Have you heard about guided math or math workshop, but you’re not sure what it is or how to set it up? I’m going to let you in on some secrets and simple steps to get guided math workshop up and running in no time. While the focus of this post is for primary classrooms, the tips provided can work for any grade. The best thing about math workshop is that it easily aligns with any curriculum and it provides a more scaffolded approach which leads to deeper understanding and growth. It also makes your math time more engaging and manageable because students become the leaders! If you would like to spend more time learning about the what and why of workshop before the how of implementing, take a look at THIS in depth post that’s backed with research and data. So are you ready to dive in and learn those easy steps? Let’s get started!
The Time Crunch
One of the biggest hurdles I hear from teachers is the time crunch. It saddens me every time I hear a teacher say “I can’t do math workshop because I don’t have enough time.” I’m here to say, YES YOU CAN!! I know it can be difficult to fit in ALL the things, however I have two reasons why you should take on the challenge. One is that I promise it’ll be worth it. The second is that it is meant to be flexible to meet your specific classroom needs! So whether you have a 45, 60, or 90 minute block for math, you CAN fit it in. So step one is to structure your time to make it work. The first thing you need to do is look at your allotted time and determine how much of it you will have for the different pieces of workshop. Here are the three key ingredients you’ll need to make time for:
Whole Group Instruction (Mini Lesson)
Independent Work Time (Centers and Small Group)
Wrap Up of the Learning (Debrief)
Let’s take the example of the 45 minute math block. If you have 45 minutes, you can designate between 5-10 minutes on a mini lesson. Now I know that sounds crazy but there is significant research that supports students being on the carpet for SMALL amounts of time. The younger they are, the less time it should be. No primary students should be on the carpet for longer than 10 minutes, which may not be what you’re used to, but you can fit in a lot of important information in that short amount of time, trust me. Later we’ll talk about how to get in what you need and the mind shift that it takes. The majority of your time will be spent with small groups of students. That means the bulk of your time should be designated to that independent work time and small group instruction. That means if you have used 10 minutes on a mini lesson, you should use 25-28 minutes on independent work time such as centers and small groups. I like to do rotations but you do not have to set it up like that. You can pull groups as you feel fit, but I do like having specific rotations and groups that I meet with. This ensures EVERY group from high performing to kiddos who need to be caught up, get met with regularly. You can decide whether you want to meet with 3 groups or 4 depending on the time allotment you have. You can make it work by pulling groups on a rotating schedule to get in more time with your students. Learn more about different center and rotation options HERE! After the independent work time, this leaves between 5-7 minutes for your debrief. It is more than enough time because this is a simple wrap and check in of the learning that happened during workshop time. As you can see, even if you have only 45 minutes for math, workshop IS possible. If you have even more time, that’s great! You can have more groups and more time allotments for each of the three pieces. Learn more about how each of these sections look HERE!
The Key Ingredients
Once you have step one out of the way by blocking out your allotted time to fit each component, step two is to focus on your key ingredients. Let’s dig into what they each should look like. Whole Group Instruction is the first of your 3 key ingredients during your guided workshop time. This should be one of the smallest amounts of time designated. The reason behind that is two-fold. One, like I stated earlier, there is significant research that supports LESS time during whole group, especially if they are younger. Two, all those students sitting in front of you learning a lesson are all over the spectrum as far as their knowledge and needs go. So you giving that lesson to EVERY single student, might not land how you want it to for everyone and more often than not, you’ll have to give the same lesson to other students in a different way. Figure out what the big picture is for students that everyone can understand and convey that in a few minutes during your whole group. Then you break out and meet those specific needs your students have. Of course there will always be SOME exceptions. Sometimes you are going to spend more time during whole group with students if they need it. Sometimes you may not have time for rotations. THAT’S OK! The guided workshop model is meant to be flexible and can change with students and their needs! The bulk of the time is spent during that independent work time. This is your second key ingredient. Students will be working on different skills in different ways and you will be supporting students during small group time. We will get into all the activities students can do during this time to help provide awesome opportunities to practice the skills they’re learning. Check out the FREE editable template below to support you with your small group needs and how best to help those kiddos! Now it’s time to debrief the learning, the third and last ingredient to your workshop recipe. Again, this is one of the quickest pieces of math workshop. It can serve as a gauge to see how the students did with a specific skill, or a time with partners to discuss their takeaways and show their work. It’s very simple, but very impactful on student learning. You can look into more of the research on this concept by reading work from John Hattie and I highly recommend it!
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Organization Must Haves
Now that you’ve got your schedule set up, you know what each component should look like during the workshop model, step three is to organize it all. Organization is crucial in the success of guided math workshop time. A good system will save you time and ensure everything runs smoothly. To get a good foundation for your organization, think through the following:
Where math manipulatives will be stored?
Where will students turn in work and where they will keep unfinished work?
Where will different station activities be stored and organized around the room?
What activities will students complete at each station?
What will your small group organization look like and what management pieces will you have in place?
These are just SOME of the important things to think through when preparing your classroom for this workshop transformation. You can take an in-depth look at THIS guide for centers organization and all your must haves to get you started!
Step four is my favorite part! What in the world are those students going to be doing that whole time?! Super fun activities of course! This is where students will complete the bulk of their learning and growing. You can differentiate for students so that everyone is working on something they need and never things they aren’t ready for yet. They’ll get in great practice, build confidence, and be successful. Here are some sample center activities:
There are so many great math apps out there to support students during their tech time. A fan favorite in our class is Prodigy! Boddle, Khan Academy, and IXL are great too. You can also assign specific skills to work on with Moby Max. Students also love working at the Buddy Math center. They can work on activities or games together that can be differentiated for their specific group needs. For example, we might be working on teen numbers for the week. One group might be working on representing numbers with base ten blocks, while the other are using tally marks or even adding and subtracting them. I might include an activity students MUST complete first. Then once they finish, they can complete a spiraled activity from their specific bin. Learn about how to hold students accountable HERE!
Independent work is a quick check of understanding on the specific skill students are working on for the day or week. This does NOT have to be a worksheet page, nor does it need to have 15 problems on it. If a student is struggling with a skill, they are going to be frustrated and either not start or don’t finish. On the other hand, if they do know it, they aren’t going to need 15 problems for you to assess they know it. Instead, you can differentiate the worksheet ( if you choose to use that) or use a digital tool like Seesaw. This makes it easy to change work to fit student needs. For example, if we’re working on teen numbers, I might include a more challenging check in on students who need that or I can modify it for students who are struggling with the standard. Learn more about how that looks with the CRA Model! I usually implement a must do/may do here as well. If they finish and have more time, what else can they do independently? Give them some early finisher activities, such as previous math centers, choice boards, or even writing about math. Teacher time is that glorious time where you get to dedicate specific time with each group of students. Here is where you can help push them if they need a challenge or support them with different standards to help them fill gaps. The CRA Model is how I design all my group times and it has changed the game! Don’t forget to grab the FREE editable planning template! There’s even a how-to video included to help get you started.
Routines and Expectations
Just like with any system we put in place, setting up routines and procedures will be essential to the success of your guided workshop time. These are going to be the glue that holds your center time together. This will take time, prep, and planning, but most importantly, PRACTICE. Spending time thinking through how workshop will run, including centers, before day one with students, is crucial. When you set those expectations, think about your routines, and practice every single procedure, you AND your students will know exactly what to do to have a successful workshop for the ENTIRE YEAR. Sound a little overwhelming? Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered with Building a Student Centered Classroom from Day One. We’ll walk through step-by-step of how to make this as easy as pie.
The goal of math workshop is for students to have fun, learn skills deeply, and become the leader of their own needs. It can be a little overwhelming when trying to get everything in place. I promise once you do though, you’ll never go back to teaching math another way. It really is magic when you see students in charge of their own learning and growing in ways you never thought possible. You take a backseat and become the facilitator while they can grow and explore. You’ll be amazed at all the growth EVERY SINGLE STUDENT HAS… not just one group. All students can learn, grow, and achieve with this model.
So are you ready to dive into math workshop with your students?! Is the last thing you need a planning binder that is simple, effective, and oh so organized to help carry out your workshop?! Grab one HERE! Don’t forget to subscribe for exclusive access to a how to video AND an editable planning template to help you! Are you stuck in planning or still have questions and want support? Please email me and I’d love to help you! I really hope you enjoyed learning how to get a math workshop up and running in your classroom! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Editable Guided Math Planning Template FREEBIE! But you will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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