Overview of Three Instructional Techniques for Preschool Classrooms: Large Groups, Small Groups and One-on-One

Large Group Instruction

A typical preschooler’s attention span is about fifteen minutes. This does not mean, however, that preschoolers are able to sit still for fifteen minutes without moving or talking, and listen to an adult lecture or read from a book. This means that a typical preschooler is able to focus on one task for an average of fifteen minutes. Keep that in mind when developing a daily schedule for your preschool class.

When planning large group activities, there are three appropriate instructional techniques for preschool children. The first is reading aloud. Keep your voice animated and interesting as you read aloud to children. Books that apply to your weekly theme as well as tell a story will appeal to most preschoolers.

Asking open-ended questions is another technique to use in a large group situation. While reading, ask children for their opinions on the story and the characters within it. Wonder aloud what the main character will do and wait for children to make educated guesses along with you. Allow time for discussion while you are reading.

Allow children to get up and move their bodies during circle time. Begin your circle time activity with stretches, jumping jacks, and running in place. Use your voice as a tool. Use a quiet voice to invite children to your circle, and gradually make your voice louder as you participate in movement activities. Slowly make your voice softer and slower as it becomes time to stop the movement activity and settle in for a read-aloud. Modulating your voice will have a more immediate response from children than your actual words will. If you continue to use these different voices every day, children will know what to expect as your voice gets louder and softer, quicker and slower.

Small Group Instruction

Teaching in a smaller group of children is often easier than large group instruction. You have more flexibility to change an activity when only a few children are participating. The most important thing to keep in mind when observing and teaching in a small group is to take your cues from the children. For example, if you are discussing the zoo one week, you may have a small group of children playing in the block center. Encourage the children to make a zoo for the plastic animals with the blocks. Suggest ways to create the zoo, but do not force your ideas on the children. Watch and wait, observing the children's strategies for building cooperatively and working together to incorporate everyone's ideas. Be sure to step in if there is a conflict the children cannot resolve on their own.

One on One Instruction

Often, there are times during the day when you will be able to interact with children one on one. Use these times to connect with each child personally, and to observe developmental milestones and anomalies. For example, cooking is a good activity for one on one instruction. While there are several tools in the kitchen that may be dangerous to a group of preschoolers, interacting with a child one on one is a good place to teach safety in the kitchen. Here you can guide children to pour, cut, mix, and measure.

Observation is the key to teachable moments in one on one instruction. Watching children for signs of distress or confusion, you will be able to change the activity to suit each individual child's needs and developmental abilities.

Discipline and Guidance

Room setup, daily schedule, and a balance of activities are also important. These three things will often dictate the need for disciplinary action in your classroom.

A room setup with a racetrack feel to it will surely be noticed by a classroom of preschool children. If the shelves are set up in a way to invite a running track, you may find yourself repeating “No running in the classroom!” more times than you would like. When setting up your preschool classroom, be sure to use shelving and furniture to create spaces for children to spread out but avoiding the racetrack feel.

Your daily schedule should reflect the average preschool attention span of fifteen minutes. If you include an hour of center choice time, be sure to allow the children to move to different centers within that hour if they choose to. Circle time and other large group activities should never exceed fifteen minutes per activity. Preschoolers should never be forced to participate in a large group activity, but rather invited.

A balance of large and small group, indoor and outdoor, and teacher directed and child centered activities should be offered each day. The bulk of a preschoolers day should be spent in small group or one on one interactions, with short spurts of large group instruction. Children should be allowed to play outdoors each day, regardless of weather conditions. Take care to dress children warmly when necessary, but do allow for even a few minutes of outdoor time even on snowy days. While there is certainly a place for teacher directed activities, most activities that take place in a preschool setting should be child chosen and child centered. While the teacher can offer materials and equipment that guide the activity in a certain direction, children should be allowed to interpret the activity in their own way.