Formal exams aren’t always the best form of assessment when it comes to determining a child’s reading ability. Exams take a lot of time, and they put a lot of unnecessary pressure on our kiddos.

Instead, I’m going to show you how a handful of reading assessments can help you group students for small group reading instruction quickly. Not only will these assessments help you to save time in the classroom, but they’ll also help streamline reading instruction and accelerate reading achievement!

(To watch the video where I discuss how you can quickly assess for small group reading instruction for kindergarten and first-grade level readers, hit play below or read on for a detailed overview)

3 Core Activities – The Backbone of Our Reading Assessments

When we use the Reading Simplified approach, we choose to use just three core activities called Switch It, Read It and Sort It.

You’ve probably heard me talk about these activities before if you’re a regular here. But if you’re new, you can learn all about these three core activities here:  

The grouping assessments I’m going to recommend to you are based on these three core activities. So, it’s worth taking some time to familiarize yourself with them before trying these quick and easy reading assessments with your kiddos.

Quick Assessments to Help You Group Your Students with Ease. 

How to Quickly Assess for Small Group Reading Instruction (K-1)

For most kindergarten and first-grade level readers, turn to these tests:

1. Letter-sound knowledge

2. Phoneme segmentation

3. Nonsense word reading (informal)

Give a Phoneme Segmentation Test

A phoneme segmentation assessment is a test where you call out a word orally and ask the students to tell you the sounds that they hear.

For example, you might call out the word “sit” and see if the student can segment or separate the sounds she heard in the word ‘sit.’ If she groups two sounds into one, point that out once and let her correct the answer.

To begin, start with the three sound level and gradually increase the difficulty as you go. You need to be one-to-one with the student to carry out a phoneme segmentation test. It won’t take very long. In fact, I don’t recommend you continue with this type of test if the student can’t segment any sounds in a given level.

This phoneme segmentation test is also a great way to test your student's letter-sound knowledge, so pay close attention!

Give a Nonsense Word Reading Test

When students tackle nonsense words, they have to rely on their sound-based decoding skills and knowledge of the alphabetic principle to decode the word. Kids of all ages have a knack for tricking us with their reading ability. Yes, they might be able to recognize lots of high-frequency sight words. But, they may not have the underlying strong sound based decoding skills they need to progress and read fluently.

A nonsense word reading test gets around this problem because if a child tries to read a word he has never seen before, he can’t rely on his visual memory. Instead, the student must tap into his ability to decode phonologically.

When you’re giving a student a nonsense word reading test, you’ll show him a list of words while making sure to cover up lower rows. Keep score as you go, and when a student can’t read any ‘words’ in a given level, that’s when you stop.

If you would like to grab a free list of nonsense words for this type of reading test, go to to access the free download.

Using Data to Place Students with 2 Core Activities 

After completing the tests, take the three points of data to place the students with two core activities that are relevant for kindergarten readers or early first-grade reading level students.

TOP TIP: To accelerate readers faster, move them up at least one level above their assessment data. For example, if a student functions at the CVC level, move them to the CVCC level when it comes to doing the phonemic segmentation test.

How to Quickly Assess for Small Group Reading Instruction (K-1)

It’s a good idea to do this because there’s no point working on something that the student is already a pro at. You want to keep challenging your students so that they can continue to develop and progress!

Grouping for Switch It

To quickly group students for small group reading instruction using the Build It and Switch It activities, let’s refer back to the results you got from the phonemic segmentation test.

To find out where your students should begin, take a look at the section on the left (see image below) to help decide which level on the right to place them. 

How to Quickly Assess for Small Group Reading Instruction (K-1)

Once you’ve placed your students, you’ll be able to put them into small reading groups where all of the children in the same group are at the same reading level. For example, if a group of students recognize over five letter-sounds but can’t segment CVC, they should start with the Build It activity (see above).

However, you might have more advanced students who can segment five or six sound words such as CCVCC or CCCVCC, which means you can move them to Switch It and incorporate more nonsense words to challenge phonemic manipulation.

Grouping for Read It

Next, take the data from the nonsense word reading test and use it to place and group students for the Read It activity. This process works in the same way as grouping for Switch It.

Find where your student should be placed on the left column and follow the instructions on the right to identify what Read It word lists you need to use for each student.

How to Quickly Assess for Small Group Reading Instruction (K-1)

If you would like to get your hands on the FREE reading assessment tests for small group reading instruction that I talk about in this post and video, just leave your name and email address below and your free downloadable PDF of the Snapshot Informal Reading Assessment will be delivered straight to your inbox!

Have you tried using any of these reading tests to assess your students for small group reading instruction? Let me know how you got on in the comments and if you have any questions, post them below!