This post originally appeared on the blog Core Inspiration Laura Santos.

The difference between a classroom with a smooth-running workshop model, and one where students are off task during M.A.T.H. Workshop is simple. In the former classroom, clear expectations and routines that promote student independence are a non-negotiable. Your students must know exactly what is expected of them for the duration of your workshop block so you can focus on one-on-one conferences, and small group instruction.

In order to establish this student independence, you must take time to clearly introduce your students to the framework of M.A.T.H. Workshop, and set clear expectations for how they will successfully work independently. This process will take days (likely even weeks) when you first launch M.A.T.H. Workshop in your classroom. One of the routines you may want to introduce to your students is how to effectively and efficiently work with math partners, or as I call them – math triads.

Core Inspiration Math Triad Organization

What Is A Math Triad?

A math triad is a carefully designed group of three students (sometimes four depending on your class size) that work together to solve any problems that may arise during the course of M.A.T.H. Workshop each day. Math triads build student independence, and resourcefulness rather than dependence on the teacher as the sole provider of answers.

Core Inspiration Three Before Me Poster

Based On Three Before Me

Math triads were designed with the “three before me” routine in mind. A student should ask three people to assist him/her before asking the teacher.

  1. First the student must ask him/herself by thinking long and hard about the question/problem, and use personal resources to find a solution.
  2. If a solution is not found, the student must collaborate with a classmate, and combine brainpower and resources to find a solution.
  3. If that classmate doesn’t have the resources to help, the student must collaborate with yet another classmate.
  4. Occasionally, the student still has no solution, and must turn to the teacher for guidance.
Why Assigned Partners Make A Difference

Math triads take this routine to the next level of efficiency by assigning students to a specific group of partners. They consistently turn to these partners for the duration of a unit, month, quarter, or trimester (as you see fit). Here are a few benefits to assigning groups:

  • Students don’t consistently turn to friends for “help”.
  • Students don’t wander around “looking for a partner”.
  • Students with social reservations know they have someone consistent to turn to.
  • Students can be strategically exposed to different approaches to math reasoning.

Introducing Math Triads To Students

When fostering student independence, student buy-in is essential. Introduce math triads by asking students what they want their classmates to do when collaborating with them during M.A.T.H. Workshop.

Poster Used For Introducing Students to Math Triads

Create an anchor chart as your students share their thoughts. As you record, focus on using positive language. For example, if a student says, “Don’t talk over me when I’m talking”. You might say, “Can we make it a positive by writing, ‘Wait and listen patiently when I’m talking to you?”

Math Triad Promises Anchor Chart

Sidenote: You will likely find, as time progresses, students will naturally phrase their ideas using positive language. This transfers into their ability to communicate clearly and effectively when faced with frustration or conflict.

Math Triad Promises

After your brainstorm session, use your anchor chart to draft a Math Triad Promises “contract”. Bring the list of promises to your class the following day for review. Make tweaks as needed, print the final list of promises for each student, have them sign their promises, and slide them in the back cover of their math binder. This symbol of commitment to their collective ideas can be revisited throughout the year as needed.

Core Inspiration Math Triad Promise Contract for Students
Interactive Modeling

Using the promises as your guide, host a few interactive modeling sessions to demonstrate how students can effectively use their math triad as a resource during M.A.T.H. Workshop. Your interactive modeling may include:

  • Approaching a math partner for help.
  • Sitting side by side to find a solution.
  • Offering guidance without giving away the answer.
  • Giving polite feedback.
  • Thanking your math partner.
  • Getting back to work in your own space.
Asking For Teacher Help Without Interrupting

You will inevitably have students that cannot find a solution, or who require more support when it comes to collaborating with their math triad. The last thing you want is for them to come interrupt your mini lesson (or worse – stand around waiting for you to finish meeting with your small group).

Meet With The Teacher list under three before me poster in classroom.

To avoid these dreaded inevitabilities, have a place where students can write their name to let you know they have run into a problem and need your assistance when you have a moment to spare.

Take time to establish your expectations for what students should do as they wait for you to check in with them. Should they move on to the next problem? Should they work on another activity? Should they do anything to prepare so your meeting time with them is more efficient?

Using Math Triads In Your Classroom

If you are struggling to keep interruptions at bay during your small group instructional time, give math triads a try. Looking for an editable template to get your Math Triad Promises formatted and ready for student use? Click here for my Math Partners Success Kit, or purchase the Math Partner Success Kit along with my other favorite M.A.T.H. Workshop resources as part of my M.A.T.H. Workshop Starter Kit.

Cover Core Inspiration Math Partner Success Kit

Math Workshop Starter Kit Cover

For more details about each component of M.A.T.H. Workshop, check out my other posts about this instructional approach:


Core Inspiration by Laura Santos: Teachers Pay TeachersLaura Santos [Core Inspiration by Laura Santos], is an elementary teacher in California. During her 7 years as an educator, she has taught 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. She enjoys creating resources that help teachers create a self-directed learning environment that incorporates project-based learning and enrichment activities. Another passion is creating organized classroom spaces that promote productivity. To take a look at her classroom and instructional approach, visit her blog, Core Inspiration. You can also find her resources at her TpT store, Core Inspiration by Laura Santos. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.