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Building A Small Group Planning Notebook

by Model Teaching | March 18, 2019.


Many teachers that I have worked with often ask, “how do you keep everything for your small group organized?” It’s very simple…a Small Group Planning Notebook! Having everything in one notebook and organized will maximize the time with your students. Often teachers will succumb to piling everything on their desk and deciding, “oh I will organize it later” – I’ve been there. However, simply keeping all your small group planning in one binder from the start, will prove to be beneficial not only for you but your students as well.  In this article we will take you through the process of setting up and managing your own Small Group Planning Notebook, and provide you with all the resources you will need to get started!

Building a student notebook

Gather The Data

Before beginning your notebook, you need to first get organized and set-up for success! You must gather information on each student in order to build functioning groups.  For example: district assessments with scores and levels as well as your observations of each student.  These can be running records or documentation of tracked reading levels.

Once you have at least two to three weeks’ worth of data, you can then start to gather the materials you will need to build your notebook.

Setting Up Your Group Notebook:

First, you want to group students based on their level. With reading, for example, students that are reading on J, K, and L level depending on how many, would be one group. Students that are reading on an M and N level would be in one group and so on… Remember, you want 5 to 6 students per group at the most.

Once you have determined your groups, it is then time to start building your notebook!

The Notebook:

I’ve found it is much easier to use a 3-ring binder as opposed to folders, as binders tend to hold EVERYTHING you will need for your small groups.  First, label the 3-ring binder: Small Group Planning Notebook. Divide the notebook into four to five sections using colored dividers, depending on how many groups you have.

I recommend using the colored dividers with pockets, and I will explain why below.

Color coding is key! Why use color dividers?  By organizing your groups by color and using a chart on your bulletin board with students’ names divided in their colored groups will help stream line your management as you can call out to specific color-coded groups. (Ex. Blue group or Green group).

And because remembering their color is easy, students will soon learn which colored group they are in, saving you from the trouble of having to call on students individually. Dividers with pockets are extremely handy, giving you the ability to put books, notes, and other documents into the notebook with ease.  I may also be helpful to keep cards and notebook paper in the binder so you have paper to keep anecdotal notes each child in their specific group pocket

What’s behind each divider?  I have always liked to have my lesson plan in front as soon as the binder’s divider is turned. Behind the lesson plan, put a tab for each student in that group with a few sheets of notebook paper to keep running records. See the template: “SMALL GROUP LESSON PLAN TEMPLATE” below.

Each colored divider and tabbed section are the same for each group. This will keep you organized and will be especially helpful when meeting with the Principal or parents.

In the front of the notebook, I generally keep my personal notes in a spiral notebook.  Here I can quickly make notes about a particular student or group of students.

You can also include extra copies of you lesson plan template, and any other resource template that you would like quick access to.

Filing Your Student’s Information

You will want to clean out the notebook at least once a month as it can fill up quickly and you could risk loosing papers. If you remove any papers containing student information, you will want to quickly file it into a separate file or portfolio, while maintaining the personal confidentiality of that student. File old lesson plans in a separate filing cabinet as well, for re-use later.  This will save you a tremendous amount of work in the future.

Once you are organized you will soon realize how much easier it is to track your students’ small group work!  Working in small groups is very rewarding as you see each student develop and identify the specific needs of each students with greater fidelity than larger groups, the simple task of organizing your small group notebook will make your small groups even more effective and enjoyable!  Knowing what you will be teaching and what you need to focus on for each group and student, will make your small group sessions some of the most productive learning environments you can achieve in your classroom!

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Group Notes Template

Use this template to track your different student groups. Print out a few copies, hole punch and place into your student groups binder.

Small Group Lesson Plan Template

Use this template to plan out your group lesson plan.  This editable template includes sections to record essential pre, during, and post-lesson planning.

Student Reading Level Tracker

This tracker allows you to easily track your students’ reading level.  Print out several copies and place in your binder for tracking your students all year.


Before you start your small groups, you must set your small group notebook up and get organized. However, if you have already started working with your small groups, do worry, it’s never too late to get organized! You may want to ask yourself a few quick questions and jot your answers down for reference.  Here are some of these questions:

  • How are you currently organized for your small group?
  • Maybe ask colleagues what they do or use for their small group planning?
  • What materials do you use for small group?
  • What are new things you could add or try?

I recommend watching the Guided Reading Organization Made Easy video on Scholastic. There are some great ideas in the video to get you organized and ready to start your small groups planning notebook. By asking yourself the simple questions above and watching the short video, you will be ready to get your small groups notebook up and running in your classroom!


  • Making the Most of Small Groups.  Debbie Diller. 2006
  • Guided Reading Organization Made Easy – https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/genia-connell/guided-reading-organization-made-easy/

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