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Evidence-Based Small Group Literacy Instruction: Measuring Progress and Growth

By Angela Bunyi on September 12, 2011
  • Grades: 3–5


It feels great to be back! This is my fourth year writing with Scholastic, and with each year I have written through the lens of a different grade level. My posts have detailed my time as a fourth grade teacher when I freshly transitioned from being a literacy coach, a third grade teacher, which followed my time teaching fifth grade, and now my current role of academic/literacy interventionist for a K-6 school. In this role, I am responsible for small group literacy instruction for select students in kindergarten through 6th grade. With the great responsibility of meeting individual student needs, and quality small group planning and instruction, there is little down time. With up to four small groups per grade level each day, it is possible that I need to create up to 28 lesson plans a day. How does one know what to plan? More importantly, how does one know what is successful? I am finding it critical to utilize evidence-based literacy instruction and assessment to guide instruction, and I'd like to share some tips on making the most of your time with small group work in your classroom. In this post I have included some printable resources and hands-on materials for literacy instruction as well.


Know Your Literacy Standards: I Can Statements/CAFE Board

In many schools and districts it is a requirement to clearly post the learning standards for the day in your classroom. This is the case in our school as well but with two modifications. The first modification is the wording of the standard, which should be converted to student-friendly, but explicit terms. The second modification is that, for example, if a visitor were to enter a classroom and see students working with play money and ask, "What are you doing?" the student could respond with, "I am creating different ways to make change from a dollar." 

In many of our classrooms, you will find I Can T-Charts on the board, to help create purpose behind the posting of the standards. With this procedure in place, students are better equipped to know what they are learning -- and with meaningful lesson planning -- why.

Considering I work exclusively under the literacy umbrella for planning and instruction for grades kindergarten through sixth grade, I will be utilizing the CAFE board in a modified fashion. CAFE stands for comprehension, accuracy, fluency, and expanding vocabulary and comes from the work of Gail Boushey and Joan Mosher.

Each week, students will receive guidance under each component. Utilizing this organization, student-friendly learning standards will be organized and displayed on the board each week.

Supportive Downloads

CAFE Banner Headings: CAFE_poster

Sample Reading and Writing Targets: Sample CAFE targets


Measurable Goals/Outcomes: Teachers and Students

In the state of Tennessee, aggressive changes have been made under the new evaluation process. It is a stressful time for many teachers, but one of the 64 (yes, 64!) evaluated points sticks out to me. Before going through my first observation this year, my administrator reminded me to make sure I make it clear to my students what goals and outcomes were expected. So, for example, if I was working with a student on segmenting phonemes in words a measurable goal might sound like this, "Sam, you have been doing a great job segmenting the sounds in these words. In fact, if you can accurately segment the next five words with me, then I'll know you have this and we can move on to the next part of our lesson." What I think is significant about this is that it takes the hunch portion of the "I know they know it" out of the lesson and creates a perimeter for both the teacher and student. Even with the challenging task of listening to a child read out loud during a guided reading session, one can create the goal of using taught strategies or self-monitoring how many errors are encountered while reading. 


Photo: This student works on rhyming, initial sounds, and stretching sounds out using a slinky. How does one measure success?

Weekly Progress Monitoring

My position requires weekly progress monitoring assessments for students each week. Based on these results, I am able to create tailored and specific small group lesson plans. For example, first graders will address specific sight words in fun and engaging ways while kindergartners will address a few select letter names or sounds. Using progress monitoring results, my literacy team can teach students exactly what they need to know. More importantly, keeping these weekly results in a portfolio help us all monitor and track the progress of each and every student. After having a teacher ask how a student was doing, I was able to pull out my notebook that clearly showed areas of strength and areas for improvement. And it's really motivating to have specific assessments each week that measure the progress made with each student. After working with first grade students on adding, deleting, substituting, and segmenting phonemes I was excited to see growth from every student. 

So, although my position requires weekly progress monitoring-and with specific assessment criteria -- I encourage you to create an assessment portfolio for your students this year. In only a few short weeks, our portfolios for each student speak volumes! And I'll be honest, I have had years where I very much kept up with student work through portfolios successfully only to struggle with it the next year. As it is the beginning of the school year, there is still time to make this a routine in your classroom. I can assure you it will be helpful in creating plans for each of your students, while revealing for your students and parents when it is time to reflect on how far one has grown. 

Bonus Downloads

Although I have shared my decoding and comprehension signs before, I recently converted the cards to hand-held size for students to use and utilize during guided reading sessions. Justprint on cardstock, laminate, and bind together. I hope it will help you in your classroom this year!

Decoding Strategies

decoding board

Download these decoding strategy resources below. Beanie babies not included.

Download hand-held decoding cards (PDF)

Download hand-held decoding_cards (PDF)

Comprehension Strategies


The tangible items on my comprehension strategy posters come from Tanny McGregor's Comprehension Connections.

Download hand-held comprehension cards (PDF)

Download hand-held comprehension cards (PDF)

Next Post

You can find my next post right here on Top Teaching on September 26 (every other Monday). I hope to hear from you before then!



Comments (26)

Hi Angela!
I love the way you teach reading workshop daily, however do you still have to teach from a core reading program? I would like to set up a reading workshop daily in my fourth grade classroom. The core reading program that my state uses is Scott Foresmann. How can I set up a reading workshop, but still teach the daily content from Scott Foresmann?
Lara Canter


I have a present for you!


All 88 of my book labels as PDF documents. :)



Good news for you. I hope.

1) My next 4 posts will focus on one component of the CAFE menu. The next one will be under the fluency umbrella. I hope this will help answer some of your questions (especially considering I am teaching K-6) 2) Yes, I can convert the basket labels. I have a Mac with Print Shop, I've just never taken the time to go back in and save them as PDF docs because I originally made them on my PC that was having troubles saving as a PDF. I WILL do that this week. Really. And I'll make sure to add it to my next post.

And half of my classroom library is housed in four large bookshelves...in my garage! My room is connected to the library and I am housed in our large book room which is filled with books galore. I knew I would be in this new position on the last day of school, so I never switched over to Delicious. If you did, I hope you are enjoying it. It's a great resource!

Best to you,


Hi Angela!!

My name is Molly and I have been following your blogs on scholastic ever since I was student teaching (this is my second year teaching 4th grade) and I have gotten so many wonderful ideas from you! My newest project is reading about the CAFE board. I am about 1/3 of the way through the book and I love it! I also bought the book baskets you recommended from Really Good Stuff and am starting to organize my classroom library and scan books into Delicious Library. Did you ever get your Delicious Library up and running? Also, I love your labels for the book baskets, but am having trouble finding a converter that works so I can download them to my computer. Are you able to save them in a different format or do you know of any good converter downloads that work? Thanks again so much for all of your help and inspiration! I love reading your posts and have told all my friends about your blog!!!

Molly :)


How wonderful to find you here! It must have been odd to see my face by surprise, I imagine.

So, I will 100% write you this week. I would love to catch up and see how life is treating you! I believe you also moved into a literacy position as well. Regardless, I hope you are doing well. An email is quickly approaching you...

MUCH respect,


Angela, You were my intern at SMG in Knoxville. I had lost touch with you, but I am so excited to see all that you are doing with literacy! I am using your ideas! I'd love to catch up so email me (if you have ANY time.) I can see you are very busy. Great to see you doing so much to help teachers with literacy.

Oh, it's never easy. In fact, we had some changes occur to our schedule yesterday (sigh) that have required me to start from square one on organizing for next week. My best recommendation is to begin with what you believe is most important for your students and go from there. That's what I am in the process of doing right now myself.

Best of luck to you!

Angela P.S. I have a few older posts on organization you might be interested in. :)

Wow! I love learning from you! It is very difficult for me to keep up with Reader's workshop and Daily 5 and Words their Way, although I love each program! I so admire your talent for planning and organizing - I am working on staying organized, but it seems to take up so much of my time each day and night. I can't do that and tend to my own children as well. Time management, organizing and planning are so key, and I want to do it well, but efficiently.


I remember you too. :) Good news is that I have been implementing a CAFE approach to lesson planning in order to have a balanced approach to our literacy plans overall. I'll write more about this in my next post on the 26th. Also, I'll be able to answer your grade level specific questions as I tackle this with the K-6 spectrum this year.



Angela -

Good to see you back here this year! I am looking forward to your posts as I am fully implementing Daily 5 and CAFE in my class this year.

Have a good one!



I can help. Our school runs a little differently, so I will simply tell you the district's assessments and scope and sequence plans to not complicate things (considering you are working in a title setting).

Benchmarks: AIMSWEB testing

kindergarten- letter names/letter sounds; first-letter sounds, non-sense words, phonemic awareness; second-sixth- 3 fluency passages called CBM.

Weekly Progress Monitoring: AIMSWEB

kindergarten- letter names; first-non-sense; 2-6- CBM

Scope and Sequence:

For students that fall in the 0-10% range the AI may use SPIRE or Sounds Sensible (for K). For students that fall in the 10-15% Reading Streets may be used (basal supplement). 15-20% are monitored in the classroom by the teacher.

One resource highly supported by my district and follows a scope and sequence of skills- Florida Center for Reading Research. There is enough material for comprehension, vocabulary, phonemic awareness, and phonics for the entire year, grades K-6.

And yes, there is a detailed data pool/profile of monitored students. Portfolios generally include assessments, however, I try to collect as much as I can...including observation notes on stickers. My students will also begin to keep up with a literacy composition book where they will reflect on what they have learned and write about what they have read.

I hope that helps!


I am the Title I teacher for K-3. I was hoping you could share with me some of your weekly assessment pieces that you use to progress monitor readers. Do you have a data profile for each grade level? What does your assessment portfolio look like for a K student, 1 student, 2 student, and a 3 student? I am also serving on the Leadership Team for our school and am wondering if you have a school wide assessment plan/map/continuum that begins in K and moves up? We are in process of evaluating our assessment choices across the grades and evaluating them for validity. We are a K-8 small town rural school.


Another username I recognize...it almost feels like a family reunion now. I love it!

The word inspired is one I hear a lot from readers, but I feel happiest when I see the word practical. Every teacher, myself included, is pressed for time. If I can inspire you AND provide you some practical ideas I just might be doing my small part in this world.

Speaking of practical- My next post is DIRECTLY related to this. With my brain focused on the individual needs of K-6 students, I have been on the lookout for practical resources...ones I can take and use immediately. At this point in my career, I don't need the author to wrie about methodology...I just want lesson ideas. So, I was at Barnes and Noble so long looking/probing through books that when I did finish with my book selections the lady at the register said, "So, you finally figured out which books you wanted." Really. Anyway, I'll be sharing some of those resources in my next post on the 26th. Come back and be ready to share as well.

And you are funny. Stamina. It's more like crazy. :)



So glad to see your posts again. I always feel so supported and inspired by your perspectives and practical ideas. I look forward to seeing how your philosophy comes through in your new role. You make a big change every year - what stamina you have!

Thanks again! Pamela G.

Hey Lindy,

Last Thursday I was talking to a kindergarten teacher about this very topic, and how we don't really make it clear regarding our measurements and goals to students. She told me that while she was being observed, she had discussed the mastery guidelines for the lesson and a student raised his hand to clarify what was expected. She said it was a real eye opener. Like you said, it's a small shift that can make a huge difference.

But talking about shifts by brain is far away from math at the moment, but I promise to keep the topic in mind. :)



Angela, I'm so glad you're posting with Scholastic again this year! I love using your ideas.

Thanks for the suggestion on measurable goals and outcomes. Such a small shift can make a huge difference. Please include more examples like that in future posts! Also, I'm super excited about all that your new position offers in terms of literacy, but I hope you'll throw in some math on occasion as well. I've just recently begun using a Math Workshop approach and would love to add your expertise to my repetoire!

Thanks again! Lindy


I think setting up a classroom is so much fun. I feel the same way about our house. Glad to hear my tips helped you.

My next post will focus on literacy lesson resources that are quick and easy to use (eg. books that are simply filled with mini-lessons).


I found Top Teaching at the end of last school year and your blog about classroom set-up spurred me to vamp up my own. :) I hope to steal many more good ideas from you this year, and am glad to see you still writing on here. :)

Hey Cathy,

I'm glad my not so up-to-date site has helped you and you found my blog last year. :)

An idea I am tossing around is having my posts follow the CAFE format. One post devoted to comprehension tips/strategies for struggling readers, accuracy, fluency, and vocabulary (and then on to writing). Regardless, I hope my posts will help you this year.


Good to see you back after the summer! I found your website last year and have gotten tons of goodies - thanks SO much for sharing. I'm really looking forward to getting some ideas for working with small groups, particularly readers who are on or just slightly below grade level and may miss TCAP proficiency by just a bit.

Oh, and congrats on the 10K! I'm a runner, too, just not nearly as fast as you. Keep up the good work! :)


Wonderful to hear. :)

And really, thank you for just taking the time to say something kind and post a comment here. It's a small gesture, but it really means a lot to me.

Thanks and best wishes,


Angela - So glad to see your back with Scholastic this year! I've acquired a lot out of your previous posts... and I look forward to another year of great information. You new position sounds like a wonderful challenge! Enjoy your new year. Leslie :-D

Another name I recognize and know well. :)

Welcome back!

I am glad to see you back here as well. I hope your year is going fantastically well. Meanwhile, I will do my best to come up with some new material to post on for you (the new position surely helps).



Angela!!! I'm so happy to see that you're back at it again! :) Welcome back! I can't wait to read about your new adventures...


So you picked up on my love for running through my posts? I am careful to not cross the delicate line of balance, but it sure is my passion (Happy note- I came in 4th female overall in a 800+ 10k race last weekend).

But enough about me- what a cool ( important sounding even) position. Congratulations! I hope your year is going well with the challenges of a new position.

And on a final note- Beth just didn't have an audience to warrant a return with Scholastic. Haha. Okay, not really. At all. Beth started with Scholastic two years before me and since then she's had two years off and has two young sons to care for. You'll see her again, just not here through Top Teaching this year.

Best to you!!!


Hey Angela! Oh how I missed reading your weekly posts this summer...so glad you're back in action! I am also transitioning into a new position this year, I'll be the Instructional Guide at our Expeditionary Learning School. I look forward to learning from you and weaving any understandings I gain into the work I will be doing with teachers. Oh, and glad to hear you're still running :) Kristin ps - what happened to Beth Newingham?

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