5 Tips for Small Group Math Instruction

tips for math small group instruction

Many times, we start the school year with the best intentions to make guided math work for us. We have great math station ideas, the perfect station acronym, and great small group activities and games. But somewhere along the way things fall apart. Been there, done that, I feel ya! Here’s the deal, there are literally 100 different ways to do stations in your classroom. So many blogs have been written by wonderful, experienced teachers on how they run math workshop in their classrooms; here’s how I run my small group instruction. No matter how you choose to run your math station rotations, here are some tried and true tips to help with small group math instruction.

Math station anchor chart with math workshop expectations
Small group expectations anchor chart

Math Workshop Tip 1: Proximity Control

  • Proximity control- Especially in the beginning! I try to keep my learners close enough to me that I can monitor that they know what to do at the station and that they are on task. This usually means I have myself and 5 students at my teacher table. I have another 5 students on the floor near my teacher table doing technology, a third group may be at a set of desks that is near my round table, and the fourth group may be just a little farther away playing a game. It doesn’t necessarily stay like this all year, unless it has to! But it helps in the beginning with redirecting behavior and making sure we are practicing station routines and procedures correctly. As well as getting in some great math practice!
Round teacher table for small group math instruction

Math Workshop Tip 2: Time to Walk the Room

  • Plan a time at teacher table for students to do a quick task so you can walk around and check on other groups. Some days this means right at the beginning of a rotation I give students a quick review problem to do, or somewhere in the middle of my small group lesson I give students a quick task to do with a partner. This gives me the chance to get up and check in with my other students. I can answer quick questions at this time and just make sure everyone is moving along okay. My students learn that I will be up and around to check on them at each rotation. This means less interruptions at small group, because they know they can ask my questions when I come around and less behavior issues.

Math Workshop Tip 3: Keep it Simple

  • Keep stations simple. Students need to know what to expect each time, not exactly, but a basic understanding of what each station typically looks like. This should help cut down on questions about directions and therefore cut down on interruptions of teacher small group. Stations, aside from teacher table, should be old skills that students can confidently work through. I’m not saying these should be busy work, just extended practice of skills students are already confident in. I also love a good self-checking station so students can get immediate feedback on what they are doing. I don’t want students practicing a skill wrongly for 15-20 minutes. I will often include stations with QR codes, self-correcting mazes, or just give them the dang answer key! Seriously, just do it, its life changing! They still have to show how to get the answer, but it removes the pressure and is a perfect way for students to self-correct.
Student working on order of operations worksheet at desk during math stations

Math Workshop Tip 4: Sweet Silence

  • Blissful silence, ahhhhhhh. At least 1-2 of my stations are always silent, independent work. I love happy math chatter, but no one can work or function at a chaotic noise level. We need a balance! My technology station is always a silent station. More often than not my practice station is also a silent station. I still allow students to ask each other questions or guide each other along, but then right back to working quietly and independently. That means they only two groups talking are my teacher table group and my game group…which tends to be a little louder by nature anyways. And that is fine! Balance! Two quiet groups and two talking groups.
Students sitting on floor during math stations working on ipad technology staiton

Math Workshop Tip 5: Timers

  • Use timers! This will help keep your students….and you, on track! I’m totally guilty of keeping my small group for longer than planned. Having a timer projected helps keep students, and myself on track! I create a slide on Powerpoint or Keynote with each station activity and the group at that activity with a small timer at the bottom. Please know it does not have to be fancy, just functional!

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