I’m going to share with you how I’ve had success with my guided math set up. This method has worked for me when teaching both lower and upper grades. I’ll confess…I don’t do Guided Math the traditional way.
When I first started out, I was constantly planning what my students would be doing during each rotation.
✔️I was prepping materials.
✔️✔️✔️Prepping. Prepping. Prepping.
And even after I did all of that, Guided Math never ran smoothly.🤦
After all of that prepping, I was still dealing with off-task students, interruptions to the teacher table, or too many students in one place. I decided I was finished with this method.
Then, I made one basic change to Guided Math.
And it changed everything.
I’m Going to Help You With Guided Math Too! It’s Going to Be Painless, I Promise
First of all, know and believe that Guided Math can work in your classroom. Don’t feel intimidated or overwhelmed. Your groups can be streamlined, but still flexible. You can even do this without another adult helping in your classroom.
Yes–you can do this, even if you have that class.
🎉The Ground-Breaking, Earth-Shattering, Stupid-Simple Change I Made, That Changed EVERYTHING🎉
🛑I stopped rotating.🛑
You know those cutesy charts where group A goes here, there, and then there? Group B starts here. Group C starts there. Group D works over there. Then, we all rotate.
Yea, I stopped that.
Instead, I developed a system I call Flexible Guided Math. All of my students work at their seats independently (or any empty desk in the classroom, really. The point is to be spread out.). Then, I pull groups to my table.
☑️ That’s it. It’s that simple.
I call students over to my table. I don’t ring a bell and make everyone rotate. I don’t have set times. I can work with a group for as long of a time or short of a time as I’d like!
I don’t even have set groups. I can pull whoever I want!🎉
And it’s powerful you guys. I transfer the responsibility of learning to the students.
Instead of them sitting at a “station” working on whatever task I put there, they are choosing what to work on.
⚠️Of course, there are guidelines. (I’ll explain that more in a second.)
But the point is, the students are given the power of choice. I’ve seen nothing but good results from this. My admin even commented to me once as he looked around the room, “This could keep running even if you stepped out of the room. Your students all know what they are supposed to be working on.”
The One Essential Ingredient to a Successful Flexible Guided Math Set Up
It’s just one thing.
A Must Do/May Do chart.
Now, these come in a variety of forms, but the must do may do chart is my favorite because of its simplicity. But, I have seen other teachers have success with choice/menu boards as well. It’s really a personal preference. I’m a minimalist by nature, so I try to keep things as simple as possible.
This is a generic example of a Must Do/May Do anchor chart. You can even make individual ones for specific students if you need to. It’s a great way to differentiate your instruction and expectations.
You can be as detailed on your chart as you want. You can put specific centers or activities, certain technology you want your students to use, anything you want!
The Painless Way I Plan
Planning for this style of Guided Math is very simple.
If you use my Guided Math units for Grades 1-5, you’ll notice that there is a lesson plan, a practice page, and an extension activity for each day.
✔️✔️✔️So there you have your lesson for the teacher table (or even whole group math if you prefer), your practice page for a must do activity, and an extension activity.
🤫The Secret To The Teacher Table
Remember–since my groups are FLEXIBLE groups, I can pull students in and out of them all the time.
I use the information I gather from my students’ independent work in whole group math to set up my groups. This could be something as simple as an exit ticket problem on a sticky note. (Do I adjust these groups everyday? Not usually. But I am always sure to refine them from unit to unit.) During teacher time I target students to help grow them in a certain skill.
🤫The secret to the teacher table is the order I pull my groups.🤫
I usually start with my middle group…you know, the kids who are inconsistent with the objective. They kind of get it–but aren’t 100% sure how or why they are solving a problem a certain way. Normally I have found that this group of kids need a little extra practice and direction from me before they are ready to try their independent work on their own again.
The next group I pull is my high flyers. This is usually very brief since they have already shown mastery of a skill. I use this quick check-in time to make sure that they really DO get it and are comfortable with the objective. By the time I pull them, they have usually finished their independent work and we can look over it. Once I am sure of they have mastered the skill, I give them an enrichment activity to go work on.
The last group I pull is my group of students who are really struggling with the objective. I pull them last because I need to spend the most time supporting them! Also, by this time, if a student from my first group is still having a hard time with something, they have probably come back to me for support. Now, I can add them to my last group and give them another dose of targeted instruction.
What I Use For Must Do/May Do Activities
First and foremost–independent work. Either today’s practice page from my Guided Math units, or another form of independent work.
Daily Fluency Practice
There are so many different ways students can practice fluency independently during Guided Math time. If you have devices, students can do their facts daily on xtramath.org and also use these magic reveal games to practice their math facts. You can even give students simple self-checking flash cards.
One of my favorite ways to have students practice their facts is simple fluency pages. I print the pages from math-drills.com and put them in sheet protectors. I print the answer sheet on the back so students can check their own work.
Extension (Center) Activities
These are center activities from my Guided Math units and there is one for each day!
They line up perfectly with the lesson you taught that day and the practice page your students do for independent work.
The Guided Math Units include a variety of activities to keep your students engaged. There are sorts, dice games, spinner games, puzzles, board games, and much more.
By the way–these activities are another great way to spiral review throughout the entire year! You can keep out a variety of activities for students to choose from. Prep MANY early in the year and just rotate them.
Digital Math Practice
If you have access to devices for you students, they’ll love these interactive digital math lessons (Grades 1-5). They include a few simple teaching slides to help students understand the lesson, then 10 practice problems. The slides are clear and simple so students will know exactly how to solve them without needing to ask you what to do! Great for independent work!
🎉And The Bonus? What Does Doing Flexible Guided Math Mean For You?🎉
This ultimately means WAY less prep for you every week!
Students will have so many options to choose from during the “May Do” part of Guided Math, that there is unlikely to be too much repetition.
Just rotate your centers every so often to keep things fresh (and to spiral review)!
One More Thing I Do–To Continue To Become a Better Teacher
On the reflection sheet:
- I write down my green, yellow, and red students and make any notes about the class performance as a whole.
- If there is something I know I need to spend time spiral reviewing the rest of the year, I make note of it here.
- At the bottom of the page, I make notes about my teaching. If there is something my kids struggled to understand, maybe I need to spend some time looking at different ways to teach/articulate it.
- Also, if there is something I want to be sure to do differently next year, I write it here as well.
This helps me refine my teaching practice over the years. Next year, I can pull out this sheet before I teach the unit to have a better idea for how I can teach my next class. (This Unit Reflection Sheet comes with the Guided Math Year Long Bundles and is in the teacher handbook. See links below for the yearlong bundles.)