Monday, April 8, 2013

Managing Guided Math (Math Workshop)

If you've ever done any kind of guided reading/math, or tried out any of the workshop models, or done any work with centers then you already know that management is everything in making these types of activities successful. I already gave an overview of how I set up guided math in my classroom for the first time but today I want to share specifically how I go about managing it.  

This is what my original guided math poster looked like. I have very limited wall space so I made a long and tall poster to hang in a gap between two of my windows. I've made a much cuter, polka dot version for next year.  
(I can't believe I'm even sharing this poster as my new polka dot version totally kicks its butt. This was before I put in any effort for graphic designing things for my classroom.)

The four colored strips of paper have velcro attached on them for my students' names. The groups change with each unit. I rotate the corresponding dots (also attached with velcro) so students know what center they go to. This is our visual management for guided math.

Now, let's get into some specifics.

Week 1

I strongly believe in gradual release of responsibility when it comes to being successful with any center activity. When I first announced that we would be starting a new way of doing math (Monday of week 1), I described it to the class and showed them some of the fun and exciting materials we would be using. Then, we came up with a list of expectations together.
  • Get started with your activity right away and try your hardest.
  • Be respectful and responsible with materials and put them away in the proper place.
  • Work cooperatively with your partner and ask "3 before me" if you have a question about your activity.
  • Work the whole time. If you finish early, start a early finisher activity from the folder.
  • When you hear the timer, stop working and clean up your materials. Return, quietly to your desk.
The following two days (Tuesday and Wednesday of week 1) after the whole group lesson, everyone chose a partner and partners played math games from the hands-on learning center. I monitored the groups, answered questions, and redirected as needed. Thursday is my class's Tech lab time so we spent the period exploring and learning about the Math Fact Practice sites. My favorites are and During our math center time on Thursday and Friday my kids chose a partner and worked briefly in their problem solving journals (my at your seat center). Then, the following Monday (week 2) I felt confident that my students were ready to work independently and I started pulling groups. 


My students change math groups after every topic. On the night of the topic test, I send a short pre-assessment home with students for the next unit. I have emphasized with my parents how important it is that they don't help their child with this as it will hurt them in the long run. I then check the pre-assessment and consider how the students did on it as well as how they did on their previous topic assessment to modify the groups for the next unit. I try to group students based on what they need. I have a lot of kids this year who are really advanced so they need enrichment and some extra challenges. I also have some kids who need extra help with the basics. Grouping the kids likes this makes our time in groups more valuable. 

High Expectations

I have really high expectations for behavior during our guided math stations. I expect the voices to be at a whisper and I expect everyone to be on task. My fact practice center works independently and they are expected to be silent and working the whole time. Because my other two centers require partner work, I always require that a finished product be turned in. I expect my students to be kind and cooperative and consider guided math a privilege. I haven't had to "take it away" from a student but I think it would be acceptable to give an alternate activity to a student who was not being cooperative on a given day. I also expect my materials to be treated with respect. My sweet husband and afternoon parapro helped me put together so many file folder games. I made and laminated them and we spend hours cutting them out. I told my kids about this. Then, one week I found some of my game pieces scattered on the floor. I took the games away for the following week and replaced them with another activity. We haven't had a problem with this since.

These are just a few considerations for managing guided math or math workshop in your classroom, but I think they are good to keep in mind when getting started. What management suggestions do you have for math workshop?   


  1. Thank you for sharing your wonderful ideas! Hope you are having a terrific school year so far!

  2. I have tried this in the past. I don't know why I'm having such a hard time getting math centers going. How long is your math block? Do you get to all 4 rotations and who,e group everyday? Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Jen,

      My math block this year is 55 minutes. In the past I've had an hour. Both are pretty short! I only get to one group a day and am able to get pretty deep with them. Sometimes I will pull a second group during our independent practice of students who are struggling. I have a couple of math workshop posts. They might help you. There are certainly advantages to seeing more groups per day but my math time is limited and I don't want it lost to transitions. I get to every group at least once a week and my students are getting quality instruction in groups - not just skimming the surface. This might work for you too if you're on a time crunch!

  3. Hi Elizabeth. Has common core and Online assessments impacted your workshop much this year? Having a hard time getting to as much small group time as I have in the past worrying about making sure I didn't leave anything important out. Thanks for the good layout for the workshop model.

    1. Hey there! The short answer: yes and no. Yes in that there is so much to teach and so many standards that each need their own assessment (my district uses standards based assessment). The no is that I've been able to make it work. If you scroll up there is a comment where I explained to someone else how I only see one group per day and then make that work. It helps make my group time more meaningful and make sure I don't lose the precious time I do have to transitions.

  4. Hi, this is a wonderful idea. Do you have a copy of the objectives for each station? Thank you.

  5. Wow! This is just what my math instruction needs! Would you be able to share the early finisher activities and the games you provide? I have such a difficult time finding meaningful tasks that keep them challenged. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your comment! You will love maybe workshop! Some of my favorite games for math workshop come from 3rd Grade Thoughts and Core Inspiration on Teachers pay Teachers. They are highly aligned to the standards and once prepped for the first time, readable year to year. I also recommend Scootpad if you can do a technology center - even the free version is great practice! I will have to look up the word problems I use to get an exact name but I believe they are called "problem solving throughout the year" and are fabulous! Such an awesome way to develop accountable talk in math and higher level thinking. Your comment came up no-reply so I couldn't email you back but you can write me at if you want to chat more about math workshop or bounce around some ideas for your class.