Action Step and Orientation

E3. Provide additional instructional time for children in need of extra reinforcement or accelerated learning opportunities.

In this lesson, you and your site/campus-based leadership team will learn about the importance of scheduling, lesson planning, and professional development to enable your staff to provide additional instructional time for children in need of extra reinforcement or accelerated learning opportunities.

In Part 1, you will learn how to consider and examine ideas to help meet the needs of individual children.

Part 2 shows you how to implement systems that provide necessary instructional time for children who need extra reinforcement or accelerated learning opportunities.

To get started, download the Implementation Guide for this component and refer to the Action Step for this lesson. Review the Implementation Indicators for each level of implementation and note the Sample Evidence listed at the bottom of the chart.

Part 1—Planning to Meet the Needs of Individual Children

Children enter early childhood settings with different backgrounds, languages, experiences, and knowledge. One of your tasks is to create language- and literacy-rich learning environments that meet the needs of all these children. To do that, you must provide time, training, and materials to your staff to enable them to meet children’s needs.

Developmentally appropriate practices must guide instructional planning for young children, so there must be awareness of the ages and stages of all children at an early childhood center. This is also true in elementary schools. Early childhood and elementary education teams share the responsibility of implementing approaches that meet the needs of all children. Both teams design schedules that allow time for extra reinforcement or accelerated learning opportunities.

However, implementation of the approaches may differ. In elementary schools, teachers gather the majority of data through formal assessments, and children attend school for a full day. In 0–SE programs, there is a greater reliance on gathering ongoing information about children from other types of assessments, such as questionnaires, checklists, and screeners. Children in some prekindergarten programs may attend for only a half-day and therefore have less time to accomplish objectives. Consequently, leaders need to be aware of the challenges that half-day programs present so that they can maximize instructional time to provide extra reinforcement or accelerated learning opportunities for these children.

As children enter your early childhood programs, staff will need to make initial observations or assess them using questionnaires, checklists, and screeners to determine what each child needs. Subsequently, staff can begin planning accommodations to meet the identified needs.

This lesson focuses on children’s cognitive development. One of the most effective ways to work on cognitive skills is through small-group or individualized instruction. As leaders, you will be reflecting on the best ways to support your staff as they develop plans and systems to deliver both small-group and individualized instruction.

Young children can benefit from small-group and individualized instruction when it follows developmentally appropriate practices (e.g., engaging hands-on learning activities that are matched to the child’s skill level and attention span). Instruction should be based on learning objectives, child assessments, and staff observations. Working in small, flexible groups for short periods of time, teachers can teach within each child’s optimal learning level or within the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978). In early childhood settings, this is a helpful way to understand differentiated instruction, or instruction that is tailored to meet individual strengths and needs. Such teaching is based on understanding that learning will not occur at its optimal level if children are not challenged enough or if they are over-challenged and frustrated.

Leaders and staff must review the daily schedule to ensure that it provides blocks of time for small-group or individualized instruction. Finding blocks of time that are forty-five minutes to an hour long in preschool schedules allows time for intentional, quality, small-group instruction. Long blocks of time allow teachers to work in rotation with small groups of children for 10–15 minutes each. For preschoolers in full-day programs, you may plan two blocks of time for small-group instruction, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Preschool children typically have a longer attention span and are able to focus on a topic for a longer period of time than infants and toddlers. You will read a scenario in Part 2 of this lesson that shows how small groups can be used for differentiated instruction in a preschool class.

Individualized learning opportunities for infants and toddlers can still be intentional and planned, but it will need to be flexible and take place in shorter activity periods, as this scenario demonstrates.

Scenario: Ms. Miranda works with young two-year-olds. After assessing what each of her toddlers understands about spatial vocabulary words, she decides to work with a group of three toddlers on the concepts of “in,” “out,” “on,” and “under” using small toy animals and a set of nesting cups. She sits down with them on the rug and invites them to play with her using these toys. As the children explore the animals and cups, she demonstrates putting an animal on, in, and under a cup and then encourages the children to do the same action. She models using these spatial vocabulary words repeatedly and encourages the children to say them as they position their animals in different ways. Some toddlers in Ms. Miranda’s class are not yet ready to learn these spatial concepts. Ms. Miranda uses the cups and animals with these other children separately to work on learning the names of the animals and playing a memory game by hiding animals under the cups for the children to find.

As you reflect on the needs of your preschool children and begin to make initial plans for small-group or individualized instruction, you will consider several factors. As with infants and toddlers, the age and developmental stage of your preschool children will help you determine the length of instructional time to schedule, the number of students to group together, and the time to block for small-group instruction.

Additionally, in planning for small-group and individualized instruction, it is important to consult the data you have collected, and will continue to collect, about students (e.g., parent/family questionnaires/interviews, checklists, informal observations/anecdotal notes, portfolio entries/work samples, screeners, formal assessments, parent conferences, curriculum assessments, etc.). Use this information for grouping students who need to work on the same types of skills and for planning specific skills to target during instruction.

Teachers will need good classroom systems in place for differentiating instruction. This includes having a designated space created for small-group instruction, as well as having effective systems for gathering children to the group, managing transitions between small-group and large-group instruction, and providing meaningful activities for children engaged in independent work while teachers work with specific students. In other words, think about

  • where you will work with a small group to minimize distractions;
  • what other learning activities children can work on independently while you are working with a small group;
  • how you will signal children to come to the group when it is their turn; and
  • how you will teach children to transition from one activity area to the next when they are working independently.

Successful leaders want their staff to understand the value of small-group and individualized instruction and the meaning of differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction means that you respond to and recognize the differences in children’s readiness, skills, and interests. Your expectation should be that your staff know they must implement differentiated instruction and that, as leaders, you will provide them with the knowledge to deliver this instruction in appropriate ways. Leaders should offer the appropriate professional development to prepare staff to successfully plan and deliver small-group or individualized instruction. During professional development, the following questions should be answered:

  • What is the value of small-group and individualized instruction, and why do we do it?
  • What is differentiated instruction?
  • How do I set up a system for small-group and individualized instruction?
  • How do I determine what to teach?
  • How do I continually monitor and regroup children?

After staff members have received this professional development, they will be prepared to better meet the needs of all children and understand how to provide extra reinforcement and accelerated learning opportunities that are age and developmentally appropriate.

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TO LEARN MORE: Go to page 15 in the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines to find information about the value of small-group instruction.

Part 2—Ensuring High-quality, Individualized Instruction

As we discussed in Part 1, the implementation of small-group and individualized instruction is based on clearly defined expectations from leadership, a schedule that allows blocks of time, and appropriate professional development. In the following scenario, Ms. Hill, a prekindergarten teacher in an ISD, and her assistant, Ms. Hernandez, planned for small-group lessons.

Scenario: Ms. Hill and Ms. Hernandez worked with the campus leadership team to arrange their schedule to allow a one-hour block of time for small-group lessons right after their opening whole-group activity. Ms. Hill and Ms. Hernandez both received professional development on classroom management, setting up classroom systems, and implementing small-group instruction. All children in the class were learning letter names and their characteristics. The teachers observed the children’s understanding of letters during the first six weeks of school by conducting initial screeners, observing children play, creating and reviewing checklists, and using the letter wall.

From their formal and informal observations, Ms. Hill and Ms. Hernandez determined that they needed to form four groups with five children in each group in order to meet the needs of the children. For the small-group lessons, the teachers selected activities that met current objectives, were easy to handle, and did not require large amounts of time to accomplish. Both Ms. Hernandez and Ms. Hill made sure that their small-group lessons were based on the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines, which they documented on their written lesson plan.

During a professional development session Ms. Hill attended before school started, she learned about the implementation of a rotational system for small groups. Ms. Hill decided she would try this system. Before beginning small-group instruction, both teachers discussed and planned how they would set up the system. They also planned how and when they would explain the system to the children.

In preparing to use the system, the two teachers thought about the small groups they would need. Based on observations of the children’s language skills, Ms. Hill and Ms. Hernandez realized and discussed a need for strong vocabulary instruction. Ms. Hernandez then planned a vocabulary lesson based on the current thematic book being read during large-group time.

After the children were taught how to move through small groups, they were systematically dismissed from circle time to the four activity areas. The first group went to Ms. Hill’s teaching table; the second group went to the carpeted large-group area to work with previously introduced and designated materials that supported letter knowledge (puzzles, magnets, games); the third group went to Ms. Hernandez for the vocabulary lesson; and the fourth group went to a table to write new entries in their journals.

Ms. Hill wore a colorful necklace to visually remind children that she was busy working with a small group. One of the four groups needed extra reinforcement on learning the characteristics of letters. To meet the needs of this group, Ms. Hill prepared a box of materials for the lesson, including magnetic letters, paper, crayons, and pipe cleaners. Ms. Hill pulled two sets of magnetic letters from her supply box. The first set of letters included A, E, and F. The second set of letters included C, O, and S. She put the first set of letters in front of the children and explained what a straight line was. She took out a piece of paper and a crayon and drew a straight line. She lifted her index finger, and while pointing to it, she told the children that this was another example of a straight line. Then she asked the children to hold up their index finger to find the straight line. She had them trace their index finger with the index finger on their other hand, starting at the top. She reinforced the vocabulary of “straight line” by having them say it as they traced their index finger.

Then she pointed to the magnetic letters from set one and gave each child a turn at identifying a straight line on one of the three letters. She followed this activity by giving each child a piece of paper and a crayon and asking each one to draw a straight line.

Next, she took out the second set of letters, put them on the table, and used her finger to trace the curve on the letter C. She explained that all three letters had curves or curved lines. She used her hand to form a letter C and asked the children to do the same thing. She had them use the index finger of their other hand to trace the letter C. She reinforced the vocabulary of “curved line” by having them say it as they traced the letter C. She put a letter in front of each child and asked each one to trace a curve on the letter. She then asked the children to draw a curvy line on their papers.

She put both sets of letters together and worked with the children to sort the letters into sets of “straight line” letters or “curved line” letters. She finished the activity by giving each child a pipe cleaner. Together, the small group practiced creating straight and curved lines and saying the words “straight line” or “curved line” as they made them.

Before the lesson, Ms. Hill had created a form with the names of the children in the group and a space for comments and had placed it on a clipboard. After the lesson, she made quick notes about the children’s understanding of letter characteristics. She intended to use these notes for future instructional planning.

Down the hall, another teacher named Ms. Walker also taught prekindergarten. She and Ms. Hill had received the same professional development on classroom management, setting up a classroom system, and planning small-group instruction. However, Ms. Walker didn’t have an assistant. She initiated many of the same strategies as Ms. Hill, but she adjusted her groupings to accommodate being the only staff member in the classroom.

She visited weekly with Ms. Hill to discuss classroom instructional strategies and current objectives. They shared instructional ideas and materials. They also met monthly with the preschool mentor to plan small-group lessons and individual activities.

These staff members worked collaboratively to solve problems and plan effective small-group lessons. They also shared successes and challenges with the campus-based leadership team at regularly scheduled meetings. This team of effective leaders supported their staff by checking in with them frequently and making sure they had appropriate professional development, adequate time in their schedules for small-group instruction, and materials to provide extra time for reinforcement or accelerated learning.

This scenario depicts staff who plan well together to meet the needs of all children in their classrooms. As you work to ensure a high level of consistency in meeting the needs of children at your center through appropriate instructional strategies, you should also use a systematic approach. This approach may include the following steps for your site/campus-based leadership teams:

  • Planning and conducting ongoing meetings to communicate expectations for instructional strategies, to determine what strategies are appropriate for children at different age and developmental levels, and to review and adjust classroom schedules
  • Supporting staff in determining how much time will be allotted to small-group instruction and what will be taught during small-group lessons
  • Ensuring that staff design and distribute different lesson plan templates for infant/toddler and prekindergarten classrooms and that lesson plans include small-group instruction
  • Communicating expectations that lesson plans include (1) a current assessment plan for prekindergarten or (2) a plan for individualization for each child (generally called an individual educational plan or IEP for infants and toddlers)
  • Supporting teachers in using observation and assessment tools throughout the year and communicating how teachers will use data and share data with families
  • Establishing a classroom walk-through tool that is used at scheduled intervals throughout the year to monitor classroom practices and following up with teachers to discuss findings from walk-throughs

icon for Learning more

TO LEARN MORE: The resources below provide ideas to use with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

The “RTI in Pre-Kindergarten” section of the RTI Action Network website provides in-depth information about response to intervention in a Prekindergarten setting.

The Center for Early Literacy Learning website provides guides with hands-on activities that might be helpful in forming small-group and individualized lessons for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

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NEXT STEPS: Depending on your team’s progress with this Action Step, you may want to consider the following next steps:

  • Review and discuss the information on the chart that compares the response to intervention (RTI) approach used in elementary classrooms to the recognition and response approach appropriate for early childhood classrooms. This information can be found in Part 3 of Lesson E1—Data and instruction.
  • Review daily schedules and determine options for providing additional instructional time.
  • Identify several evidence-based practices for differentiated instruction and begin to plan professional development based on these practices.


E3. Provide additional instructional time for children in need of extra reinforcement or accelerated learning opportunities.

With your site/campus-based leadership team, review your team’s self-assessed rating for Action Step E3 in the TSLP Implementation Status Ratings document and then respond to the four questions in the assignment.

TSLP Implementation Status Ratings 0-SE

In completing your assignment with your team, the following resources and information from this lesson’s content may be useful to you:

  • Refer to Part 1 to find suggestions for establishing a plan to meet the needs of children in your program.
  • Refer to Part 2 to find a scenario that lists action steps for planning and delivering small-group instruction.

Next Steps also contains suggestions that your site or campus may want to consider when you focus your efforts on this Action Step.

To record your responses, go to the Assignment template for this lesson and follow the instructions.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.