. 
Day 7 and 8: 
  • Performance task (usually a writing analysis, media presentation, group presentation, or research/argumentative paper). 
Then we go to the next story and start all over with the process. The time frame can change, (i.e. poems, teachable moments :), shorter/longer stories, and tougher performance tasks). 

Novel Study

If you follow me and my teaching journey, you know I LOVE teaching with novels. At my previous school, I only used novels. I don't have that freedom anymore, but I still use them as my second lesson of the day. 

This is how my Novel Study Lesson section of the day goes: 
  • Introduce Essential/Guiding questions
  • Read the day's chapters (10-15 minutes).
  • Essential/Guiding question Socratic Seminar (7-8 minutes). Example below from The Crossover. 
  • Writing response in reading notebooks. Example below from a student's notebook for The Crossover.

I use all my own novel studies. I create them based on novels I love :). 99.9% of the time, my students end up loving them too. This year we read Freak the Mighty, A Long Walk to Water, and The Crossover, The Maze Runner, and Harry Potter 


Since this time, I have finished all my 6th grade reading units and but them into a bundle and I have also finally completed the full year long 6th grade curriculum. 

You can click on either of the images to check them out.


Organization and Reading Notebooks: 

I actually didn't make/implement this until second semester when my students' first notebooks were driving me CRAZY. The three sections are:
  1. Green: Bell Ringers
  2. Pink: Vocabulary
  3. Yellow: Reading Response 

Since this post, I have now made editable reading notebooks tabs. Just click below to check them out.

This is week one of their bell ringers:

 This is the Table of Contents for their reading response question. We always add to it together. After having a nightmare with reading notebooks this year, I have become a crazy person about their table of contents, pages numbers, not skipping lines, not skipping pages, etc. It's is SO much better now though.

I still have a few kids who live in their own little words, but, the time to get this organization was so worth it.

They know to write the title and date on the top of the page and it should ALWAYS match the table of contents.

The same concept and organization is applied to our vocabulary section of our notebooks as well. 

Well I think you know every.single.detail of my 6th grade ELA classes. 

I plan to do another 3-part series, on the Socratic seminar and how I implement this methodology into my Collections lessons and novel lessons. 

Happy Teaching friends. 


  1. I just read all your posts in this series. So helpful! I am struggling to implement small group and guided reading instruction into my 6th grade classroom. When do you instruct students on specific ELA concepts like plot diagrams or theme? Just as you read the short stories? Also, when do you have time for writing essays or other longer writing assignments? Do you teach that whole group?

    I only have a 90 minute, but I want what is best for my kiddos and I don't feel that they are getting that. Just hoping to get some of your insight.

  2. I have this same question!! :) Looks like you posted this back in March though...any updates on what you figured out or decided to do?

  3. Okay...I just read through this whole series and loved it! Like I actually printed it out and annotated it....?! I'm sorry if that's weird. But this is just exactly the kind of info I needed! Your posts and advice are just incredibly reassuring and so so helpful!

    I do have the same question as Ali Kitler above though! How do you incorporate all of that type of instruction?

    I was also wondering about your novel unit studies. I purchased the whole big bundle and am very excited about it! However, I was wondering how you handle student copies of the novels? I just bought a class set of Freak the Mighty from that I'll just have the kids leave in their cubbies for my kids in my other two classes, but I don't think I can afford class sets of all the other wonderful novels in your units! Does your district/school purchase your novels? Do you have the kids buy them (I used to do that at a private school I previously taught at)? Do the kids not have copies?

    But seriously, thank you so so much for this 3-part series! It has become my teaching bible I think. I also think you're my spirit animal....

  4. I LOVE this series AND I already own all of the resources you highlighted!!! So exciting!!!! I also have the same questions, but I am thinking that I would teach a separate 20-30 minute writing instruction lesson.

  5. was there a reply to Alie Kitler question? I also teach six grade, and i feel like I am not helping my students. I am coming from third grade.

  6. Loved your posts about organization and went on to read all your other posts, which were fabulous. Anyway...I had a during your ELA block you teach from the required curriculum, a novel study on top of that, and the students are also reading another book for their Literature Circle groups?

  7. How do you determine your Essential Questions for the Collections lesson? Is it given by the curriculum, or do you develop them yourself?