Determine Student Reading Levels
At the beginning of the year, I look at the data from the end of the previous year to temporarily group the kids. I know some teachers wait for students to take a computerized assessment (iStation) to begin grouping, however if you simply look at data (DRA and guided reading levels) from last year you'll have your groups the first week of school when teaching procedures. Waiting for classes to get set up in the computer and getting your class scheduled for testing takes weeks.
Once you know your levels, you can group the kids by reading level. I have no more than four to a group, and my number of groups can range anywhere from 6 to 9 depending on my range of readers. Then I arrange my groups beginning with the lowest group (figure 1).
Scheduling Your Groups
The next step is to plan out your groups on a calendar. Since you have your groups numbered lowest to highest, this becomes quite easy. The trick is to look ahead for any assemblies, library time, holidays, etc. that will interfere with your lowest groups and make adjustments as necessary (figure 2).