Teaching Reading In Small Groups - Chapter 2: "Forming Groups: Making the Invisible Visible Through Assessment"

When I signed up for this summer book study, I immediately gravitated towards chapter 2! I have always struggled with small group reading instruction (hence, the book study participation) and one of my biggest struggles is HOW to get the kids into groups that make sense AND allow for the greatest amount of growth in all students. It seems like my reading groups tend to stay static for a loooong time and then abruptly change. Jennifer Serravallo has laid out some great ideas for how to create the best groups for your students and keep them flexible as their needs change.

Here are some of the highlights of chapter 2 in our 2018 Summer Book Study - "Forming Groups: Making the Invisible Visible Through Assessment."Assessment is an important part of planning, but how do you assess all aspects of reading. Jennifer Serravallo has great recommendations in her book, and this post reviews her ideas.
One of the toughest things about reading instruction, in my opinion, is actually seeing what students are able to do and what they are struggling with. Coming from a teacher who LOVES teaching math, it is so much harder to see the processes students are using when they are reading. In this chapter, Serravallo outlines ideas for individualized assessment that will help you learn as much as possible about your readers so they can easily be grouped and regrouped as necessary!

The second chapter begins with a refresher on assessment - types of assessments and the purposes of each. Serravallo makes it clear that multiple means of assessment are necessary to get a complete picture of your readers and tailor instruction to their needs.
Types of Assessment
Next up, the author discusses ways of assessing students' engagement, fluency, print work strategies, comprehension and conversation. At first, I felt like this was going to be overwhelming but she presents doable ideas for each aspect of reading instruction.


I am completely guilty of the "if they're reading they're getting better at reading" mentality. If students aren't engaged and excited about what they are reading, certainly they are not improving their skills or practicing their strategies. There are multiple ways Serravallo suggests for assessing students' level of engagement in their books in order to help instruct them appropriately.
Assessing Engagement
Engagement Inventory
Have you ever paused for a moment to look around your classroom during independent reading time or while you are meeting with a group? In my room, it always looks like kids are engaged in their reading, but if I watched for a bit longer, what might I see? Kids looking around? Kids flipping through pages? Eyes on books? Students making faces at each other? (I teach 5th grade, so...) Serravallo describes an idea for collecting data during this important time of the school day in order to determine the engagement levels of her students.

She created a checklist with all the student names down one side. Then she created a code system for things she might observe - ✓ for engaged, W for looking out the window, R for reacting to text, etc. She observed them in 5 minute increments and then used the data to determine who might need some support choosing books, who might need some support with reading stamina and who was already engaged for the entire reading block!

Book Logs
This section made me bristle a little bit because I've just done away with reading logs in my classroom! The ideas in this book are very different though. Book Logs are a way for teachers to collect data on the types of book a child is choosing, how much time they spend reading at home and at school and their page per minute rate of reading. As opposed to taking a grade for at home reading, a book log is an opportunity to gather data about student reading habits. Older students record the date, whether they read at school or home, the title of the book, number of pages read and amount of time. Younger students tally whether they read at school or at home - one tally for every book finished.

Reading Interest Inventory
This was my favorite part of this section! I've always done a reading inventory with questions like, "What is your favorite book?" and "What genres do you like?" but Serravallo points out that this really presumes that the student already likes reading! Her idea for a Reading Interest Inventory includes questions like, "When you hear it's time for reading, what do you think?" and "If you could request anything to be a part of the classroom library, what would it be?" In the right classroom culture, students feel they can be honest with their teacher. I think I might make it clear that I'm only looking for honest answers - not grading it or using it for any purpose other than reading it for information.

How does this help me make groups?
These assessments for engagement will help you sort out the root cause of a student's disengagement. Depending on the root, you can create a group targeted to that specific need! Serravallo says, "If I can figure out the root of what is causing the disengagement, then I can target instruction toward the root."


When I taught 3rd grade, I was required to give the DIBELs assessment to my struggling readers. I remember thinking, "Wait a minute. This doesn't really give a complete picture of my readers!" and Jennifer Serravallo confirmed my thinking in this section. Fluency, while an important component, really is only one piece of the puzzle. However, assessing fluency is still necessary and she gives a few ways to do it.
Assessing Fluency
Shared Reading
Listening in while students are reading during a shared reading lesson might sound a little daunting, but Serravallo suggests breaking the class up into groups while sitting on the carpet. Each group reads a different section so you can focus on listening to individual readers. She also suggests tuning into a specific aspect of fluency, such as phrasing, ending punctuation, etc. and keeping notes on a checklist with each child's name.

Running Records
As an upper elementary teacher, I have always struggled with running records, but I appreciate the need for them as a data collection tool! Some of the suggestions in chapter 2 make it sound more appropriate for older kids as well. She suggests keeping track of other things besides just accuracy and time - How many words does the child include in a phrase? Do they attend to ending punctuation? Do their phrases preserve the author's syntax? While reading with students it would be helpful to keep a checklist of these items with your running record.

One-on-One Conferences
Reading with a student one-on-one and talking to them about their reading might be the best way to determine their fluency needs! Most students in upper grades don't need to read much out loud (if anything at all) because you probably already know which students might benefit from work in fluency. You can use your conference to teach one specific thing to help the student's fluency improve. Serravallo has a great example in her book of a student who needed work on matching his expression with how the character is feeling, and how easy it was to address that issue during a quick one-on-one session.

Partnerships or Clubs
I love this idea for some sneaky assessment! While students are meeting with their book clubs or reading with a partner, you are already monitoring, right? Why not listen in and take some notes on student fluency? Students often read some of their books aloud while working with their teams and it would be easy enough to gather some information while they are in their book clubs.

How does this help me make groups?
Serravallo reminds us in this chapter that fluency is one important part of reading instruction. She also makes the important point that when grouping for fluency, specific fluency skills should be considered instead of just lumping all the non-fluent readers together. For example, a group of students who all need instruction on using ending punctuation!

Print Work Strategies

Print Work Strategies are the strategies students use to make meaning out of the visual information in a text or in print. Younger readers are developing these skills to decode unfamiliar words and problem solve while reading. In more proficient readers, these strategies are often "underground" and it takes a bit more work to figure out how they are using those strategies in their reading.
Assessing Print Work Strategies
Running Records
Here are those running records again! When assessing for print work strategies, there are 3 things to consider: Does the mistake make sense? Does it sound right? Does it look right? These three questions get to the heart of making meaning out of print - meaning, syntax and visual. Depending on the types of mistakes or self-corrections students are making, you can determine where the student might need instruction. She gives some great examples in the book of what to look for when determining which type of error students are making!

One-on-One Conferences
During a one-on-one conference is a great time to informally gather some data about your younger readers especially. You can do a quick running record in your notes, or take some anecdotal notes to assess their print errors and determine next steps.

How does this help me make groups?
Once you have enough data about individuals and how they are interacting with print, it would be ideal to group students based on their specific needs - just like with fluency and engagement! (I'm starting to see a pattern here!) If students are making mostly meaning errors, a small group focused on that skill would be perfect.


This is the meatiest section of the chapter, in my opinion! Comprehension has so many different facets to consider and it's really our main goal when reading. Serravallo outlines the comprehension skills she considers when assessing students: activating prior knowledge, determining most important ideas and themes, creating visual and sensory images, asking questions, drawing inferences, retelling and synthesizing, and using fix-up strategies. Comprehension skills and strategies can be the trickiest to assess, according to the author, because the strategies are invisible unless a student writes them down or talks to another student.

In the first part of this section, Serravallo has a great idea for checking in on comprehension by using a stop and jot strategy. (This strategy is helpful for all of the following assessment ideas!) Essentially, students stop at certain points during read aloud and answer a question posed by the teacher in order to gather data about student thinking. Each question was designed to showcase a different aspect of student comprehension: activating prior knowledge, visualizing, synthesizing and inferring. It seemed like a quick and easy way to get a snapshot of students' ideas and abilities.

She also has several other ideas for assessing and gathering data about comprehension.
Assessing Comprehension
Reading Portfolios
I loved this idea! Essentially, each student has a folder with pages for each month. The idea is to keep track (through sticky notes, anecdotal notes, etc.) of how a students is progressing with each comprehension strategy during each month. Another idea was to keep a page for each skill and track student progress throughout the year with notes or sticky note evidence. This seems like a simple way to track progress without doing a formal assessment several times a year. If our main focus is comprehension, then this would be a great way to keep track of students' skills throughout the year and to see what kind of groups would make sense for your class.

Reading Notebooks
Another way to assess comprehension is through writing about reading. Keeping a reading notebook is a great way for students to jot down their thinking during independent reading, in order to prepare for book clubs or discussions, write in response to the read aloud and writing to reflect on their reading processes. This seems like a great way to keep a record of thinking and see how students grow and change throughout the year. This also seems to be a great idea for students to keep track of their thinking. (Those stop and jot sticky notes from above would be a great addition to a reading notebook!)

Clubs and Partnerships
Listening to conversations about reading can be very revealing about comprehension success and difficulties! By listening in to their book club conversations, you can listen for the same things you would look for in their writing to determine the next steps for each reader.

Minilesson Active Involvements

Another sneaky way to collect data!! While students are practicing a strategy that has just been taught in their small group, listen in to their conversations and make a mental note about what you see and hear. Students could also write down how they used the strategy on a sticky to hand in before leaving the group. This is another quick way to determine who needs more support and who is ready to move on.

Individual Conferences
Talking to students about their reading is one of the best ways to glean information about their skills and strategies. Starting off by having an idea of which skill you want to look for is a good way to enter into a conference. As you talk to the student, jot down notes about your impressions of the student's skills and next steps. Serravallo has a simple two column chart with the headings "Compliments I could give the reader" and "what I could teach the reader." She chooses one compliment, one teaching point for the conference and one idea that could be a next step. (This really resonated with me because I try to teach them everything in one conference! I need to remember to choose one thing for now and one thing for later!)

How does this help me make groups?
Any of these ideas are a great record of student progress over time, but will also give you a quick snapshot of where they are right in that moment. Students' level of comprehension can differ, even within a certain skill, so be careful that they are working at approximately the same level of proficiency. Serravallo uses the example of a student who is working on inferring about the character only based on how the character feels. Another student might not be thinking about the character's feelings but is making predictions about what will happen next. Both children are inferring, but in very different ways.


Conversation is an important part of assessing comprehension, and often students need explicit instruction on HOW to have a productive conversation. In order to be able to focus on student comprehension we need to be sure they can have an open and effective conversation.
Assessing Conversation
Whole-Class Conversation
Observing and taking notes during whole class discussions can yield plenty of information. As students are responding to a shared text, Serravallo suggests jotting down what students say and who is doing the talking. This also helps keep track of any students who are not participating and any who might be dominating the conversation.

Partnerships and Book Clubs
During book club meetings or partner conversations, you can keep track of student thinking and participation in a similar way to whole class conversations. This requires confidence in the abilities of your students to carry on a conversation without your direct supervision, but once students can handle it you are free to roam the room and take notes on how students are dialoging, listening and responding to each other.

How does this help me make groups?
This information might not help you make a small group, but it may help you know which conversation skills to work on with certain groups OR which students may need a role model for a specific skill in a different group.
Serravallo Ending Quote
Even though this book is about small group conferences, setting up your small groups for success depends on the amount and type of information you can gather from your students as individuals. As I said at the beginning, collecting all this data (whether formal or informal) can seem like a formidable task. But I love the way that Jennifer Serravallo gives practical ideas that can fit seamlessly into a reading workshop model! I know I have a lot of new ideas to try.
Questions to Consider
Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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Links to Each Chapter:

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Nichole from The Craft of Teaching


  1. I love the stop and jot idea! I often feel students aren’t engaged during read alouds, and I think stop and jot will keep them focused as well as give me feedback. I also like the whole class conversation and am excited to try that.
    Keeping organized is a struggle for me. I’m leaning towards spiral notebooks for the kids independent jots and a binder for me.

    1. I love the stop and jot too! I totally think it will help keep kids engaged. I love both of your organizational ideas - I think I might want spirals for my students as well. It seems to be something I can easily help them to keep organized! Thanks for participating!