Friday, August 15, 2014

Math Workshop Made Easy

I started guided math workshop a few years ago. 
I made many mistakes along the way, sometimes right smack in the middle of all the action.
 When something isn't working I am not afraid to drop kick it set it aside and try something else, keeping my fingers crossed and teeth gritted that the next thing I try really will be better. 

I have been asked by a few teachers how I make guided math and 
math workshop work in my classroom. There's no big secret, just what works for me. 
 I thought I would outline some key points. 
Keep in mind that I am no expert and like anyone else I make changes each year. 
Every class is different and what worked one year may not work the next. 
One year I had a class of 42. There was no buddy math happenin' that year 
{Puh-leaze! I am crazy but not that crazy!!} 
It was too much chaos, too much noise and things always got out of hand. 
It was just the way it had to be for that group of kids. 

I can't wait to share our math workshop launch with you all, but for now this will have to do!

#1: I only rotate groups when needed. Kids need predictability and the consistancy of their group gives them some of that. This is not to say that my groups are not fluid, but I don't change them unless I have given an exit slip or other assessment that tells me I need to. I also have an easy 
method for changing and moving group members. Students are aware of what group they are in and I don't have to type anything out or put in more work that what is necessary. 

#2: I keep 2-3 centers at a time and change them out once a month on average. Changing out centers too often creates more work and introducing new centers takes important time away from teaching.  It also doesn't allow enough time for kids to become confident and familiar with the center and standards. By keeping the same centers for a longer period of time students gain confidence in the skill and are more likely to remain on task. 

#3: When I introduce a center I either do it as a whole class game or I teach it in small groups. This helps me to ensure that every student is competent with the skill and center before sending them out to work independently. I am not sure there is anything I dread more than discovering that someone has been practicing a skill incorrectly!!

 #4 When students are not in small group with me they are 100% independent. I spend 20 minutes with each small group. Every second of that time counts! I do not help students log on to the computer, or remind them how to play a math center. Which leads me to my fifth point...

#5 Slow and steady makes everybody ready!!! 
I introduce everything slowly and until students have the needed stamina 
with the first math choice I don't introduce anything new. 

I start with Math Writing because everyone can do  it at the same time. We slowly build and keep track of our stamina during math writing and once students reach 20 minutes I introduce the first math center. Just like anything else those first few weeks of school I model, they model, we practice again and again and again and AGAIN x 50! 

Once my kids can handle math writing and 1 center then I introduce a second center. Once groups of students can do math writing and centers for 20 minutes then I introduce math technology. 

At this point I haven't done any small groups.
After all choices are introduced we go back to the beginning but with all math choices.
I start with 5 minutes of all choices running plus a small group.
This is the first time that I have been working with a group while they are independent. When students can make it 5 minutes we increase to 10, then 15 and finally 20! It can take a few weeks, but once those few weeks are over and every kid is successfully independent during math workshop and I can attend to individual students needs every ounce of patience was worth it for the rest of the year!

 Here is my math workshop board. I use those little white boards to write student names for each group. It makes it easy to make quick changes! Here are the cards I use too. They are editable so you can add math choices that fit your classroom. When I rotate them I simply move one to the right each time so that every group completes each activity. 

I hope this was helpful! Happy teaching!
Just click any picture to grab your copy of all the math workshop cards. I laminated mine and put a magnet on the back of each. You will need to download the font Howser HERE or you can go in and change all of the fonts. If you would rather have the PDF instead you can grab that HERE


  1. Hey! We do math workshop pretty similarly! Thanks for the reminder to take it slow and practice, practice, practice :)

    Little In Betweens

  2. Awesome post! I really want to start a math workshop this year and this is a great post to come back to again and again.
    I Want to be a Super Teacher

    1. Katy, thanks, so much for stopping by. I hope his was helpful in getting you started!!