Tips to Plan and Prep for Math Workshop or Guided Math


While there may be times that you want to use a traditional whole group model for instruction, there are other times you need to work with small groups in order to differentiate for your individual student’s needs. Math workshop (or guided math) is a very successful way to work in small group instruction time and maximize student learning. To make the best use of your time, planning and preparation are key. I have rounded up some of my favorite tips and resources here:

1.) Plan how to use your time! I like to start my Math class with a quick warm up and skill review and then move onto a mini-lesson when needed. Some new concepts can be taught to the whole group quickly and then reinforced in centers / stations. Some need longer time. This is where you have to decide what is best for your classroom, but a few helpful blogs have great ideas for scheduling:


2.) Find or create a simple lesson plan template and/or small group template:

3.) Set up a binder to keep schedules, plans, templates, and notes.

4.) Pick and post your rotation system.

5.) Group students by ability or interest. Grouping should be flexible and change often based on student’s individual needs.  For example, sometimes you may need to group students who need re-teaching on a specific skill and other days you may need to group students based on interests when planning projects. Another idea is to sometimes work with students you know will need extra help and pre-teach them a skill you will be teaching the whole class later in the week. This can save you time re-teaching later and will help boost their confidence and success when the class learns the skill.

6.) Teach your students the expectations for groups.

7.) Set up an organizational system and teach your students how the system works.

9.) Reflect and Plan for Next Time:  When you get to the end of the schedule, take some time to reflect before setting up the next rotation.  What worked? What was confusing? etc… This is also a time to look at your student groups and decide if you need to change anyone to a new group.

For more ideas, check out my Pinterest Board “Guided Math”.


math help 2

There are many ways to teach problem solving to elementary students. Most students are successful with a well structured problem solving plan.  However, we all have at least a few students who just don’t “get it” with regular classroom lessons. Working one on one or in small groups and applying well planned interventions helps these students find success.  Last week I shared my first three top tips and today I am sharing the next three tips:

help with word problemsSome students understand the questions just fine, but have trouble seeing the big picture, the story or the scenario. These students need extra help laying out the details. Most students will benefit from instruction in drawing pictures or making diagrams, and struggling students will especially need to practice with this.  I like to teach my students how to make part-part-whole and whole-part-part models.   models for problem solving.png

We will discuss each clue and label it as a part or the whole and then work from there.  Strip diagrams and unit bars work well too.  I also like to encourage students to make actual pictures of the clues. I am no artist and the kids like to laugh at my drawings with me!  

shopping word problems.png

 help with mathThis is so important for students who have trouble visualizing the actions in the problem. An example could be using this problem below with Martina and her purse.  I will get play money out and we will actually act out the story with the play money. Another example could be to use colored counters with the apple story below.  Now there are some big numbers so you could use smaller numbers to practice acting it out and then transfer the actions to your paper with the larger numbers.

apple word problems.png

 math helpSometimes students get caught up by the big numbers and can’t focus on the actions in the problem. For these students you can cross out the big numbers, substitute with smaller numbers and have them solve. Then apply the actions to the bigger numbers. If needed, use manipulatives to help build understanding.


Missed Part 1 from last week?  Find it here:

more math help 3

Interventions for Problem Solving in Math

problem solving interventions math

There are many ways to teach problem solving to elementary students. Most students are successful with a well structured problem solving plan.  However, we all have at least a few students who just don’t “get it” with regular classroom lessons. Working one on one or in small groups and applying well planned interventions helps these students find success.

My favorite “Go To” intervention strategies are:  

math interventions

Often students read the problem and pick a method to solve without really addressing the question asked.  I like to point out to my students which part of a problem is the question and which part is the “story” or “clues”. This helps students to see what part of the problem is telling and which part is asking.  I like to use this analogy with my students: “I asked Shelley what color the sky is. She told me the grass is green. Did she lie? No, but did she answer my question? NO” and then relate this to word problems. If you use the clues, but you don’t answer the question, you haven’t solved the problem. One way to make this successful is to give your students a problem without the question, then have the students brainstorm as many different questions they can think of for clues.

analyze the question

Another way to help with this is to give your students 3 problems that share the same clues, but have different questions. This is a good way to show students that they need to analyze the question before they make up their mind about what steps to take. (Click the photo above for a FREE set of analyzing the question word problems).

 interventions for problem solving

This helps some students to understand the question better.  Look at the example below. After reading the story problem, ask the students to rewrite the question as a sentence with a blank for the answer. Do this before discussing and strategies for solving the problem.  The process of rewriting the question as a statement helps students to focus on what is being asked. After solving the problem, have your students place their answer in the blank and read the statement with the number in the blank. Teach them to ask themselves if their answer makes sense in the statement.

rewrite the question.png

word problems interventionsMost word problems follow a standard format with clues first and question last. Some students have trouble filtering the question out of the story. Students that have this problem can benefit from working from the bottom up. Teach them to read the question first (usually at the end) and then read the whole problem to gather clues.  I usually save this strategy for students who really need that extra something after trying other interventions. It does not work for everyone, but for some it is the “magic trick” to help them organize the problem. Also, they usually need to do this until they get better at other strategies.

Want more ideas for interventions?

more math help 3ata-pin-description

Connecting Math to Student’s Interest


students interested in math

So, we all have had that one kid that just hates math, or that one kid who is bored because they don’t see the meaning to learning math. Okay, if we are really being honest, we know quite a few of these kids … quite a few each year!  Flash back to my beginning years teaching. I naïvely thought if I was a positive upbeat  teacher I could get 100% of my kids involved and excited! And, boy did I try hard! And it worked … 100% all the time! Just kidding! I did get some students engaged,but  I still had kids that just didn’t like math or see the relevance in math no matter what I did!

Somewhere along the way I had a sort of “aha” moment. I was making a quilt for my friend’s soon to be born baby girl. I was measuring, cutting, moving shapes around and organizing patterns. I realized that I was having FUN and using MATH!  I started thinking about how I could help my students use their own hobbies and interests to understand and see the meaning in learning Math.


To get everyone involved, I spent time showing my students my hobby, sewing, and explained how I used Math skills to successfully make quilts, clothing, etc… Then I asked my students about their interests and hobbies and we discussed Math involved.  Afterwards I brought in as much Math “stuff” as I could to make connections!  For example, I went to a few Houston Rockets basketball games with my husband and I would bring the program to school so my basketball loving kids could use them to see the Math in the stats, etc. I found project books and books with records, graphs, charts, etc… related to kids hobbies/interests. As the years went on we got internet friendly computers in the classroom and I was able to find a lot of meaningful websites with statistics on Sports, travel, sewing, music, you name it!

volleyball math


There is Math everywhere … crafts, sports, party planning, cars, traveling, weather, current events, cooking, taking care of pets, video games, building, planting a garden, and so much more! I make it a point to get to know my students’ interests and hobbies so I can relate their interests to Math as often as possible! Sometimes this means pulling up a website and giving them a task or assignment, but sometimes it is as simple as just asking questions and being  such as “How do you think decimals relate to basketball?” or “What kind of Math skills do you need to know to raise and take care of a horse?” 

math meaningful

Keeping up with my students interests is important for establishing good relationships and also for finding connections in Math! I can use their knowledge in their areas of interest to help them build confidence in Math! 

 legos and math

Awesome Math & Science Easter Activities

It is that time of year again! Time for jelly beans, eggs, bunnies and baskets! There are so many ways to use Easter excitement to keep your students engaged in classroom lessons.  Here are some of my favorites from around the web:

 easter math and science


One of my favorite activities this time of year is a Math Egg Hunt!  Buy a bunch of plastic eggs and stick problems inside the eggs. Hide the eggs around the room. Give your students a record sheet or a piece of notebook paper and let them hunt and solve math problems.  Print your own problems or get mine FREE here.

 eggs Continue reading

Why & How to Use Task Cards in The Classroom


Task Cards Save Paper: Using task cards can cut down on the number of copies and paper used because you don’t need to make a set for each student and if laminated or kept in protective sleeves, they can be used for years without printing new copies. 

Task Cards Increase Engagement: They add to student engagement because they add novelty. Paper and pencil practice is certainly useful, but can become dull and routine.  Using dry erase markers on a task card can mix things up a bit.  Also, task cards can be printed with fun colors and clip art to add interest for the students.


Centers and or Work Stations – Print cards and keep in small containers or baggies.  Have students work in pairs or groups solving problems on task cards and recording on a record sheet.  I like using record sheets for two reasons. One, the students are more likely to stay on task if they know they will have to turn something in at the end of the center. And, the other reason, I like to look over the record sheets to see if students need re-teaching or extra help with the skill/concept worked on in the center.  If you do not have a lot of copy paper you can always have students use notebook paper to create a record sheet.  Have them write the name of the center on the paper and then number or letter their answers.

baseball task cards.JPG

Whole Class Cooperative Groups – My suggestions for whole class would be the same as for work stations & centers except you would need one set of task cards for each table group.  After learning or reviewing a concept with whole class, the students could work on the cards with their table groups.   After the group work you could have a class discussion about the task cards as a way to wrap up. Another whole class activity which would require only one set of task cards is a “Scoot” or circuit.  To set up a Scoot you have a different task card on each desk and have the students work in pairs rotating around the set of task cards in numerical or alphabetical offer.  Some teachers will set a timer for scoot and others will let students move as they finish.  For a FREE  “Scoot Record Sheet” that can be used with any set of task cards, click here.








Continue reading