Sunday, September 1

My Math Class Routine: Why I No Longer Teach Whole Group Math

I love math! Math was my favorite subject as a student, and is now my favorite to teach. Over the years, I’ve tried many different instructional models to best fit the needs of my students. I have finally found the system I love and I can’t wait to teach you all about it in the post below!

Set up + Expectations

I no longer teach whole class math instruction. What? Why?  Well, the answer is really very simple; the learners in my class require too much differentiation to meet their needs in a whole class setting. So you meet student needs through small group lessons then? Well, not exactly. The new lesson routine I follow is a combination of guided math lessons and task lists. Personally, I have found that running highly differentiated guided math groups allows me to meet the needs of my kiddos far better than whole group instruction. The order we follow every day goes like this; warm up, review worksheet, skill builder, tech time/ game. Wait, where are the guided math groups you keep talking about? My small group lessons are happening simultaneously while the rest of the class is working at an independent pace to complete their tasks. You may be thinking, this sounds just like guided math groups and centers, been there, done that, and managing it is awful! Although the small group math lessons are true in that statement, I have found that task lists are the Starbucks latte of independent work time, and centers are the day old cold coffee sitting on your desk. I am not dissing center rotations, I’m simply sharing that I have found task lists to be a best fit for my learners far beyond centers. Maybe I will discuss my reasoning in a future blog post. Regardless, let’s hop into what this is all about and how I successfully pull it off!

The secret to any successful classroom routine is having explicitly clear expectations.  Duh, Olivia we already know that. What I mean is after the initial explanation of routines and active modeling the expectations shouldn’t just be something we’ve checked off on our never ending list. For this math set up to run like a machine, you need clear expectations posted every day. But I don’t have any more wall space, and it doesn’t match my cute bulletin board theme. Trust me, I get that, but make the routine and clear and present in your room and you will have great success!

You can grab a FREE version of the poster and labels  I use here!

Planning and Low Prep

Did someone say low prep? Yes, please!  One thing I love about my new math lesson routine is the reduced amount of prep I have to do. Once I create my initial task list materials, I’m pretty much done for the year! I still need to plan for the guided math lessons I teach, but honestly, that’s really all I have to do now. For my initial task lists set up I simply get my review worksheets photocopied, skill builder (fact fluency) materials, online math game logins, and a few games ready. Then, I’m set for the year! I will dive into each of these more during different sections of this post.

Warm up

Every day my students warm up their brains for math class during the first five minutes of the class. This is the one and only whole group part of my lesson. I keep the students together for the warm up so they are all fired up and ready to go when the instructional period begins. My warm ups vary from math videos (my favorites are NumberRock and Jack Hartman I try and select videos that will be a preview of the concept we will be learning about today), choral response flash cards, or problem solving with personal white boards.  

Small Group/ Guided Math Lessons

O.K. here’s where the heavy lifting takes place. Before I begin instructing guided math lessons I have already given a unit pretest and divided my students into homogeneous groups. I typically try and stick to three groups; low, medium, and high. This allows me to teach three tiered 20 minute lessons. However, I have had up to four groups in some years when my numbers were larger.  Teach your students that when they come to small group lessons, they must be prepared to focus intensely for the next twenty minutes. Your instruction time is relatively short, so you must make sure to use it as efficiently as possible. In order to expedite the “get settled in” process, I keep all student required materials at my table. I keep manipulatives, white boards, student journals, pencils; you name it, organized by group in the self behind our lesson area. What about student responsibility? They should be able to quickly bring the required materials to your small group lessons. To that I say, yep they should be able to. However, during my math lessons I do not have time to wait while students gather or more commonly forget materials, and my focus is on teaching new mathematical concepts, not drilling responsibility.

As you gathered from the previous section, the most important part of this set up is having clear expectations. I have my groups posted on the wall next to our “Math Class Schedule” anchor chart. I use animals, fruit, colors, etc.. so my students are less likely to figure out they are in tiered groups. I teach my students that when I call your group name, you are to immediately pause whatever task you are on, and come to group. No, just a few more minutes Miss Doyer!  Nope, “aint nobody got time for that!” Because I am operating on a task list system instead of centers, students are easily able to pause what they are working on without feeling like they are missing out. Teach students to quickly pause their work and come to you for focused lessons and this will all work out splendidly!

Review worksheets

Spiral review worksheets are my jam! Every day my students pick up their review worksheet from the “review worksheet:” labeled bin. I find these so beyond valuable because it causes an ongoing understanding and practice of skills to take place. The whole, “if you don’t use it you lose it,” saying is alive and well in my math instruction. I want my students to be constantly practicing the concepts I teach them. After all, practice makes permanent. You can grab the first 6 weeks of daily spiral math review worksheets that I use with my fourth graders here!

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Skill Builder

Skill builder is just another way to say fact fluency time. Having fact fluency is SO important as students’ progress in mathematics! I have two different options for this that I rotate through throughout the course of the year. This first option is a simple mad minute fact practice worksheet paired with a multiplication chart. I put the mad minute worksheets in laminated sleeves so the students can write and erase when then are done (remember we’re working on that whole low prep thing). The other options I use are my Fluency Flips. Students can work on these either independently or with a partner. Both options allow the repeated practice of fact skills for students and offer low prep for me, yay!

You can grab my Fluency Flips HERE.

Tech Time/ Games

Woo hoo! Guys, you’ve almost made it! The last task list item is the really fun one, tech/ games! Here is where you hone in on those math skills in a fun way that make your students happy to end the instructional period on. Let’s talk about tech time first. I LOVE using technology in math class! My favorite two websites are and Although both are fantastic, is game based and FREE! My kiddos beg me for more Prodigy time, and let’s face it, anything that has them super engaged in math is a win by me! Prodigy is easy to set up and align to Common Core State Standards too. I would highly recommend getting accounts for your students!

In my classroom, we do not have access to technology every day in math. So, on the days we do not have tech access, we play math games! I love playing math games and my students do too. I have designed visually appealing and engaging math games for my students that meet the fourth grade math standards, and they love them! My thoughts are, if you’re going to play a game, it should definitely be fun!

You can check out my fourth grade math games here!
Whether you purchase games or use a deck of cards, the only important part is that your students are practicing their skills in a fun way.

Well, there you have it. I have now shared why I no longer teach whole group math, and how my new model works. I hope you enjoyed reading about my new math routine and found the information useful!

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