The Daily Cafe

Strategy Groups AND Individual Conferring?!? How?


I teach 5th grade English, spelling, reading, and writing crammed into two 48-minute periods each day. I am also the reading specialist/coach at our school. This is our first year implementing Daily 5 from Kindergarten through 8th grade. I conduct a weekly meeting where our teachers discuss and continue learning about Daily 5 and the CAFE, and a common struggle among us all is how to have meaningful strategy groups while also individually conferring with students regularly enough to see that a strategy is being practiced and applied. How does one teacher balance individual conferring for reading and writing, as well as find time to teach strategy groups? It seems there is never a way to meet all my students’ needs, and I find myself feeling frustrated, constantly searching for a way to make it easier. My students highly value their individual conferring because they know I truly care about what they are reading and writing, so… how can I successfully use strategy groups [so handy for teaching differentiated strategies] and individual conferring for reading AND writing, all while maintaining a Daily 5 structure with choice and brief focus lessons in between?!? Help!


You have quite the job and expectations!

To help us understand a bit more, I have a couple of questions for you. Have you all attended a face to face workshop with the Sisters? I ask because I’m wondering if you all are working Daily 5 CAFE out on your own, through the books and website, or if you have some of the materials from the Sisters presentation. That will help point you to some supportive ideas with the materials you have :).


Thank you for the speedy response! No, our teachers have not attended a Daily 5 workshop yet. We work at a very small Lutheran elementary school, and obtaining resources to get us to a workshop [none of which are even remotely close to where we live] has presented a challenge. I am hoping to attend the Tacoma workshop this summer.
That being said, here is more background. When staff met a year ago to determine whether to buy a new basal series or try Daily 5, thankfully the vote was unanimously for Daily 5! Our enthusiastic staff read and met about Daily 5 throughout the summer and I was there alongside each of them to assist in any way I could. Our only resources are the books, the website [which none of the teachers regularly access but me], and observations we did at another school that had been practicing Daily 5 for several years.
Continuing to meet weekly has definitely kept us accountable to Daily 5, and the conversations and sharing are developing a new dimension to our friendships. I see conferring, whether it be in strategy groups, or individual, to be a common struggle among us all. I attempt them all each day in 5th grade, but often I feel like I’m going in too many directions. For example, a common situation for me is when I see a student has chosen Read to Self, I don’t know whether it is appropriate or not to set up camp next to her and start a writing conference. I feel like I am diminishing her choice and breaking her stamina! Another example is when I teach a new strategy, such as identifying hyperbole in literature and analyzing its meaning, I get bogged down with so many other strategy groups and conferences that I feel I don’t follow-up with that specific student as quickly as I should. Am I going about this system all wrong?!?
Believe me, I have questions on top of questions [I also coordinate and teach Title I/SPED and aide in several classrooms at our school!], but any input on this area will greatly encourage our staff. Thank you so much for your thoughts and time!



I do understand how difficult and deep all those questions are! I’ll try to give some good references to infor here on the website that my help a bit.

Here’s a link to an article I use to remind both myself and other teachers I work with (I’m a reading spec) about keeping the conferences short. It’s called Teaching Towards a Target: Click on the hyper link there to get the handout, which you can print and give to everyone. I think sometimes we try to carry on our conferences too long–I definitely tend to do this!! If you add up all the times listed, it’s less than 5 minutes.

As it refers to a bit in this document, if you have in mind which kids you plan to confer with on a particular day, give them a heads-up before you move in to a round. You might suggest that that pick either writing or reading (which ever you’ll be conferring with them about).

Here’s another link This one talks about how to choose which kids to confer with. This may help, as well.

As far as strategy groups go, I think if your teachers have been doing more of Guided Reading kinds of groups in the past, it’s a bit of a chance of thinking to move to strategy groups. Here’s a link to a great article about that. There are a couple of links to other articles on the right hand side that would be good to look at now.

That’s enough for now ;). I’m sure others will chime in on your posting, too, so take the advice that will work for you.

If you do have the opportunity to attend the Tacoma workshop, I’d DEFINITELY say to go!! It’s so inspiring and helpful to talk with teachers from all over to get ideas. I think I’ll be at that one, too!!


You also might want to look in to and consider the online seminars. You can pick a seminar with a focus on Daily 5, CAFE or Math Daily 3. Here’s a link to info about those:


Your questions are such good ones and queries we all deal with! Here is something to consider: we are finding a consistent trend in our own work as well as classrooms all over the world where there are fewer strategy groups being conducted and most of the Daily 5 time is being used with individual conferring. The reason? Strategy groups can be hard to manage for some teachers and many find the length of the group lesson to be so long that it doesn’t jive with the brain research and cuts into individual conferring time. Here is an article to consider.


I did just read your article about individual conferring vs. strategy groups, and in my personal experience, while students enjoy both, they absolutely CRAVE the one-on-one conferring [relief!]. They are literally begging for a “conference” each time I pass by them! The best thing about the individual time is I know my kids’ reading and writing strengths, weaknesses, and goals inside and out, and they do too!
I am looking forward to reading the articles you have both provided and sharing them with other teachers. Switching to the Daily 5 structure has been a tremendous shift for all our teachers this year, but they all wholeheartedly agree it has helped create an atmosphere where every child truly loves reading and writing, and we look forward to continuing the Daily 5 journey together as the years unfold!
Thank you all for the support and immediate feedback - I’m sure I’ll be back with more questions soon!


I truly agree with Joan that one-on-one conferring is the heart of meeting the needs/goals of each of our kiddos. It’s a little hard for many teachers to give up small groups time at first, but we all seem to get to that point of realizing that even if you have 3 kids working on a specific strategy, each one’s needs is a bit different. 5 minutes of one on one time means so much more than 15 minutes where you go back and forth between kiddos in a group.


We love all your questions!!


To support what Joan said above, look at this article in the “Tip of the Week” I read today:


Yes, I have used that research this year to help me time my focus lessons. In fact, I just spent time last night explaining to a parent the structure of my classes and why I only teach in 10-minute intervals [I teach 5th grade ELAR]. Interestingly, the public school district in my town is making a shift away from Daily 5 for tier 2 and tier 3 students saying they need more direct instruction than Daily 5 allows. Some district teachers will still use the Daily 5, but it sounds like it will no longer be mandatory. I hear this, yet I have a student in 5th grade who was tier 3 in third grade [teacher used a basal so I pulled him for reading intervention], tier 2 in second [teacher used guided reading/Daily 5 which I coordinated with her], and tier 1 this year in my class, testing recently at grade level 7.5 in reading… and he has dyslexia! With proper intervention, Daily 5 works for ALL students. Our primary teachers have trained their aides to regularly confer with students which has doubled individual conferring time - amazing! I am also working on a system of regularly conferring with tier 2 and 3 students right inside their classrooms during their Daily 5 time, but scheduling can get tricky with that. Oh, if only I could clone myself!!!
Have you heard of schools moving away from Daily 5 because of lack of instructional time? It has presented an interesting challenge for me as a reading specialist because I feel it is my duty to research and understand both sides, then make decisions that are best for our students. Of course, we are going Daily 5 stronger than ever next year, but seeing our district schools considering a change because of too much independent choice was interesting… Penny for your thoughts?


I must say, that I find that Daily 5 is the best thing for tier 2 and 3 kiddos. In the classroom, their teachers know they must (at least should) confer with all kids in Tier 2 or 3. I’ve explained to them what I said above, that 3 kids reading at the same level do not have the same needs–only fluency,one comp, one vocab, for example. Trying to hold a group lesson and meeting all their needs is probably not really meeting anyone’s needs clearly enough. ( know you know that, but that’s an “argument” I use to clarify why the short, but focused conferring sessions are so appropriate.)

When the schools moving away from D5 talk about “loss of instructional time”–I would ask, "What to they mean–lack of whole group teaching, lack of small group (like guided reading lessons) that go on much to long for kids to attend? What I’m afraid of is them going back to “worksheet centers” where kids have packs of papers to do while the teacher meets with small groups.

It’s hard to “hold ground” sometimes, but as your example shows, it pays off often for the kids who need time to read the most.

What research are they (those turning away from D5) looking at? Richard Allington, one of the top reading researchers, talks about the importance of time to read as the road to success for our struggling readers. If we’re not providing that time to read, they are the ones who suffer most.

I know the Sisters are working on a white paper to show research supporting Daily 5 which they will share with us when it is completed.

Keep the faith and hold your ground–it is the best route for our kiddos.

Only one more point :)–sometimes public schools (which I’m a part of) have to play the numbers games even when they don’t really want to–or know that best practices are really not being followed. Individual teachers have to make a stand to do what they know is best for children within the system in which they work. It’s a tough spot to be in at times.

Ok–I’ll get off my Soap Box now :). I love the conversations we’re having!!


I appreciate the research our district schools provide here because I use it to help me make more informed decisions without having to do all the work myself. You’re so right, public schools have so many different angles from which they have to approach education, which can be both beneficial and challenging. I have so appreciated my public school friends who share insights and keep me “in the loop” so I can better develop our literacy instruction over time with a balanced approach that really reaches our kids. I truly applaud those public school teachers who “make a stand to do what they know is best for children within the system”. I am so blessed to have the unique opportunity to build a literacy framework with fellow teachers and present it to our administration, rather than the other way around.
Those are great questions you posed about the loss of instructional time. I will be emailing them to my friend in the district soon to see what she has to say.
Our first grade teacher has enjoyed reading our exchanges the past few days. She’s an incredible leader in our Daily 5 team [and also my daughter’s teacher], and as we were discussing all things Daily 5 this afternoon, she mentioned how she had heard schools are also moving away from Daily 5 because the teachers were not always careful to teach to the standards and confusion over assessments and grading [basically because in Daily 5 there’s no “pushing paper”]. I’m glad she brought it up, because we had talked about this before, and this has been a challenging area for us to develop.
We are currently working to align our standards to the CAFE menu to help hold us accountable, and I have developed some creative ways this year to transfer conferring touchpoints to “grades” that I hope to share with our teachers soon. Do you have solutions to the standards/assessment argument? Your input on the loss of instructional time was extremely helpful and it’s this kind of information that will help me continue to drive the Daily 5 machine forward!
Have you read Allington’s paper titled “The Other Five Pillars of Effective Reading Instruction”? I’m a huge follower of his work, as well as David A. Sousa. Love that research!!!
I’m loving our conversations too - I can never get enough when it comes to literacy and learning! Thanks for your support!


Allington’s article “The Six Ts of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction” is also a great read!


I love this article and refer to it often! The Sisters also refer to Allington often in their presentations, as well as many others in reading and brain-based research.

Are you in a Common Core state? If so, here on the website, you can find the CAFE menu aligned for each grade level 1-8, as well as the Emergent Menu. On the home page under CAFE, click on the CCSS Aligned menus. Not all language arts standards are there, but all the reading ones are covered. Here’s a link to the article by Allison Behne explaining them:

In my district, we are fortunate to not have to give numerical letter grades until 3rd grade. We use our running records, Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark assessments, our school’s CBAs (curriculum based assessments), and comprehension checks to help form our progress reports which are a narrative. We do as you said as well–use the touch points to explain progress and areas of concern. Our upper grades (3-5) do use traditional grades. The teachers integrate a lot of Social Studies into Language Arts, and the comp checks serve as part of the reading grades. They use DRA’s to check reading levels. I don’t know if this helps you or not . . .


I thought of another article from the website that might be good to share with your friend, too. I posted it at my school, and we had some very in-depth conversations about it. The main idea is–are you truly doing Daily Five?


To answer your earlier questions, no, we are not a common core school. We use Concordia Lutheran standards which are much more detailed and lengthy than common core, making aligning them to the CAFE a tedious, but very worthwhile process. As a reading specialist, my goal for the teachers is that by categorizing standards according to CAFE, they are beginning to recognize which standards they teach well, which ones they need to work to teach better [it has brought quite a bit of insight to me as the 5th grade teacher - talk about quickly finding your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher!] which standards are developmental and span over several grades, etc. It will hopefully encourage more communication among teachers as we pass kids along from one grade to the next.
Ohhhh, your post about centers vs. Daily 5 is very timely for me. We definitely have a combo going in our school. Some teachers are more comfortable with centers, and others jumped into Daily 5 headfirst and just went crazy with it! My biggest concern right now for our teachers doing centers is the conferring, which brings me back to the original reason for this post! Based on observation over the course of the year, I see that our “center teachers”, while still maintaining Daily 5 buzz words like “Read to Self” and “Work on Writing” struggle more with the one-on-one conferring. I don’t see them having individual conferences often, mostly because they are trying to manage or guide a center that students need support to accomplish.
Centers are still a huge change for these teachers from where we were a year ago… before this year our literacy was all teacher-guided with very little student choice. Honestly, I don’t mind the “center” approach if it makes teachers more confident [except it still diminishes student choice!], but how do I encourage them to step out there and do one-on-one conferring? I have modeled in our literacy meeting how to confer teaching a strategy with my first grade daughter as the “model student”, showed them how to access the ever-growing brief focus lessons and assessment lessons/rubrics, and I even recorded teachers so they could watch how their colleagues are conferring. Any insight you have here would be helpful… I am trying to respect our teachers and meet them wherever they are ready to be met, but I still see that conferring is crucial to student success! Do I continue to gently prod them toward individual conferring, or do I leave it alone?


When you mentioned going to the student as opposed to the student going to you, I have the students come to me. When we are conferring it is a book that we chose together that is on their reading level. I usually give them three choices, have them look through them, and pick one for themselves. If they find they don’t like it, there is another one handy for them to use. They are free to choose other books from the class library when they want, but we only work on the book that we chose together during conferences.

I also live in a remote area and took the online seminar. It was everything I needed to get me started. The teacher is encouraging and always available for questions. I highly recommend it.


Absolutely loving your feedback!!! Thank you so much for sharing how you manage conferring in your classroom! We are still so new to Daily 5, and for most of our teachers, the idea of one-on-one teaching is new, and sometimes even awkward. We laugh often about times when we’ve sat and had a student read aloud, then not know what to do or say next! I really appreciate that you provide three books from which a student may choose to demonstrate understanding of a strategy. I find that using their best fit books can be tricky sometimes. For example, the other day in 5th grade, I was teaching figurative language as a strategy, specifically watching for metaphors/similes in our books. I was soooooo relieved when each student I conferred with that day actually had a simile in his/her story! All I kept thinking was… what if they don’t come across figurative language during reading that day!
I find I confer both at students’ desks and call them to a work table, which I think confuses my kids who like predictability. I like that you are consistent with where you confer… I could definitely benefit from that practice!
Thank you for sharing… I hope others will share how they are conferring, what has worked, what hasn’t worked…ANYTHING!!! I’m loving these discussions!


I think moving from small groups to conferring is a BIG step for many teachers. I think your idea of “gently prodding” is a good one. Eventually, they’ll see the true benefit of individual conferring. I know it took a couple of years for teachers at my campus to ingrain the idea that every child’s needs are different.

For example: Children who need an accuracy strategy will not have the same needs. So. . . while we may introduce a book at the same level for a group of kids, their specific needs may differ from using beginning sounds to chunking sounds in a word.

If the teachers are doing running records, those differences will show up.