Small group instruction is a powerful tool for 1st grade teachers to target specific mathematical skills and provide individualized support for students.
However, managing small groups can be a challenge, especially when it comes to math. Here are 9 tips to help 1st grade teachers make the most of their small group math instruction time.
Organize And Manage Groups Effectively
Divide students into small groups based on their math abilities, needs, and interests. For example, you could create three groups: one for students who need extra support with basic addition skills, one for students who need to practice counting coins, and one for students who are ready to work on subtraction problems.
Lots of teachers think each group should be focusing on the same skill but this isn’t always the case. Meet students where they are to make the most out of small group time.
Use a clear and simple system, such as a color-coding system, to keep track of small group materials. I like to copy each level on a different color for easy organization. Another organizing tip is to use a rotating schedule. My class lives by our slides to show each student where they should be at any given time and how much time they have left in that station.
Read more here on how I organize my groups and get free editable rotation slides.
Differentiate Small Group Instruction
Differentiating instruction for small group instruction is an essential practice for every teacher. It ensures that each student receives instruction that is tailored to their unique learning needs, allowing them to make progress at their own pace. This is especially important in the first grade when students are just beginning to build their foundational math skills.
Here are some specific ideas and low-prep, free activities that teachers can use to differentiate small group instruction.
- Math Centers: Setting up math centers is a great way to provide differentiated instruction in the classroom. Math centers can be tailored to meet the specific needs of each group of students. Teachers can rotate small groups through the centers, giving them a chance to work on different skills at their own pace. The small group math curriculum I use comes with a game for every lesson so after we play it in small group I can add it a center.
- Math Games: Games are a fun way to reinforce math skills and keep students engaged. Teachers can create simple games that target specific math concepts, such as number recognition, addition, and subtraction. For example, a teacher can create a game where students roll two dice and add the numbers together. This activity can be easily differentiated by using different types of dice or by adding more numbers.
- Math Journals: Journaling is a powerful tool for reflection and self-assessment. Teachers can give students a prompt related to a math concept, and students can respond by drawing pictures or writing about their thinking. This activity can be used to differentiate instruction by providing different prompts to different groups of students based on their readiness levels.
- Manipulatives: Manipulatives are hands-on materials that students can use to explore math concepts. Examples of manipulatives include counting bears, base ten blocks, and dominoes. Teachers can provide different manipulatives to different groups of students based on their readiness levels.
- Math Worksheets: Worksheet is not a bad word! They are a common tool used to monitor student levels. Teachers can create simple worksheets that focus on specific math concepts. This activity can be differentiated by providing different levels of difficulty based on the readiness levels of each group. When my students leave my small group table they take a worksheet with a few problems that cover what we just did. This way I am able to see who can do it on their own. The math curriculum I use has differentiated worksheets for every lesson ready to copy!
Assess Students’ Understanding
Assessing students’ understanding is a crucial component of effective teaching, especially in mathematics. In first grade, it is essential to assess students’ understanding regularly to ensure that they are mastering foundational math skills. This is particularly important when working with small groups, as it allows teachers to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each student.
Use formative assessments, such as observing student work, asking questions, and checking for understanding, to monitor student progress and make necessary adjustments to your instruction. Check out this post for more on tracking student data.
Here are just a few ideas that are quick and simple but can provide you with so much information about your students.
- Quick Checks/Exit Tickets: Quick checks are short assessments that can be used to assess students’ understanding of a specific math concept. Teachers can create simple questions related to the math concept they have been teaching, and students can respond using whiteboards or sticky notes. This activity can be done at the beginning, middle or end of a lesson to quickly assess students’ understanding.
- One-Minute Check: A one-minute check is a timed activity where students solve as many math problems as they can in one minute. Teachers can provide problems related to a specific math concept, such as addition or subtraction, and students can respond on a whiteboard or paper.
- Peer Review: Peer review is an activity where students assess each other’s work. Teachers can ask students to work in pairs or small groups and review each other’s math work. This activity allows students to share their thinking and learn from one another.
- Math Talks: Math talks are a way for students to share their thinking and learn from one another. Teachers can pose a question related to a math concept and have students discuss their thinking in small groups.
- Show Me: Show Me is an activity where students use manipulatives to demonstrate their understanding of a math concept. Teachers can provide manipulatives such as counting bears or base ten blocks and ask students to use them to solve a problem or show their thinking.
Use Engaging Activities in Small Group Instruction
Make small group instruction interactive and enjoyable for students by using hands-on activities, games, and technology. The key is to make math fun and engaging for students so they are motivated to learn. You could incorporate hands-on activities, such as building with blocks or making patterns with tangrams, to make math come to life for students. The small group math curriculum I use includes a game with every single lesson that I use as an engaging way to end my small groups.
Try this free lesson for 1st grade small group instruction that uses fun and engaging ideas and games.
Encourage Collaboration In Small Group Instruction
Foster teamwork and cooperation among students in small group instruction by having them work together on activities and problem-solving tasks. You can also encourage students to explain their thinking and help one another during group work. For example, you could have students work in pairs to solve word problems, with one student working out the problem and the other recording the solution. Tell students that the person with the pencil is only writing what their partner tells them. If their partner is not sure what to tell them to write, they should change positions and let the other partner use the pencil.
Make Math Relate To Real-Life
Mathematics is an important subject that provides the foundation for many other subjects. However, for students to truly understand and appreciate math, it is important to connect it to real-life situations. In first grade, making math relate to real-life experiences can help students understand math concepts more easily and retain information. Doing this in small group instruction can be easy.
- Math in Nature: Nature provides endless opportunities to explore math concepts. Teachers can take their students outside and use nature to teach math concepts. For example, students can count the number of leaves on a tree, or the number of petals on a flower. They can also explore geometric shapes in nature, such as the hexagonal shape of a honeycomb.
- Building and Construction: Building and construction are great ways to teach math concepts such as measurement, geometry, and patterns. Students can use blocks or Legos to build structures, practice measurement and geometry, and explore patterns and sequences.
- Graphing: Graphing is a useful skill that students can use to organize and present information. Teachers can use graphing activities to teach math concepts such as counting, addition, and subtraction. Students can create graphs using real-life data, such as the number of pets in the classroom or the number of students who walk to school.
- Story Problems: Story problems are a fun and engaging way to make math relevant to students’ lives. Teachers can create story problems using real-life scenarios, such as shopping for groceries or planning a party. Students can practice addition, subtraction, and simple multiplication while solving real-life problems.
Manage Behavior During Small Group Instruction
Establish clear expectations for behavior and procedures in small group instruction. At the beginning of the year my class spends the first couple of weeks practicing my expectations for them during small group. This is really all it takes. Once students know what is expected of them, and that you as the teacher are going to follow through, behavior problems can be almost nonexistent.
When we practice this, I don’t meet with any groups. Instead I walk around monitoring and adjusting so students learn what to do and how to behave during this time. I am available if they have questions so that when I do start meeting with groups most of their questions have been answered.
In my class students know to ask 3 before me. This means before they can come to my small group table they have to ask 3 other students their question first. My students also know what they should be working on, where to turn it in when they finish, what to do when they finish, where they can sit to work, etc. I make sure in in those first couple of weeks they know everything and then we stick to a structured routine all year.
Provide Timely Feedback
Give students regular feedback on their progress and understanding of mathematical concepts. For example, you could have students take turns leading the group in solving problems and giving feedback to one another on their work. You could also provide written feedback on worksheets or offer verbal feedback during check-ins. This helps students understand what they are doing well and what they need to work on, and also helps you monitor their progress and make necessary adjustments to your instruction.
Celebrate Successes In Small Group Instruction
Celebrate student successes, both big and small, to build their confidence and motivation in small group instruction. For example, you could create a class “Math Wall of Fame” to showcase student work, or offer rewards and recognition for individual or group achievements. You could also have a “Math Celebration Day”, where students can show off their math skills to their classmates, families, or other teachers. Celebrating student successes helps students feel proud of their accomplishments and motivates them to continue learning and growing in math.
Maximizing Success in 1st Grade Small Group Instruction
By implementing these 9 tips in small groups instruction, 1st grade teachers can make small group math instruction a fun, engaging, and effective way to support their students’ mathematical development. Remember, small group instruction should be a dynamic and flexible process, so be open to adjusting your approach based on student needs and progress.
Want more? Check out this post with more ideas on how to run successful small groups in math!