Guided Math: The Overview [Part 1 of 3]

Why Small Group Math Instruction?

I have students that range in ability levels from 2-3 grade levels below average to 2-3 grade levels above. Do you see a range of ability levels in your classroom too? If so, how can we justify teaching the same whole group math lesson to all of our students? The below average kiddos will be lost and the above average kiddos will be bored. The only students you are reaching will be your average kiddos. That’s maybe 30% of your class… if you’re lucky. With those numbers, how can we justify that whole group math instruction is best practice?

Important to Note:
  • You can teach to the ability of your students.
  • You only explicitly teach 4-6 kids at a time which means you can give students the attention they need.
  • Your groups can be flexible (students can move groups) depending on the content and pre-assessment results.
  • You can target your below average group with interventions designed for their needs.
  • You can target your above average group with challenging opportunities to enrich their learning.

How Do Rotations Work?

I adjusted my schedule to map out 90 minutes for math. While this isn’t always the case, even if you’re working with 60 minutes, you can make guided math work for you. You just have to nail down the transitions by practicing routines and procedures for literally every situation that could arise during guided math groups.

I have four rotations with each rotation being 15-20 minutes in length. You might be shaking your head at that 15 minute rotation idea, but trust me when I say 15 minutes IS enough time if you, again, nail down your transitions, routines, and procedures.

My four stations follow the acronym Math TIME which I will go into great detail about in Part 2 of this blog series. The acronym is my adaptation of the wonderful Ladybug’s Teacher Files TIME rotations from this blog post {here} used with permission. My Math TIME stations are:

What Do Your Rotations Look Like?

I have four groups (green, purple 1, purple 2, and blue). My groups rotate through all four math stations daily following the schedule shown below.

I purchased Ladybug's Teacher Files Math Rotations: Signs and Labels and captured the images she produced in the file for the slide shown above. She does not sell the slide design shown above within that download. The adaptation for this blog post is published with permission.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Who goes to Independent Work first?
A: My highest group (blue group) goes there first.

Q: How do they complete the independent activity without being taught the content first?
A: They don’t. They do the independent work from the previous day’s lesson.

Q: Can they really do this successfully?
A: Without a doubt, YES! Remember, they are the highest students in your class and the most independent.

Q: So do all other groups go to E (explore) before I (independent work)?
A: YES! The only group that will have to alter their independent work is the highest group.

Q: How flexible is this Guided Math approach? Do you ever teach whole group?
A: If you are blessed with more than 60 minutes of math, you can use the first 5-10 minutes or last 5-10 minutes for a mini-lesson, number talk, warm-up, video clip, whole group game/activity, or closing.

What Do the Students Do at Each Station?

The ULTIMATE question! This is a blog post all in itself! Please join me for Part 2: A Closer Look into Math Rotations to find out what the students do at each station during Math TIME! See you tomorrow!

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  1. Thanks! Do you change out the math centers every day, since they rotate to all in one day?

    1. Great question! No, absolutely not. I provide 3-4 center game choices for M (making meaning) and only switch them out every 2-3 weeks. I've even left the same center games in the rotation for the entire length of the math unit (4 weeks) before. As long as the kids are still engaged and the content is still relevant, I don't switch them out unless absolutely needed. This saves instructional time because you're not constantly having to explain new games and saves YOU time because you're not constantly prepping new math games. Hope this helps. Thanks for your comment!

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