Strategies For Implementing Guided Math

Guided math proved to be an excellent addition (pun intended!) to Amy McKinney's elementary classroom.

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One of the best decisions I’ve made in my classroom is to implement guided math.

Once I found a system that worked, I never looked back at whole group instruction. Regardless of the program your school uses, you can make guided math work for your classroom, too.

Strategies For Implementing Guided Math

What are the benefits of guided math?

Most elementary teachers concentrate a portion of their day on guided reading in order to individualize instruction to meet their students’ needs. Math instruction is not a “one-size-fits-all” model, either, and guided math addresses the wide range of needs in the classroom, from those who require more repetition or readiness activities to top-performing students who need to be challenged above their peers.

Setting up guided math is the easy part. Training your students to follow procedures can be more challenging, which is why I suggest doing it at the beginning of the school year, or when you have a “buffer” time (preferably at least a week) when you can oversee students’ progress in learning your expectations.

"Guided math addresses the wide range of needs in the classroom, from those who require more repetition or readiness activities to top performing students who need to be challenged above their peers."

What is guided math?

Guided math is essentially four small groups and four math rotations, each with a specific focus. Some creative teacher came up with the acronym “MATH” to identify each rotation, although I’ve seen the letters used differently. I use Math Facts, At Your Seat, Teacher Time, and Hands-On.

The length of each rotation depends on the length of your math class. We have 90 minutes, so with transitions, each rotation lasts 20 minutes.

How does guided math work?

Each name clearly states the objective for that rotation, which is important for students to understand what they’re supposed to be doing.

During Math Facts, my students practice fact fluency using XtraMath, a free web-based program for teachers, but iPad apps or simple flash cards would work equally well. Students work on assigned math workbook pages during At Your Seat, and direct instruction occurs during Teacher Time. Hands-On can be project-based learning or math games.

What's the best way to set up groups and rotations?

Although the MATH acronym is clever, the rotations don’t actually work in that order. Depending on where they start, students move through each rotation in the opposite direction of the word MATH.

For example: if a group’s first rotation is Hands-On, they’ll move to Teacher Time next, then to At Your Seat, and finally to Math Facts. Each group will start at a different point and move accordingly. I have groups, individual student names, and rotations posted clearly on the wall for students (and me!) to reference when needed.

I prefer to have my group of kids with the most challenges meet with me at Teacher Time first, giving them an opportunity to start their day with direct instruction before moving directly to At Your Seat, where they will continue practicing the skills learned.

My students who need extension activities see me as their last rotation, which means they have At Your Seat first, before any direct instruction from me. In this case, it’s not a continuation of the lesson. Once they come to me, they’re typically ready for a challenge related to the lesson to extend their learning.

The middle two groups start out with either Hands-On or Math Facts in their first rotation, allowing them to also have an opportunity to practice the skill immediately afterward.

It’s important to me that my students don’t feel like they’re being placed in low, middle or high groups, so I name each group something fun, such as Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Goofy and Donald Duck. I use color coding with my guided reading groups, so that could work, too.

How do I fit guided math into my existing workload?

One thing I insist on is not adding to my already overwhelming workload, so I do not create stations, worksheets, or projects that need to be handed in and graded. Each rotation is self-sufficient, and my students work independently or with other members of their group. Because of this, teachers who implement guided math must be willing to let go of total control over what students are doing when they’re not at the teacher table. The noise level in the classroom will naturally increase since students are permitted to choose their workspace through flexible seating and will be collaborating with classmates.

My students and I love our guided math class, and couldn’t imagine going back to the old way!


Have you tried guided math with your students? Let us know how it went on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Want to read more from this author? Check out Amy's tips for managing student behavior, dealing with difficult parents, building a positive classroom community, or learn what special education teachers wish "regular" education teachers knew.

Author Bio:

Amy McKinney, M.Ed., is a third grade teacher in Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for eleven years, eight of them in special education. Her experience working with students with special needs has helped form her philosophy on teaching and collaborating with her colleagues. Follow her on Instagram: @theuniqueclassroom.

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