Get Started with Guided Math Workshop

Guided reading has been around for a looong time. In fact, in many districts, it's a required part of the literacy block. And for good reason... Guided reading provides differentiation for students and lets the teacher keep close tabs on where each child is as a reader. It's become a best practice in the world of education. What I can't figure out is why guided math hasn't found the same level of discipleship.​

Once a child learns letters and sounds and basic phonics skills, reading becomes more of a practice in a specific set of comprehension skills - word meaning, main idea, author's purpose, inferencing, cause and effect, and so forth. There's not much new in reading from third grade on except for text complexity. My third graders are learning about character traits in folktales right now while my high school daughter has been discussing character traits in Shakespeare. If I don't quite get main idea this year, I'll get it again next year and again and again and again. ​​Math is different. Math continues to build and change from year to year. ​​Math in third grade looks ​​NOTHING like math in high school. In math, if I miss something essential early on, I may find myself falling farther and father behind because that skill likely won't be explicitly taught again next year. Actually, it may never be taught again.

This is all the more reason guided math should be happening in every elementary classroom. Yeah, I know... we teachers have enough on our plates. But planning for guided math isn't all that hard, really!

You just need 3 things: a spot to meet with your groups, a rotation schedule, and some math centers. Let's talk about each of these... A Spot to Meet

I would guess that the majority of teachers use their "reading table" to meet

with small groups. Why can't it also be a "math table"? I don't even use a table at all. I meet with students on the rug in front of my big whiteboard easel.

This gives us a place to spread out with manipulatives, math journals, individual whiteboards, or whatever else we need. I LOVE my whiteboard easel because I can use it to model strategies and the kids can use it to share their work. It looks like this:

Notice how the the easel sits close to the ground? Yeah, that's right, my easel can be raised and lowered! Did I tell you that I love it? I use it every, single day, usually multiple times. (Scroll to the end to find out where to get one.)

A Rotation Schedule

This is actually the trickiest part of guided math groups. But it's no different than scheduling your reading groups. I can't tell you exactly how to do it because each class is unique. It will depend mainly on the number of students and how much time you have each day.

However, one thing that should be the same across all classrooms: your groups should be fluid and based on your formative assessments and observations and you should meet with your low groups as much as possible. (Don't forget your high ones though! They need enrichment and can be pushed further than the curriculum goes.) Math Centers

These won't look the same for everyone. Your grade level, standards, and student abilities will dictate your centers. One thing to remember though: Keep it simple! Math centers can quickly get out of hand if you give too many choices or constantly change them. I like to use the same 4 every week:

  • Technology - There are so many good apps and online activities to choose from! Check out this list if you need some ideas: Websites for Learning

  • Partner Work - Really all you need for this center are some flash cards, whiteboards, and dry erase markers. Kids love to quiz each other and make up problems for their partner to solve.

  • Games - This is always the favorite center! There are so many great games that build math skills. You can make them, buy them, find them online. Check out: 5 Ways Games Can Help You Teach Math

  • Task Cards - I usually keep a bin of task cards for students to choose from for this center. They can take a set back to their seat to work on and then trade it for another set when they are done. For me, the best way to manage task cards is to keep them in little 3x5 photo albums like this:

The cards are kept in order, can't be bent or written on, and don't get lost. It also makes clean-up super easy.

  • Meet With Teacher - This isn't a scheduled rotation in my room (although it could be in yours). I call students up as needed, changing my groups daily based on who I need to see for which skill. I always keep white boards, markers, erasers, scrap paper, and math tools like rulers and base ten blocks nearby.

Here's a little tip: Go to Home Depot or Lowes, buy a piece of shower board (about $20) and ask them to cut into small rectangles (12x15 works well). They make perfect individual whiteboards that can be used during your math groups. Students will also use them at centers to work out problems. They are invaluable! For erasers, just cut up an old towel or use old socks.

Guided math takes a little bit of time to set up, just like reading groups do, but it's well worth it! Once I implemented it in my classroom, I saw a dramatic change in the amount of math learning that was happening and a positive change in the "mathitude" of my students.


For more tips, you can download this free Math Workshop Tips & Freebies e-book! It's packed with ideas and resources to help you get started in your own classroom. Just click the picture or link to download yours.

This is the whiteboard easel pictured above. It is available on Amazon for around $75 with free shipping. It can easily be raised, lowered, or folded flat. It has a marker tray on the front that isn't visible in the picture and a bar clip on the top to hold your big paper pads. I highly recommend this one!

Need help getting started? My Guided Math Workshop Starter Pack includes rotation posters, planning sheet, instructions, ideas and more.

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