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Math "Workshop"

I will be honest with you.  I have spent most of my teaching career teaching whole group.  I figured that is the way math should be done.  And for me, it pretty much worked....until I had a very, very low group.  

That particular year, whole group instruction just wasn't working.  The kids weren't getting anything out of my instruction as, about 10 minutes in, 1/2 of them weren't listening, and 1/4 of them were carefully trying to conceal themselves with the other 1/4 that were raising their hand and participating.  With 36 kids, they all knew that I physically couldn't be next to every single one during the lesson and they took advantage. Something had to change.  For me, that was the year that Math Workshop was born in my room.

The system I use in my class is a compilation of many different things that I have seen all over the place.  It isn't one prescribed method but rather a mixture of all the great things I have read combined into a big ball that works for me.  What I describe below also is very fluid.  If I find it isn't working as well for a particular group of students, I change it.  (which is what I love about is so changeable!) 

Math instruction takes place daily from 10:35am - 12:00pm (and I know how incredibly lucky I am to have this very long block to teach I take advantage of it)

The block is broken up as follows:

10:35 - 10:45am  Calendar Work Time (I pull one small remediation group during this time)
10:45 - 10:55am  Homework Review
10:55 - 11:15am  Rotation 1
11:15 - 11:35am  Rotation 2
11:35 - 11:40am  Lightning Rod
11:40 - 12:00pm  Calendar Review

When the students enter the room, I begin meeting with my small group for remediation.  These students know who they are before we go to recess, so they immediately come to the small group table to work with me.  There is literally no lag time as this is set up before we even leave.  I do a quick review on something that they need to work on.  I know what groups to pull based on my quiz breakdown from the previous week's quiz.   The other students are working on their Calendar Math sheet.  At this point in the year, many of them can actually finish it in this 10 minutes (leaving more time for Choice Activity during their rotation...more on that in a minute)

After this brief time, the students take out their math homework from the previous night and we go over it.  This is a 10 problem cumulative review that I have created myself for them.  I am a firm believer in reviewing it.  Otherwise, in my opinion, it becomes busywork and loses all of its (tremendous) value.

This is when the "Rotations" begin.  Half of my students are working independently on the Workshop menu (which I will describe below) and the other half are working with me on the direct lesson on the rug. I love my rug!!  :)  I have chosen to break my groups up homogeneously.  I work with the group that has scored lower on the District Periodic Assessment first, while my higher group works on their menu.  This works very well for me for two reasons.  1) The higher students are working on the previous day's independent practice, not immediately after the instruction is given, but 24 hours later and 2) they are sort of listening in on what I am saying with the first when they come to me they have *some* idea of what I am talking about, making it easier for me to go a bit deeper with them.

During the direct instruction lesson, I basically teach the same thing twice.  Since the kids are right there with me, what took me 30 - 40 minutes to teach to all of my students literally takes half the time.  I can see them all, they actually do work faster, get their questions asked more readily, and are all focused.

During the first round, while I am working with my first direct lesson group, Group A is "rotating" through a menu of math independent tasks.  They are as follows:

1.  Finish calendar 
2.  Get Lightning Rod test
3.  Do Skill Work (which is usually a practice sheet or problem solving activity related to the lessons that week)
4.  Math Choice  (this is a choice between a project, game, practice skill, or math fluency practice.  They may do any of the choices available, but must stick with it the entire time)

Once the lesson is over, the two groups switch and the process starts again.

You will notice on the picture that there is a green paper holder and a red one.  That is where the students' skill work is held.  The kids know that during their "Skill Work" portion of the Rotation they do what is there.  Sometimes there are worksheets, other times they need to finish a hands-on portion of a lesson (like creating nets or something) and other times they need to complete a sheet from their math books (I write those on yellow sticky notes and just stick them on the paper holder).

Once both Rotations are complete, the students take their timed test (Lightning is just a 44 problem multiplication and division timed test program)

We then gather back on the rug, and go over Calendar.  If you haven't had a chance to read about how I do Calendar in the upper grades, PLEASE do.  It is THE most valuable thing I do in math all year and worth your time to read about it.

So there you have it, my Math "Workshop" (It isn't a true workshop, hence the quotes) in a nutshell.  Conducting the math lesson in this manner allows me to have more of a hands-on approach to math as well as be more in tune with the individual needs of my students.   In a perfect world, I would do this 4 times a week.   However, we know that the world of teaching is rarely I usually do it 3 times per week.  Fridays for me are always testing, and during Science Lab days, my math block is shorter, so I usually do Concept Lessons or Two Problems during that time.

How do you structure your math block?   For more great ideas on how to use math centers, and some great centers themselves, check out Laura Candler's Corkboard Connections.  She has a great link up with many awesome ideas for you to help you think about math centers in your room.


  1. You sound like a pro!!!!! I'm scared to be out of my comfort zone {reading} if I get moved down to elementary and have to teach Math & Science again.
    You'll def. be my go to girl for Math workshop. Looks like a great system and one that works very well with the kids.

    ❤ Mor Zrihen from...
    A Teacher's Treasure
    Teaching Treasures Shop

    1. I am the far from a pro! (but at least I sound that way ;) hee hee) Are you thinking you are going to have to move down next year?

  2. Thanks for sharing! I just posted about math workshop in first grade tonight!

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  3. I have been wanting to get this in place for most of this year (my first year in 5th), but haven't been brave enough to take the plunge. What keeps holding me back is the materials/activities for the group that I am not meeting with. Do you have a favorite source? What do you have out for them? I have a small chunk of 20 minutes I can use early in the day and about 60 later, so I think I can make it work with interruption.

    1. The kids that aren't working with me are focusing on calendar. The skill work comes from the math series (or sometimes from other teacher books that I have...nothing in particular)

      For Choice Activity, my students this year are really into math logic puzzles. So there are a bunch of those they can choose from. There are also simple games from my math series there.

  4. How is Lightning Rod graded? Do they check their own using a key?

    1. I check them (I do have keys there for my super fast finishers or kids who stay in at lunch to help out but that rarely happens -- I like to eat during lunch usually ;) )

      Once the timed portion is over, the kids turn them in to the inbox. Sometime between that and going home I correct them (I am REALLY fast at it it doesn't take too long) If they don't pass, they have times tables homework. If they pass, they get a star and move on to the next level the next day. Quick and painless. But like I said, I am really fast at grading them now.

  5. Thanks for sharing! I am looking for a way to make my math "workshop" time more productive.
    The kiddos that are rotating through the menu activities, are they responsible for completing all 4 during this time? If so, how do you hold them accountable?

    1. They do get everything done, sort of.

      Calendar is done at their own pace. That is the most important thing that I want them to do. Most of them finish during the 10 minute block in the beginning. But those that don't have the time during rotation.

      They then get their own Lightning Rod test (takes a few seconds....not a biggie) They keep the test on their desk until it is needed later in the math block.

      Skill Work is turned in when it is completed. (On Fridays, they also have some extra time to finish this if needed)

      Choice Activities are more open ended and can be completed over a period of time. There is no real "you have to get this done" in the choice, although I have been known to assign a few individuals a big project. They have to complete that in a time frame....and usually do.

  6. Stephanie, it's me...Jeanette. I asked the "anonymous" question about grading the Lightning Rod drills. That was the only option that would work right from my phone. Lol!

  7. Thanks for sharing! It gave me more ideas and things I can try. This year, I took the plunge for a math workshop in 5th grade...for the exact reasons you mentioned. I LOVE it (and so do the kids!) We start each day with a daily math review, which we then "process" or go over together. Mondays I teach a whole group lesson on the week's main target. Then, Tuesday through Thursday, I teach a mini-lesson and then we have 2 rounds. The kids have their weekly assignment packet, a review sheet, and then choices of a game practicing the week's target or a game they can play on the computer or iPod. They manage their choices, knowing the work has to be finished. Fridays end up being assessment day and then either problem solving, weekly fact quiz, review game or another lesson. I meet with flexible groups during rounds (could be reteach, extra practice or extenions) It is still a work in progress, but I enjoy everything about it!

  8. I just want you to know that I think this is such a great idea! I've always wanted to do math groups but this seems less overwhelming, because you are teaching the same thing to both groups. One question - do you only pull one remediation group a day? Do you pull them based on your quiz break down?

  9. This post may have just saved my life! I am a new teacher (as in I am just finishing my third week). My fifth graders are sO very behind in math and my whole-group method just isn't cutting it. I think I am going to bravely try your workshop strategy...if I can manage my class's behavior, I think I would be so much better off teaching this way!

  10. I love your post because you focused on ways to ease of this process. When I first started the workshop model, I remember stressing out about all the activities to teach, and how to manage it. A teacher I worked with suggested the checklist concept over a true rotation (everybody have 10 minutes to do the same activity and then switching) and once I tried it, I fell in love. It makes differentiating so much easier. Thanks for sharing all this information. Do you have your calendar sheet available anywhere? I am trying to develop one for my 1st graders, and I know it will be different than what you are using, but I'd love to look at it and see if there's something I am obviously missing.

    Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resourcess

  11. Thanks for sharing. I bravely plunged into a math workshop after being frustrated with the whole group appraoch. I have 3 rotations 15 your flow map. My kids struggle most with the transitions. But we have just started, I think my mistake was not practicing the rotations before lanunching the workshop..there is a lot of noise and confusion as to where everyone is to go...we will be doing this tomorrow.

  12. Love, love, love your post! I've been reading your blog for at least an hour now. I've tried math workshop and have felt overwhelmed with trying to create multiple activities. I love the model you're using. Almost like I had a "duh" moment. :)

  13. I will definitely be trying this in the future... I know what you mean with having a low group. It makes it harder to teach math whole group. I really utilize RTI time (30 minutes a day) which helps my lower students. During RTI, I "pre-teach" the concepts for the next day so the kids have a basic understanding before we do the lesson in class.

  14. I am in love with this post. Thank you so much for sharing! I am always looking for ways to restructure my math class time to be more beneficial for my students.
    To The Square Inch

  15. What grade is that homework sheet for?

  16. I love your blog! It has been especially helpfully being a first year teacher. I have been using Calendar Math for 3 weeks and we started Lightning Rod Math last week. My kids actually look forward to both. We have just been allotted an hour for math, so what would you suggest for Math Workshop. Should I cut the Calendar Math page in half and alternate them every other day? I want to give them enough time to complete the problems and enough time to review. This past week we have not had any time to review together, because it takes them around 40 minutes to complete the whole page.


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