Making the Most of Small Groups Book Study

Hi! When Heidi, from Mrs Samuelson's Swamp Frog, posted about her book study on Debbie Diller's book Making the Most of Small Groups: Differentiation for All, I jumped at the chance to present Chapter 6: Phonemic Awareness. This topic became especially important to me this year after reading this book.

A little background on me:
In the past I've taught phonemic awareness mostly by following our district curriculum with it's whole class blending & segmenting games, rhyming, adding/deleting phonemes, etc. We were told to do the program whole class and so I did phonemic awareness at the beginning of every lesson. I began to notice that the kiddos who weren't good at it just didn't really participate and I was frustrated because of the lack of time for small groups and the push for fidelity to pacing guides that seemed to force me to teach page 1, page 2 in order and stay on the same page as my colleagues despite  the fact that some of my kiddos weren't ready. I know I'm not alone there, so enough said about that. Well, reading this book and the integration of Common Core left me breathing a sigh of relief and feeling that I had the freedom to teach my students based on what they needed. Phew!

So, I read this book for the first time last summer and decided to start my school year teaching all my phonics in small groups. It worked so well for me! That way I was able to cover long vowels with one group while another still worked on cvc words, and my group of 2 boys worked on phonemic awareness and a few sight words. It seemed to me that everyone felt successful this way. Thanks to Daily 5 for making small groups so easily manageable!

Anyway, back to Chapter 6.
I'm embarrassed to say that I'd done phonemic awareness activities without realizing just how critical the skills are. Debbie Diller write that "phonemic awareness is the most potent predictor of success in learning to read." That's so much clearer to me now. She created a chart (which I turned into a checklist you can grab by clicking on the picture below) that will help me go back with a few of my 2nd graders next year and see what they're missing. If I teach K or 1st again, I plan to follow this order when teaching phonemic awareness and do my best to make sure no kiddos are missing any crucial steps.
this is a Word document so hopefully you can type in student's names
In chapter 6 Debbie writes about the difference between phonological awareness and phonemic awareness and says that phonological awareness (like rhymes, hearing syllables) leads to phonemic awareness which is manipulating the actual phonemes in words. She says many teachers use these terms interchangably. I sure did. Reading this helped me to learn the difference and see how the skills build up to reading and spelling.

When Debbie wrote about rhyme being important to young students "because it helps them understand that words are made of parts that can sound the same," she also mentioned alliteration. So I started my small reading group with these boys by putting 3 pictures on the table and asking them to find the two that start with the same sound. They couldn't. We tried and tried. It wasn't working. So I said, "Are these two sounds the same /m/ and /p/?" They said yes. Oh yikes! I mentioned this to a fellow teacher who suggested adding movement to the sound to help them. So the next day we did something like jump and make the /m/ sound and clap the /p/ sound. "Are they the same or different?" Sometimes the boys were right, sometimes they were wrong. Oh yikes again! So I got out pictures and just asked if two pictures (like a car and a book) were the same or different. They said "same." Oh no! but at the same time, Wahoo!! I finally hit on the problem. They didn't know what same and different meant. Once they realized the meaning of the words, we were on our way.

For me this chapter highlighted the different phonological and phonemic awareness tasks so I could make sure they were in place for these kiddos. She writes about teaching kids to hear individual words in sentences by having them say or repeat a sentence and hold up a finger for each word. Wouldn't kids be better writers if they were really good at this?

She then writes about having kids blend and segment syllables (like hearing that happy is hap+py). Oh my would this help my struggling first grade spellers!

A few things that really struck me were

"Phonemic awareness is both a prerequisite for and a consequence of learning to read." I'd never thought of it as a consequence of learning to read.

"Connecting phonemic awareness instruction to reading and writing increase it impact on reading achievement." I plan to incorporate much more writing into my reading groups next year.

"Emphasis should be placed on segmenting words into phonemes. Blending is important, but segmenting is most important." I read that and thought about how that translates directly to spelling and writing. 

This chapter contains clear, easy to follow plans for each step of her "phonological awareness continuum." Well worth the read!

Debbie cautions that phonemic awareness is "not a magic bullet that will generate success for all children." But with these boys it was key!

Maybe you found some of my ramblings helpful or at least this helped you get a better idea of what Making the Most of Small Groups is about.

If you're interested in reading more, of course get the book! But you can also read about the other chapters time, organizing, grouping, comprehension, fluency, phonics, and vocabulary) on these blogs


  1. Chrissy good information and thanks for the chart. I am hoping our new reading series has a good assessment tool and assessments for benchmarking as well. I know they are challenging to get in but I think they are imperative to keeping our kids on track to reaching the final goals.

  2. Great post, Chrissy. You've inspired me to pull that book off my shelf and reread that chapter. The emphasis on phonemic awareness is why I like The McCrackens spelling program so much (a Canadian book).


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