Find practical advice for how to run your math small groups effectively during your guided math block and math workshop. Read this guide for teaching tips and strategies you can use in your kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom!
Tips for Teaching Math Small Groups
If there is one thing we as teachers know for sure, it’s that kids learn at their own pace and in their own way. These differences in how kids learn are why teaching in one format, teaching only to the whole class, or using the same methods over and over is unproductive.
This is true in the math classroom, especially. The background knowledge that students come to the classroom with varies widely. The way kids understand, or process numbers are different from one kid to another.
So, we should strive to provide differentiated instruction to every child we are teaching. Differentiated instruction ensures that although you teach the same standards to each student, you teach them while keeping their interests, preferences, strengths, and struggles in mind.
Differentiated instruction means that we are asking, “What does this child need to learn this material?” “How can I better connect these concepts to what a child already knows?” “How can I help EVERY child be successful?”
An excellent way to ensure that we are in touch with our students and provide that crucial differentiated instruction is through guided math small groups. The key here is the word “guided” – a teacher leads them, they do not work independently.
Guided math small groups allow time and space for teachers to provide direct instruction to kids in a meaningful way.
Let’s look together at how to effectively use small groups and small group math activities to facilitate learning!
Why Teach Guided Math in Small Groups
Small group instruction is effective for many reasons. Generally, it provides:
- More teacher connection to the students. It is easier to monitor a student’s progress and grasp of the material in a small group versus a whole class environment.
- Easier ways to differentiate the learning. Being able to see where a student is and how to meet their specific needs works much better in this setup.
- More engagement by the students. It is easier for kids to stay focused when there are only a few students at a table and the teacher is only a few inches away!
- More efficient and meaningful assessment. It is quick and easy to assess students’ understanding in math by providing assessment tools and observing in this environment.
- A place for students to ask questions. It is less intimidating to ask questions of the teacher in a small group setting versus in front of the whole class. This promotes understanding and confidence.
- Extends the math mini-lesson – This targeted time allows you to go further on what you taught during your whole group math mini-lessons.
When To Teach Math Small Groups
Teach small math groups while the rest of the class works independently or at math centers. Use math centers to practice what they already know. Your small group time is used for direct instruction.
You might use a Math Workshop setup. In this model, you will teach kids in small groups and rotate through various activities, including “teacher time.”
Creating Math Small Groups
You must be intentional about how you group your students. There are two schools of thought: heterogeneous or homogenous.
- Heterogenous means that you will include students from across the skill levels in each group, to help balance and challenge these kids.
- Homogenous means that you will keep similar levels of skill together, in order to provide appropriate instruction that will meet the students where they are.
Which type of grouping is best? I recommend groups that are made according to ability. You want to structure your small group lesson to target what that group needs support on and where they are at ability-wise.
To help you figure out which students to put in which groups, you will need to perform a pre-assessment and use the data to guide your group making. Keep in mind that these groups should be fluid. Students may need to move into different groups depending on which skill or concept you teach.
How many groups? I recommend 3-4 groups, but you could have more. Keep in mind that with each additional group, you have less and less time for your small group lesson.
How many students should be in a group? The number of students in each group will depend on how many students you have. I recommend no more than six students in a group, but this is my personal preference. With more, you run out of space and time to teach effectively. Smaller math groups allow you time to focus on each child.
What To Do in Math Small Groups
A small group guided math lesson should include these beneficial elements. Of course, how you structure it is up to you, as you know what works best for you and your students.
Discussion – Spend some time engaging with your students in a conversation about a particular math concept. Have students ask questions and explain their thinking about ideas.
Review – It is essential to assess whether students have grasped previously taught material. Task cards and math warm-up activities would be helpful for this. Present a simple task for students to complete and watch them work through the problem.
Direct instruction – Teach a math concept, keeping in mind the students’ skills. The Mindful Math curriculum provides lessons on how to teach early elementary math concepts.
Hands-on activities & games- This is a time for hands-on math activities and math games. Spend time using math manipulatives, such as dice, snap cubes, 2 color counters, and charts. By using math tools to complete math tasks, kids gain important skills and practice as you observe and offer support.
Assessment – Math assessments are a vital part of small group time. As you check for understanding, try quick assessment questions that have the students demonstrate their knowledge.
Resources for Your Math Small Groups
You can use many resources to support students during math small groups. They can be the same activities kids work on independently, but you complete them together first to offer that extra support. Or, they can be different activities that you reserve to use during this time.
Here are a few resources that you may wish to try during your math small groups.
- Mental Math Flashcards – These cards are helpful to use as they build a child’s mental math ability and fact fluency. Try playing a game with the cards or use them to quiz students in small groups.
- Children’s books – Use your small group time to read a children’s book that helps teach a math concept they are learning.
- Math Manipulatives – This list includes helpful ideas for using math manipulatives and which to choose to make the most of your time together.
- Number of the Day – Go deep on numbers with this number of the day routine that will help you support students as they develop a stronger number sense.
Free Math Small Group Planning Templates
Try our guided math planning templates to help you organize and plan your small groups. Click the image below to grab a copy.
Using Mindful Math for Your Small Group Activities
If you are looking for a comprehensive math program that allows for easy differentiation and provides supportive lessons and activities to support your Guided Math schedule, then Mindful Math is for you!
The Mindful Math curriculum by Proud to be Primary includes detailed lessons that can be broken down into whole-group mini-lessons and small-group instruction. It also has various math practice options, such as journals, warm-up task cards, practice sheets, centers and games, and assessments.
See the Mindful Math program in action here.
It is clear to see the benefit that guided small groups can have on your math classroom. If you struggle to get started or want some extra help, check out our Mindful Math Curriculum. It contains many math units for Kindergarten, First Grade, and Second Grade. Many of the resources within this curriculum are perfect for small group work.
I hope this has been inspiring to you! Seeing your students improve their math skills will be such a reward! Best of luck in your math classroom!
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