Small group math instruction is one of the most important things our students need in first grade. A great foundation in math at an early age is essential for future student learning. To make an impact on your students and their math, consider looking into guided math for small group instruction in your own classroom!
What is Guided Math and why does it matter for first grade?
Guided math is a time devoted to practicing math facts, basic operations, mental math, and other new concepts. Much like guided reading time, ideally, a teacher works with small math groups who are at a similar math skill level while the other students are working independently or in small groups. During math in the whole group setting, do you ever feel frustrated by the fact that you can’t watch all your students, don’t have time to check in with each student to see if they “get” the concepts, or get sidetracked by dealing with behavior? You’re not the only one. With guided math groups, you actually have time to work with your students. If you want to read more on why guided math is so important in 1st grade then check out this blog post.
The Pros and Cons of Using Guided Math
Have you ever heard yourself despair over whole-group math time with phrases like:
- I can’t watch them all at once.
- I can’t see who’s copying.
- I don’t have enough manipulatives for everyone.
- I wish I could talk to each student about the lesson.
- I still haven’t figured out that student’s learning style.
- I wish more students would participate.
- I know that a student is bored, but how can I differentiate whole-group math?
If you have, Guided Math can help! By using guided math groups, you get the opportunity to meet with small groups of students and check on them all. You can see their work and watch to see who understands and who needs more help. With small groups, you will have enough manipulatives and every student gets to participate.
One of the best things about guided math, though, is you get to differentiate learning for your students. With students in similarly skilled groups, they will have more individualized instruction to help them where they need math help and they will be better focused on actually learning math. There are so many pros to using guided math!
One of my favorite things and #1 pro to using guided math is being able to differentiate for each of my groups. Most people think this is hard but it can actually be really simple! One of the best tips I have for differentiation is to color code all of the materials for each one of your groups. I put all of my below level pages on orange, on level goes on pink and above level is purple. This way when I have a certain group at my table I don’t waste our time trying to find their materials.
Example of My Guided Math Block
Depending on the size of your class and the time you get to teach math throughout the day, your schedule may look a little different. This is how I have my guided math time broken up with my hour and fifteen minutes.
We do a daily math warm up together as a class for about the first ten minutes of class, then we get to work on guided math groups and stations. I have students broken up into 4 groups, which is about 5-6 kids per group in my class. I wouldn’t recommend having much bigger groups if you can help it. Each group gets 20 minutes with me and at each station. (If each group only gets 15 minutes with you so that you can accommodate smaller groups, that works, too!)
For my guided math stations, I use a power point with a timer so the students know exactly where they are supposed to be at any given time so they don’t interrupt my group or bother their classmates needlessly. Displayed on the power point are their group names (we use pigs, cows, sheep and ducks) and the assigned stations where they should be at that time. The timer counts down so they know exactly how much longer they have in that station. The final slide chimes for them to clean up without me having to tell them to. This gives me that final minute to close with the group I am meeting with.
If you want to use these slides for your class you can download an editable version HERE.
1st Grade Guided Math Station Ideas
The math stations I use are independent practice where they get out their yellow math folder that we filled with work on Monday. I give them review pages of skills we have already covered. I usually get these review practice pages from my guided math bundle. They have from Monday-Friday to complete the pages in this folder and turn in to be graded. This is the station they go to when they leave my small group table so they also get a practice page to take and work on at this station on the skill we just worked on in group. Once they finish that page they begin the pages in their yellow folder. What they don’t finish they just slip back into the folder to work on the next day.
The next station is math facts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays or math games on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We use a virtual math fact game where students can choose to work on addition or subtraction facts. We have a challenge in my room to get the most correct facts. If they do they get to put their name and score on the board. If anyone beats this score they have to show me their computer screen first and then they get to erase and write their name and score. They LOVE the challenge! The math games I use come from this guided math bundle.
The last station my class uses is our district math program (IReady). We do this on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I let them play Prodigy which is another class favorite.
We end our math block with a whole group number talk. This usually takes about 5 minutes and is a quick and fun way to wrap up our math time.
How to Plan for Guided Math in First Grade
To group your students in guided math groups, I would recommend using pre and post-tests to see where each students’ abilities lie. Using the knowledge of what they know and deciding where to start with each group isn’t too difficult. Incorporate review to help students who are behind and new material to keep up with the curriculum as best you can with each group.
The best part of guided math for me and my class is the differentiated instruction. I found that tracking and organizing my math data is crucial for differentiating in the best way for my students. I love using an organized binder with tabs and tracking sheets. I have them for individual students as well as whole class so I can easily see who has mastered which skill, who needs more help and who I need to put in each of my small groups.
Need help finding a good tracking system? Check out this assessment pack that comes with binder organization tabs plus multiple assessments for each common core math standard.
Make sure you have plenty of material for centers and extra work for students to do when they are done because you know there is always at least one student done way too early.
Using Centers in 1st Grade Guided Math
Centers are very important during guided math time so that your students are busy practicing and learning math facts and concepts during math time. You are only meeting with them for a small portion of their math time, but that means they have to be working independently or with small groups for the rest of class.
First and foremost, you and your students should come up with a list of expectations for guided math time. Everyone needs to know what the classroom looks and sounds like and be held accountable for those expectations. .
If you’re looking for ideas for centers, I have lots of great resources to get you started.
- Seasonal Math Bundles
- Number and Operations in Base 10
- Greater Than and Less Than Practice
- Differentiated Place Value Activities
- Guided Math Yearly Bundle
Differentiating 1st Grade Math
The best benefit of guided math groups is differentiated instruction.
Help your struggling learners with some small group or individualized time to go over the concepts they don’t understand. You can finally take the time to sit down and understand where they are getting lost in your lessons. Sometimes, saying the same thing in a new way with one more example will help your learners finally understand the concept you’re teaching. Meet your learners where they are and help them feel successful while encouraging their math skills to grow. Check out this free word problem as an example of the ways you can use differentiated instruction in your guided math groups.
Guided Math Warm-Ups
I like to take time to do daily math reviews with a calendar time, skip counting, and work on a few fun math activities. Students love having a number of the day and listing all the facts they know about that one number. Another great game is mystery numbers. I let the students ask questions until they get to my mystery number. “Is it greater than 5?” “Is the number even?” You can even play a fun math video for a couple of minutes if you want to get the students engaged in another way. There are lots of great videos available, Jack Hartmann’s kid’s music video channel on youtube has some great songs with number facts.
Resources for Guided Math
In addition to the resources I’ve listed here, this is the first in a series of blogs available for you to really get the feel for what guided math can look like in your classroom. Check out the other six as soon as you can!
Another great resource for you is this blog with 15 Differentiated Guided Math Lessons to Teach.
If you’re just getting started with guided math and need some help I have an entire year of guided math small group plans available to help you out. This bundle comes with daily lesson plans that are differentiated for your below, on and above level groups. It includes higher order questions, games, independent practice pages, challenge extensions, daily word problem practice cards and much much more to give you everything you need to teach your guided math groups for an entire year. The best part is that it is meant to be easy prep to save teachers time, What more could you ask for?
Guided Math is Important!
Having an individual or small group time with your students is always important, and it is extremely important in math. When it comes to math, many students feel lost and focusing time and energy working with them on math skills may make all the difference in building a strong foundation in math at an early age. Let me know how you plan to incorporate these ideas into your classroom!