4 Ways to Introduce a Book for Small Group Instruction

Hi, I'm Cathy from Cathy Collier's The W.I.S.E. Owl and I love, love, love small group for emergent readers.  It is amazing what early learners can do when you give them the tools to help them be successful.

Today, I'd like to talk about an easily overlooked part of your small group instruction:  Introducing the Text.  I was observing a teacher during small group instruction.  She called the students over the the table, handed them the book, and said, "Let's look through your new book and see what we are going to read about today."  That was it.  Unfortunately, that was the EXACT WAY she introduced each book to each group that day.  Later that day we talked about a few different ways to introduce a text.

Instead of showing the students the book, show them the words from the book.  These words are from my Level I group today.  As I told them the words, we sorted by syllables.  Once the words were sorted we discussed what they all had in common:  Bees.  The students had to tell me why they thought the words were about bees.  The only word they were not familiar with was the word "cells."  I told them I thought they would understand what the word meant as they read the story, but I wanted them to think about a "jail cell."  (I know that wasn't the most politically correct connection, but I knew they would at least have a picture in their head before they started reading.)  Each time they came to one of the words in our sort, they would look at the sort and smile.  When they got to the page with the word "cells" on it, one of my boys said, "Oh, I get it...the cells are small places smushed [sic] together like you see in the movies about jail cells."  YAY!
For a Level B group, we were reading about a farm.  I knew they had previous experiences with farm books, going to the farm, and even singing the Old MacDonald song...so I wasn't worried about background knowledge.  What I really wanted to do is get them to use their letters and "get their mouth ready" as reading strategies.  I drew a farm with places on the farm they would need in the story.  They could easily add the hay, mud, barn, and hill.  We discussed the word "field" when they saw the corn growing.  When we started discussing the picture of the water on the farm, we decided it COULD BE a pond, but it also COULD BE a lake.  We looked at both words and discussed using the beginning letters and getting our mouth ready to help us read that page.  We did not find it in the book, we just discussed our options.  The text was predictable and full of sight words, so the true skill in this book was using the letters, not just the pictures.
Kids like a game.  You can get them to do just about anything if you tell them it's a game.  Being a Reading Detective is a way to get them to do all the work for you during your introduction.  Tell them you are going to give them clues about the book they'll be reading and they have to decide what the book will be about.  I did not show the students the book, just a list of words...one at a time on the dry erase board.  Go-karts, red, go, blue, winner.  Before handing them the book, they had to give me a prediction with proof.  "I predict it's a book about a go-kart race because you said there was a winner."

Finally, a great introduction includes a great connection.  "Before we get our new books today, let's think about going to the park.  What do you think you would write about if you were the author of a book about the park.?"  As the students tell you things about the park, make a list.  When the students are reading the book, they can put a check mark by the things in the book.  This is also a great segue into a writing lesson (write what the author left out of his book about the park.)

Don't forget, introductions can do lots of the work for you, if you let them.


  1. You know...the connection between all of these is TALK. Kids have to talk about "stuff" to get into it and access their schema for the topic. Love this post! Thanks a bunch! Favorite idea...pictionary. Clever!

  2. I work with small groups all day long at school. This post is an eye opener to all the new ways to introduce a new book to my readers. Thanks for your excellent post. I look forward to using these techniques with my kiddos.

    Lori from Your Teacher Assistant