Topics: Geodes knowledge building Science of Reading

One Text, Three Ways: Small-Group Instruction with Geodes

Alyssa Buccella

by Alyssa Buccella

August 22, 2023
One Text, Three Ways: Small-Group Instruction with Geodes

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Posted in: Aha! Blog > Great Minds Geodes Blog > Geodes knowledge building Science of Reading > One Text, Three Ways: Small-Group Instruction with Geodes

Geodes® allow students to apply their growing decoding and word recognition skills in the context of authentic, content-rich books. Geodes are designed to be accessible to emerging readers and to build independent reading skills, but that doesn’t mean that Geodes are just a tool for independent practice. The beauty of Geodes is that they can be used flexibly for whole-group instruction, during small-group instruction or center time, and even at home with the My Geodes® take-home books that accompany each module.

A Readable Collection: What Makes Geodes Ideal for Developing Readers?

  1. AccessibilityGeodes allow students to systematically practice taught phonetic concepts and high frequency words in the context of authentic texts.
  2. KnowledgeGeodes systematically build student knowledge of compelling topics and contain carefully selected Recurring Content Words that enable students to access and express knowledge about each topic.
  3. Text-based supports­ – Nondecodable words are surrounded by clusters of decodable words to ease cognitive load and support decoding, and average sentence length is increased gradually across Levels K, 1, and 2 to support students in building reading stamina.

With so many possibilities, it can be hard to imagine what it might look like to put Geodes into practice. You might even be wondering, “How can I use one set of books, or a single text, to meet the needs of all my students?” While whole-group instruction may be the most efficient way to introduce a new Geodes book to students, using Geodes in small groups offers more opportunity for practice and targeted support.

In small-group instruction, students are typically placed into groups of three to six students according to the most immediate hurdle—accuracy, fluency, or comprehension–preventing them from successfully reading a given Geodes text. Each text includes guidance in the Inside Geodes® teacher resource that enables teachers to easily plan lessons that help students overcome these core reading hurdles. This means that, ultimately, teachers can use a single Geodes text in three ways to offer differentiated, small-group instruction that addresses the root cause of students’ reading challenges and moves them closer to skilled, independent reading.

Let’s look at each hurdle in more detail.

Accuracy: Addressing Students’ Word-Attack Skills

Key Question: Can my student automatically read the decodable and high-frequency words in the text?

Reading Tricky Words

To read accurately, students need to recognize words quickly and efficiently on sight. There are many words that students will regularly see during reading that might not be decodable yet based on the letter-sound patterns they have learned so far during foundational skills instruction. These words will need to be explicitly taught, and each curriculum may have a different approach to teaching them.

Every Geodes text includes Fundations® Trick Words, which are high-frequency words that students are explicitly taught to recognize and decode during Fundations® instruction. Other foundational skills programs will include instruction on a similar set of words.

A strong foundational skills curriculum systematically builds students’ understanding of letters, their sounds, and the ways that letters are often combined in English writing to produce specific sounds. Geodes texts align with the pacing of foundational skills instruction and include words from four categories:

  • Decodable Words (can be sounded out based on known phonetic concepts),
  • Fundations® Trick Words (high-frequency words with unexpected sounds—see the sidebar for more information),
  • Recurring Content Words (8–12 content-based words that repeat across books in a module), and
  • Words that are not yet decodable (contain phonetic concepts that have not yet been taught).

At least 80 percent of the words in each Geodes book are either decodable or high-frequency words that have already been taught during foundational skills instruction, which makes Geodes highly readable.

When students struggle to read the decodable and high-frequency words in a text, teachers can use strategies from their foundational skills program to reteach phonetic concepts and practice accuracy during small-group instruction. The strategy a teacher uses with a student may vary depending on the type of word the student is having difficulty with. For example, teachers may help students sound or tap out words, use flashcards, or break a word down on a whiteboard before students practice reading part or all of a Geodes text as a choral reading, with a partner, or independently.

“Teachers were differentiating by planning lessons for multiple letter-leveled groups of students, using leveled texts that were controlled for everything but phonics rules. Now, with Geodes, all the students read the same text and the teacher differentiates their teaching in one of three ways … It’s way easier to differentiate with one Geodes book than it is with three different leveled texts.

—Danielle Gaither, Literacy Coach

Fluency: Developing Students’ Phrasing and Expression

Key Question: Does my student read the text with appropriate phrasing and expression?

Once students become strong decoders, they spend time in small-group instruction working on their phrasing and expression. Beginning readers often read word by word and may not use appropriate expression when reading aloud, while fluent readers read in phrases with rhythm, emotion, intonation, and pauses that make sense for a listener. Research into reading fluency has shown that oral reading fluency is a strong indicator of students’ ability to silently read and comprehend a text independently. If students show a lack of oral reading fluency, even if they are accurate decoders, fluency is the next hurdle to address on the road to reading comprehension.

Repeated readings with varying levels of support can help students recognize the role of punctuation, better understand how to scoop up phrases, develop variations in their expression, or adjust their reading pace. Teachers may begin by modeling a fluent read of challenging sections of a Geodes book while students start by whisper reading along with the teacher and then progress to choral reading and then partner reading, gaining more independence and fluency with each read.

Five black rectangles with light blue rectangles inside that get longer as they progress from left to right. Under the left rectangle it says more support and under the right side rectangle it says less support. Inside the blue rectangles are the names and descriptions of five reading fluency activities including read aloud, choral read, echo read, partner read, and independent read.Comprehension: Helping Students Make Meaning of Texts

Key Question: Does my student understand what is happening in the text?

Wit & Wisdom Connection

Geodes texts explore connected topics across multiple books, which are organized into modules that are based on the content and progression of the Wit & Wisdom® module topics.

This sustained study of a variety of texts on related topics provides additional content knowledge support as students learn to read and allows students to build depth of knowledge and develop more academic vocabulary.

Students who demonstrate strong accuracy and fluency are ready to work on comprehension. These students can often read Geodes independently or with little support, and small-group instruction can help them strengthen their understanding of a text and their analysis of grammar, vocabulary, and text features such as illustrations, maps, charts, and diagrams. Teachers can strategically guide students’ exploration of a Geodes text, or parts of the text, and select from several comprehension tasks to build students’ knowledge and skills.

Geodes also offer many opportunities for enriching and extending student learning. For example, students can use topics from the More section of each Geodes text, which is available in English and Spanish, to delve into other areas of the content. Students who are ready for more of a challenge and are intrigued by a particular Geodes topic can also find additional books with similar content at the library.

Flexible, Targeted Instruction Helps Unlock Reading Success

Research tells us that emerging readers need books that consistently support them in applying their growing phonics skills while also offering rich content that builds the knowledge needed for comprehension (Castles et al. 2018; Cervetti et al. 2016; Cervetti and Hiebert 2019; Juel and Roper/Schneider 1985; Paris 2005). Each student’s path to developing these skills may look different, but there are common hurdles that every student may face at various points along the way. Differentiated, small-group instruction using Geodes is a great way for teachers to provide explicit, targeted instruction to students based on their identified needs while reinforcing the grade-level reading skills that have been taught.

For more support with small-group instruction using Geodes, learn more about our Getting Started with Geodes and Geodes Strategic Planning professional learning sessions.

Student groups should remain flexible, and teachers can easily shift students between groups as needed. Using observations of student performance during foundational skills instruction along with appropriate assessments can help teachers make sure students are receiving the support they need, when they need it, to become skilled readers. With this knowledge of students’ developing skills, teachers can choose from the flexible instructional options and activities–including the Recurring Content Words Routine, Teachable Moments, and Comprehension and Image Discussion Guides­–outlined in the Book Notes that accompany each text to amplify student learning.

For more Geodes in action, read this Q&A blog series about educator experiences with Geodes implementation, or watch this webinar that features a panel discussion with three educators about how they are using Geodes in their elementary classrooms.



Works Cited

Castles, Anne, et al. “Ending the Reading Wars.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol. 9, no. 1, 2018, pp. 5–51.

Cervetti, Gina N., and Elfrieda H. Hiebert. “Knowledge at the Center of English Language Arts Instruction.” The Reading Teacher, vol. 72, no. 4, 2019, pp 499–507.

Cervetti, Gina N., et al. “Conceptual Coherence, Comprehension, and Vocabulary Acquisition: A Knowledge Effect?” Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 29, no. 4, 2016, pp. 761–779.

Juel, Connie, and Diane Roper/Schneider. “The Influence of Basal Readers on First Grade Reading.” Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 2, 1985, pp. 134–152.

Paris, Scott G. “Reinterpreting the Development of Reading Skills.” Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 40, no. 2, 2005, pp. 184–202.

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Topics: Geodes knowledge building Science of Reading