Guide to Small Group Reading with Preschoolers

Small group reading is a valuable part of an early learning program. Explore how reading together as a group supports childhood literacy and a growing love of books and story telling. 

Helpful tips for small group reading

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Language development is an important part of early childhood education that can be supported in many ways.

A group reading experience will vary depending on factors such as the number of participants, the space where the reading takes place, and time allotted for the reading.

Story time with a small group of children is a bit different than addressing a large group, and it has its benefits.

Small group reading provides opportunities for listening, interacting, responding individually and collaborating. 


Benefits of small group reading

A small group reading experience offers unique opportunities for learning and enjoyment. 

Here are a few benefits that can be realized from story time with a small group.


1. Reading as a group helps to develop language and cognitive skills as kids share experiences with others. 

As a result of group participation, children are given an opportunity to recognize and appreciate different responses and opinions from others.


"Did anyone ever build a snowman like that?"

"Why did the snowman melt?"

"Do you think they will build another snowman"?


2. Small group reading enhances the daily schedule with a routine activity.

Children and teachers gather together comfortably in a specific area with everyone's attention focused on one activity. It is generally understood that quiet voices are to be used unless a story requires more energetic reading. The group reading also requires taking turns and listening to each other.

This can be a calming, settling routine that is beneficial throughout the school day.


3. Small group reading encourages interaction between teacher and students.

There is more opportunity for response from participants when the number of listeners is small. Time can be allowed for participants to engage individually with the reading.

There is also more opportunity for images to be shared and explored.

Encourage and demonstrate engagement with the story: make comments; ask questions; predict outcomes.


4. Reading as a scheduled small group activity is often effective as a transition from one activity to another.

With attention focused, the teacher or parent is able to guide children into another play activity or prepare for nap time after the reading.


Recommended reading for preschoolers



Guidelines for successful small group readings

The length of the reading time will vary according to factors such as the age and attention span of children, the topic of the book, and even the mood of the day. Fifteen minutes is a general guideline for reading and discussing a story. Often a reading can be extended or enhanced with movement activities that add to the overall understanding or comprehension of a reading.

Here are a few tips for conducting a small group reading.


  • Seat children comfortably in a carpeted area or on individual mats or cushions.
  • The teacher may sit on a low stool to facilitate holding the book at a level where it is seen by all. The book may be supported on an easel to allow the teacher to be hands-free
  • Minimize distractions such as toys or materials in the circle unless they are adding to the story (i.e. puppets).
  • Opt for books with large, colorful illustrations. Point out the title, author, and illustrator before you begin reading.
  • Bring the characters alive - or highlight the action or the mood of the story - using voice fluctuations, facial features and hand gestures.
  • Make eye contact with the children, pausing often to allow them - and you! - to make comments or ask questions.


Options for small group reading 

Shared Reading Program

One of the programs I initiated with my preschool was a shared reading program with a local elementary school.

Each of the preschoolers in my class was matched with a reading buddy from a grade two classroom. As the older children began to read to the younger ones, I was pleased with the relative quiet that followed, with only gentle murmurs heard throughout the room.

This program benefited early readers of all ages.


Alternative Methods of Telling Stories

Compliment small group story times with other methods of story telling. These extensions of the traditional book can include puppet shows, charades, or other means of communicating a story.

These alternatives are beneficial for young children who often cannot be expected to sit for long periods, and to provide a variety of language and communication experiences.


Smaller groups

Children who are easily distracted in large groups may benefit from readings with just two or three children at a time. You might also consider having each child hold a fidget toy or even a favorite doll or stuffy that will join in the reading. Props can also be a distraction so these options will vary from one experience to another.


While it is always desirable to have books available for children to access individually, a small group story time adds value and enjoyment to your language activities.

Reading as a small group can be  a special part of your day at home or in the classroom. Take advantage of the opportunity to share stories as a group for overall childhood development. 


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