6 keys to transitioning from whole-class to small-group learning 

Transitioning in the classroom, whether it is from subject-to-subject or small-group learning to whole-group learning, can make or break a lesson. Heck, it can make or break the whole day or even the school year. 

Transitioning techniques are something all classroom teachers use, and they are a skill we educators must have. Regardless of how a teacher goes about transitioning from one thing to another, it is something that constantly needs to be tweaked due to the dynamics of the class or the end goal of the lesson. 

What I have found in my years of teaching, especially transitioning from whole-group to small-group learning, is to set up expectations that are simple and concise. Before any lesson, it is best practice to make sure we have a plan, all materials are ready to go, and that the end goal is clear. 

For example, when I have my class get ready for small, guided reading groups, we always meet together at our “Gathering Place.” Because I teach 3rd grade, we meet together on the carpet where we have our Morning Meetings, major discussions, and introduction to new skills, routines, and centers. We introduce this routine at the very start of the year. It takes many weeks to practice this. 

This whole-group gathering allows me to give instructions to the group where all their attention is on me. I take this opportunity to explain the expectations and purpose of the lesson. We do Daily 5 in our class and use this “Gathering Place” to learn the skills and practices of Daily 5. This is when I set the expectations, the time frame each group has to work, and the time they have to move to the next station. 

One thing I have found to be crucial is to designate a “warning signal.” This warning signal is what the class will listen for when it is time to end and move. I use a small xylophone. We start this practice in September, and by January, they move and transition like a symphony, all together, working as a unit. 

The best advice on transitioning I can give any fellow educator, new or seasoned, is to be clear in your expectations. Here are some of the rules I follow for my class: 

  • Set clear expectations. 
  • Practice, practice, practice the routine. This will take weeks to develop, and that is okay. Learners thrive on repetition. 
  • Allow for the extra time within these transitions at first. Once learners get the hang of the routine, they’ll need less time. 
  • Set a warning signal to let students know that they will need to transition soon, so they will begin wrapping up their current station. 
  • Have all your materials ready. 
  • Reflect. Regardless of how many years you have been teaching, reflection is key. Each day we need to take a moment and reflect on what worked and what didn’t. This is why transitioning in the classroom needs to be continuously tweaked. 

More resources:  

Transitioning in the classroom can make or break lessons and the efficiency of classroom management.  Lightspeed’s instructional audio systems offer clear, intelligible sound throughout the classroom, supporting communication and learning. Our Activate system supports small-group learning by enabling educators to stay connected to several student groups at once, able to nimbly answer questions or redirect students as needed without interrupting student collaboration.  


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