When you think about teaching math to your students, do you cringe or get excited? Honestly, I used to cringe when my math block would roll around every day. It was the worst time of my day, yet I LOVED math… I just didn’t love teaching it.
Picture this… I am standing up in the front of my classroom teaching a math lesson on my Smartboard with my students seated in front of me for almost 30 minutes. I expect them to sit, listen, attend, and learn for 30 minutes straight… maybe more. Then I expect them to practice the skill that I just taught them, which would require an additional 15-20 minutes of my littles sitting at their desks.
What in the world was I thinking for all of these years? This is virtually impossible. My little 2nd graders should not be expected to sit in their seats for almost an hour, yet this is how I taught math for many years along with thousands of other teachers throughout the country. Then four years ago I had an epiphany! I have been teaching my students how to read during my small guided reading groups every day since I started teaching. Why in the world didn’t I think about doing this for math? And suddenly, all of my math issues faded away! I was on a mission to completely transform my math block to ACTUALLY meet the needs of ALL of my students… and to help me stay sane.
I researched and read, and then read and researched some more. A week later, my math block was transformed from a stressful daily event into a FUN, INVIGORATING, EXCITING, and RIGOROUS hour of learning!
Guided Math was the answer to my prayers!
I have seen huge improvements in my students’ math assessment scores over the past few years and I am SURE it is because I am instructing each of my students on their level. I am ensuring that I enrich the students that would benefit from a challenge and truly support my little struggling learners that need additional time learning specific skills. Not only have their scores increased, but the level of motivation and student engagement was incredible! I was hooked.
If you have ever thought about implementing Guided Math, here is your chance. I am going to share with you each of the components of Guided Math and how you can quickly get it up and running in your classroom in no time at all!
There are basically 9 main components of Guided Math. If you would like to get Guided Math up and running in your classroom, you will need to focus on these components:
Now — let’s get down to the nitty gritty and learn about each component!
A well-organized classroom = a well-organized math block! It is extremely important to have all of your math materials and manipulatives organized and labeled so that the students know exactly where to find what they need and where to put it back. Everything in my classroom has a “home” and my kiddos know that all of our materials always go “home” when they are done with them.
- I have a 10-drawer cart for my Spin-Its Math Stations. Each of my Spin-Its Math Stations is inside of a clear snap-close document holder. There is a number on each document holder that matches the number on the drawer cart.
- On top of the drawer-cart is a small bin that houses all of my Math Journal Word Problems for the unit of study that we are currently working on.
- There is a white bin on top of my manipulatives shelf that houses all of my students ½ cut composition notebooks. My students glue their Math Journal Word Problems in these ½ cut composition notebooks.
- All of my math manipulatives are stored in covered bins and are clearly labeled.
- My Fact Fluency materials are stored in the small white Steralite drawers. I house my Hot Dots, my Beat the Clocks, and my Fact Fluency Math Muscles folders.
- Near my desk, I keep a basket filled with all of the different materials that I need for my small group math instruction. I have dry-erase boards, markers and erasers, tons of clear sheet protectors for my Lesson Workmats, small baskets for manipulatives, pencils, and my bell for transitions.
Flexible grouping is a very important part of your Guided Math instruction.
Prior to starting a new unit of study in math, I pre-assess my students on the content we are going to be learning and what learning outcomes I have for the unit as a whole. My 2nd Grade Common Core Assessments are short and quick. They are usually only about 5-10 questions. Based on these pre-assessments, I will create my Guided Math Groups for the unit.
This is a pretty powerful part of Guided Math, because your students move around from group to group throughout the year. You will be surprised by what your students know prior to beginning your unit of study. I use a dry-erase marker on my Guided Math Rotations Board group cards to organize my students into my 3 or 4 groups. Ideally, your Guided Math groups should have no more than 6 students in each group.
My Guided Math Rotations last between 15-20 minutes. When I had 4 rotations they were only 15 minutes because I only had a little over an hour for my math block. This past year I only had 3 rotations and each rotation lasted between 15-20 minutes long. My rotations are called Teacher Feature (small group instruction), Elation Stations (Math Stations), and Workbook Nook (Independent Activity). In past years I have used Tech Time (ipads) and Fact Fluency (fluency practice) as rotations as well. These rotations are part of my Guided Math/Math Workshop Rotations Board.
My Advanced students always start at Workbook Nook. They will be working on an independent activity from the prior day’s lesson (Yes, I promise.. they can do it!)
My Strategic Intervention group always starts at Teacher Feature for their daily small group instruction. My On-Level group begins their math block at Math Stations. In 20 minutes, I ring my doorbell and my students transition to the next round. (Please see the rotation board picture above.) I use a doorbell that plugs into an outlet for my chime. We rotate three times during my math block. I will get to see all of my groups each day!
Remember I told you that I used to cringe when I had to teach math? Well, that’s because I was teaching math ONLY through whole group instruction! That was the problem. There was no true differentiation because I was teaching whole group.
When I am first introducing a new unit of study I will do a whole group lesson and read a mentor-text that aligns to the unit. We also make an anchor chart to start the unit and add to it as we progress through the unit. The only other time I use whole group instruction is when we are playing a scoot game or partner games. Sometimes we do a Wrap-It-Up session where we meet on the carpet after our rotations are over and we share a strategy we used during Math Stations or during independent work time. I also ask a few students to sum up what we learned during our small group instruction time.
My Small Group Instruction takes place every day. I meet with each group for 15-20 minutes. I always start with my Strategic Intervention group. All of my small group lessons revolve around one of my Guided Practice Workmats that is directly correlated to the skill that we are working on. All of my workmats are put in clear page-protectors and my students use dry-erase markers and math manipulatives on top of the Guided Practice Workmats. Every single lesson I teach has a workmat that I use during small group instruction. You can see my 2nd Grade Guided Math Yearlong Bundle to check out all of my workmats/lessons/activities for each unit. I always put the math manipulatives that we are working with in small baskets so that my teacher table stays organized and neat while I am guiding the lesson and the students are working. Each of my three groups are differentiated.
After my students meet with me at Teacher Feature for their small group lesson, they will rotate to the next round called Workbook Nook. This is the rotation where they work on an independent activity based on the lesson I just taught in small groups. Almost all of the activities that my students complete during Workbook Nook are Interactive Notebook activities. My students LOVE doing Interactive Notebook activities because they are active while they are working. They are cutting, gluing, coloring (great for fine motor skills) and thinking. They are completely engaged and they always say how much fun they have at Workbook Nook. At the end of my small group lesson, I give instructions on what they are expected to do during Workbook Nook. I give them their activity, they go to the math manipulatives station to get the materials that they need and they can go anywhere in the room they would like to work.
The main reason that Guided Math runs so smoothly in my classroom is due to one thing — CONSISTENCY! My independent activities are consistent so they always know what to expect and how to accomplish it. My small group work is consistent. They always know what to expect during a lesson because my expectations and lessons are consistent. I no longer have to review directions by mid-October because they understand and know what is expected and what they have to do because everything they do is CONSISTENT.
Pro Tip: One question I get ALL THEM TIME is how do you correct all of their work? Take a look at the small picture on the bottom right above… do you see the notebooks all stacked up and open to the page they just did? That’s the answer! When my students finish their independent work, math station, or math journals, they stack them up in a pile opened to the page they just completed. It takes me less than ten minutes to check all of their work because each book is already opened to the page and they are stacked up. This saves me hours of time each week!
Remember when I said CONSISTENCY IS KEY to Guided Math Success? Well… That is 100% true especially when your students are working on Math Stations. How many times have you put out Math Stations or Centers and your students constantly come up to you with question after question, even after you explained the directions? Yep… I know the answer is A LOT! There is a solution to this, though. It’s all about CONSISTENCY. ALL of my Math Stations are similar. The content is different and the learning targets are different, but the process is the same.
I have created a brand new line of Math Stations called SPIN-ITS Math Stations: Every single math station is based on a spinner activity.
Not only do the students LOVE them, but there are ZERO QUESTIONS about how the stations are completed, what they have to do, what is expected, nothing… no questions at all due to CONSISTENCY.
One more important aspect to Math Stations is that EVERY math station that you have out during a unit is REVIEW! Never add new material into your math stations until you have FINISHED teaching that unit. They are not meant for students to practice new material. Expecting students to complete new material during their math station rotation will cause confusion and chaos in your classroom because the students will be constantly asking questions and interrupting your small group lesson. Math Stations and Math Journals are ALWAYS REVIEW from the prior unit you taught.
Just remember… the most important aspect to smooth running math stations is Consistency and Review!
When my students are in Workbook Nook (independent work) or Math Stations, they have about 15-20 minutes to finish their activity. Many times they finish their work prior to the end of the rotation, so it is important that the students have additional activities to fill the rest of the rotation time. One of the activities that I expect my students complete every day is a Math Journal. I organize my math journals in file folders (that I cut down). I number the file folders from 1-15 and I store all of the file folders in a cute little chevron box that sits on top of my Math Stations Cart. When they are ready to complete a Math Journal, they get their ½ cut composition notebook and the next Math Journal prompt they have to do and work on it at their desk. When they have completed the math journal, they leave their book opened to the page and they place on a stool next to my desk (see the picture above). This cuts down tremendously on the amount of time it takes me to correct their journals. If they make a mistake on their math journal, I add a post-it note to the page and put it back on their desk. The next morning when they come in, they know that they have to correct their journal if they see it on their desk.
Pro Tip: The question that I get asked most often is, “What do you do for your struggling learners that never get to Math Journals?” This is a great question — we all know that this happens in our classrooms. About two times per week, I will call over some of my struggling learners that I know have not been able to complete a math journal that week and we will work on a few together during morning work time. This allows me to do a short mini-lesson on the problem we are working on and gives me the opportunity to see if I have to do any re-teaching on a particular skill during small group instruction.
Another activity that I expect my students to work on when they complete their Workbook Nook work or Math Stations work is to practice their Fact Fluency. This year I am SUPER EXCITED because I will be utilizing my brand new resource called Fact Fluency Math Muscles. These Fact Fluency Trifolds will help my students master their addition facts while still having fun. Each trifold has 5 fluency assessments inside. There are either 20 or 40 facts in each of the Fact Fluency Trifolds.
When they complete one of the trifolds they will color in their data-tracking sheet on the Ring-the-Bell carnival game. All of their work will be put in file folders to be kept neat and organized.
I know that is a lot of information to digest. However, if you would like to dive in a little more deeply into Guided Math, please join me for one of my FREE ONLINE Guided Math Webinars! Click the image below to register for one of my upcoming webinars.
Thanks so much and I hope you get excited about implementing Guided Math in your classroom this year!
Anna DiGilio is the Teacher-Author behind the blog, Simply Skilled in Second and has been a classroom teacher for 23 years. Anna has a passion for creating engaging, interactive, and rigorous resources for primary educators. She loves creating resources for 2nd-4th grade teachers. She loves sharing her teaching ideas, resources, and teacher tips and tricks in her TpT store, and on her blog Simply Skilled in Second, Facebook page, Instagram, and on Pinterest.