I was introduced to the concept of invitational groups when Ellin Keene first worked with our middle school ELA team. Our school had completed a book study of Mosaic of Thought, but it wasn’t until Ellin led a demonstration lesson in a colleague’s classroom that I started to understand the power of the invitational group. While Mosaic of Thought focuses on reading, the invitational group works just as well with writing, too. See below for a summary.
I started invitational groups as voluntary groups in my classroom: I would ask anyone who wanted to see me demonstrate a concept such as writing with imagery or thinking aloud about suspense in a text to join me in a certain location in the classroom. All the other students were writing or reading independently, or sometimes students were working with writing partners on giving feedback. After students became comfortable with the structure, I added the specific invitations to our routine.
While nothing can take the place of one-on-one conferencing, utilizing invitational groups helps solve a bit of the time issue, since the teacher can work with several students at once. Other students move at their pace, too, without being forced to spend time reviewing concepts they already understand, as often happens in whole-group mini-lessons.
Surprisingly, after invitational groups became a routine in my classroom, students who seemed secure with a concept sometimes self-selected into an invitational group. We all know students who are skilled at pretending they “get it” when in fact, they may be confused. Because this structure removes the stigma of “extra help,” students felt comfortable dipping into a group as needed.
Invitational groups are small groups of students who have shared needs for intensive instruction or discussion. Students are invited to participate in an invitational group so the teacher can reinforce or extend a concept discussed in whole-group instruction. (Students can also join voluntarily.) This is an opportunity to practice a skill with teacher support. Students have an opportunity to observe the teacher model in a more controlled, focused setting.
Setting up the Mini-lesson
Call students to a table or a close setting. Plan instruction to address a clearly identified need for each child in the group, such as reviewing a strategy, explaining a challenging writing convention, working on literary technique such as foreshadowing, etc. Establish routines and protocols to prohibit interruptions from other students. During reflection time, students who have participated in an invitational group can be invited to demonstrate what they have learned.
Invitational groups are short, focused, and active. Invitational groups should be used as necessary and should rarely exceed fifteen minutes. Invitational groups are not static – the same group of children may meet one to three times to focus on an area of need; then they disband.
Adapted from Keene, Ellin Oliver, and Susan Zimmermann. Mosaic of Thought. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.