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Getting Started With Guided Math

Benefits of Guided Math

This post will be all about how to get started with Guided Math. Before you start here I highly recommend reading the top 5 benefits of using Guided Math in your classroom first. If you are not already convinced that this instructional strategy is for you, the top 5 list will having you knowing it for sure.

Now let’s get started with all the fun stuff!

ROtations I use

Guided math rotations explained by terri's teaching treasures

I researched a ton about Guided Math before I committed to it and the first thing I noticed is that everyone was doing it differently. Almost everyone had different rotations, different time length, and different methods for teaching lessons.

You know what? That is totally ok. If you are going to stick with it you have to find what works for you and your students.

Here are rotations I go with:

  1. Working With Teacher – This is where I work with a small group at the table. We do many hands on, manipulative work for the skill we are focusing on. Because groups are small I can easily assess how they are doing.
  2. Working With Technology – This probably the number 1 choice rotation of my students…lol Students work on a computer for this rotation. They go to different math sites to practice their skills. The primary sites I have them signed up for are: Sumdog and BoomLearning (both paid sites). If I want them to practice a specific skill I will post a website I want them to go on or set skills for them on Sumdog.
  3. Independent Work– After students work with me they usually have some independent work to do in order to practice the skill we are working on.
  4. Math Centers Centers are where students practice skills already taught. You don’t want to give them new stuff to have to try and learn while working on a center. You will be interupted 1000 times if you do this. Centers are independent work activities. See how I organize my centers here.
  5. Math GamesGames are for partner work. They choose a game (again focused on already learned skills) to play with a partner (or 2 if an uneven number in the rotation). This is a cooperative way to practive math skills and listen to other talk math.
  6. Fact Fluency – I have plastic drawers filled with different activities for students to practice fact fluency. Some are timed, others are not. I always have a mixture of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in this rotation.
Keep reading to get a FREE download of the rotation template I use!

Now What?

Once you have decided what rotations you are going to use, it is important to teach your students how to do each rotation. I start doing this even before I know what my groups will be. If they are not independent at the rotations, it will be very difficult for you to teach your small group without being interupted.

If you have previously used Daily 5 or a guided reading rotation with your class they will be familiar with rotations and this part goes much quicker.

Practicing the Rotations

I start by introducing Guided Math and going over expectations. It is important to set the stage for what you are expecting before starting rotations.

Then move on to teaching them how to work through Centers, Games, and Fact Fluency first. We go through EVERY detail from how to get an activity, how to put away an activity (very important for your sanity), and what to do if they need help (ask 3 before me).

Most students know how to go on the computer already but I make sure they know how to navigate the sites I want them on. Once they have explored the sites a couple times, I post a chart near the computers with sites they can go on for Working With Technology time. Including the website addresses is best if you can.

For a week students practice going through all rotations (except work with teacher and independent work) and we work out any kinks. Once they have it, you can start with your small groups!!!

How I make Guided Math Groups

Again, this is where you have to do what works for your students. There is so much research on the best way to group your students. Choose what works for you. Some say students should be grouped by mixed abilities, others say they should all be at the same level.

I have done both, and find that my students are more confident and willing to participate if they are in groups of students working at their level.


Before every unit I give my students a pre-assessment. My pre-assessments are a mix of the skills they should already know and the new skills for their grade. When I am marking them I can quickly see what skills students have and which ones they need more time working on.

Why do I give them questions to answer on their pre-assessment for stuff they are to learn now? We all know that our students come with their own background knowledge and previous exposure to math topics. If, for instance, the skill we are working on is rounding to the thousands place and I see that I have 5 students who can already do this, then why would I waste their time (and mine) teaching them a skill they already know. This group will get some enrichment (rounding to hundred thousands or rounding decimals).

I am always upfront with my students that there is stuff on the pre-assessment that they are not expected to know already. This helps relieve any anxieties they may be having to not knowing how to do something.

Group Sizes:

Once I have my assessments done, I group my students. I prefer to have groups with 5-7 students. Because of this I may have some groups working on the exact same thing. That is ok (and less prep for you!)

Why would I have multiple groups working on the same thing and not just put them as 1 group? Formative Assessment! With smaller groups I can assess them each day much easier than if I have larger groups.

Which Rotations When?

Once you have students grouped you can then decide when they will meet with you and when they will go to the other rotations.

I don’t trust my memory so I use a weekly tracking page. Group numbers/names go down the left side and then I write the day of the week they will go to each rotation. This makes it SUPER easy to see when a group has not been to a rotation or if I am putting them at one too often.

How DO students know where to go?

Again, this is a preference choice you will have to make. Some teachers use pocket charts, others use anchor chart, and others use technology.

I fall in the technology group and I use a Notebook file that I project on the Smartboard. Because not everyone has a Smartboard, I have created a template of the rotations in Google Slides for you. Keep reading to see how to get it for FREE!

One slide shows the students which group/colour they are in and the next slide has 3 rotations ready to be customized.

One rotation is shown at a time so that students don’t focus too much on the rotations that are coming up for them.

Using the computer file I find it really easy to switch up the rotations for each day.

Lesson Plans and Formative Assessment

An important part of running smooth Guided Math rotations is to have a way to plan your lessons ahead of time and to do ongoing foramtive assessment of each student.

For this reason, I have a Group Planning page and an individual student note taking page. Both of these are included in the FREE download coming up soon.

Both pages are pretty self explanatory but here’s a rundown of them. For the group planning page I have a place to write down which skill will be the focus for each day’s lesson. I also frequently use the Notes part of this to jot down things such as who was absent that day, who needs extra support, or who is doing great, etc.

The Student Note Taking Page is more for the unit overall. This is where I write down assessment outcomes, things like work habits, and strengths and difficulties students have. This page is INCREDIBLY handy when it is time to write reports.

Where do students store their work?

To avoid stacks of paper on my desk, in center bags, or in student desks, we use a Math Folder. One side is for work they are currently working on and the other is for done stuff.

When I mark the folders I only have to look at the “Done” side! If a student doesn’t finish a page that is part of a math center/fact fluency it goes in the “Working On” side so they can come back to it later.

This system works great for me and my students but I will say it again 😊 Do what works best for you. You may have to try out a few different systems (like I did) to find the one you like.

FREE Guided Math Templates

To help you get started with Guided Math, I compiled all my templates in one download for you. It includes a link to the Google Slides (can be downloaded as a PowerPoint also), and all the planning pages I previously mentioned.

guided math templates download made by terri's teaching treasures
click here to download guided math template button

Things I do to make life easier

I have more tips for you. Over the years I have tried many different things with Guided Math. Here are the things that I have found that help make Guided Math easier to manage:

1) Keep students in their groups for rotations – Instead of mixing up students that are not working with me for small group lessons I just keep an entire group at a rotation. For instance, all of group 3 will be at Math Centers while all of Group 1 will be at Fact Fluency.

I tried mixing students up so they had new kids to work with but this was VERY time consuming and I found they tended to work with people in their similar groups anyways.

2)Plan ahead for the entire week – While this may not always be possible, I noticed math was more enjoyable for me when I wasn’t planning a day at a time. I spend extra time at work on Friday to make sure my Math (and reading) rotations are all set for the coming week.

Do I need to make adjustments ever? Of course! With the framework set making adjustments is pretty quick and easy.

3) Keep binders for each concept – I highly recommend you start this the first time you start Guided Math. I use to look for all my stuff (crammed in a filing cabinet) every year. It was wasting a lot of time. Now I have a binder for each math concept. The binder has all the manipulatives I’ve made, independent work pages, and any posters or prinatbles that I need for skill lessons.

I organize the binder with a grade below, at grade level, and a grade above. This makes it easy to differentiate for groups. I also keep all pre and post assessments in the binder, along with stuff needed for my digital reporting (that’s a whole other topic but it is how I do “report cards”).

A few more tips:

4) Be ready for substitute teachers – I make a generic rotation that is available for a substitute teacher in the classroom. I have a digital copy AND a paper copy available for them. These rotations do not include work with teacher. I feel it is too much for a guest teacher to manage a small group as well as classroom management of students they don’t really know.

With the rotations for the sub, I also keep a printed copy of the page I used to introduce Guided Math. This helps them see the expectations for the math block.

5) Give yourself grace! – This is the most important. You are trying something new and with that comes mistakes, extra work, frustration, etc. Be kind to yourself and don’t give up. If something isn’t working … change it. If you get to the end of the year and you are finding Guided Math was a pain… give it one more year before you decide to stop. You will find that everytime you do it, it gets better and you get more comfortable.

Leave a comment letting me know how Guided Math is going for you. We are a community and others can comment and help out as well.

Also, let me know if you have any other questions about Guided Math!


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