The concept of math workshop has been around for a long time. However, I was always really hesitant to try it. You know the excuses…too much planning, too chaotic in the classroom, and… did I say too much planning? The list could go on. Out of college I was afraid of centers in general. How do you get all the kids to be on task at the same time, but doing different activities? I must have slept through that class. So, one day I got really brave. I spent hours making a math choice board with 9 different center activities. Well, after about 5 minutes, one of my boys had gotten hit in the head by someone’s knee and was crying. Not to mention the fact that the centers were too complicated for the kids to remember the instructions to all of them without my help. It was utter chaos…
Fast forward a couple of years. A really awesome teacher has moved next door, and we decide to do all of our planning together. Strength in numbers, right? I decide to dive into the world of math workshop again. But this time, I have a very organized plan. I did a ton of research and with a lot of trial and error, I would love to share some tips (and an occasional freebie) with you, in the hopes that your first day (or one hundredth, for that matter) of math workshop doesn’t end with some kid bleeding and you pulling your hair out. In this blog post series I have 7 habits or procedures that are necessary to have a successful math workshop. Even though the workshop looks different in every classroom, these principles will help regardless of your grade or model.
Week 1: Have a Plan for Math Workshop
Before you get out all those math games you have been dying to use, there are three main things that you have to decide.
1. How many groups will you have?
If you have no idea, ask yourself the following questions:
- How many students do you have for math?
- How many different small groups do you physically have room for in your classroom?
- How much time do you have set aside for math?
The answers to the first two questions should help you determine how many different total groups you will have, as well as how large each group will be. I have a very small class and a small classroom, so I only have three groups. Each group usually has 4-5 kids. I run a very basic workshop, but using my model, you could easily add 1-2 more groups. I always divide my kids by ability. It is so much more efficient when they come to me for small group instruction. Therefore, I have a low, a middle, and a high group. The answer to the third question will help you determine if you can actually rotate through the number of groups that you want. I would suggest at least 10-15 minutes with each group.
2. What kind of centers will you include?
Since I have only three groups, I have the following centers:
- Teacher Time: This is a time for me to reteach, practice, or enrich the students based on what we are learning. Typically, for the lower students I begin with a review of previous concepts. For the middle group, we usually either reteach or practice the skill depending on their mastery. Usually, the high group has already mastered the skill, so we work on higher level thinking skills or multi-step word problems.
- Independent Practice: This is a time for the kids to practice the skill independently. For my class, they already have a workbook that comes with the curriculum. I just pick and choose which parts I want them to complete. Any students that finish early may work on any previous lessons in the workbook. If your kids don’t have a textbook or workbook (that you think give them good skill practice), I would suggest making them a packet of worksheet pages stapled together for the whole chapter. This way they are less likely to lose all the individual sheets, and it is less for you to have to get ready each day.
- Activity: This is the place where you can use all those amazing math centers that you buy or download off of TpT! I commonly have manipulatives, task cards, or games at this center. My activity center usually is something that involves the skill we are learning that day.
I know that many of you will need more centers to accommodate more groups. Here are some ideas:
- Review Center: Use center activities from previous concepts in the activity center.
- Math Facts: Allow students to practice their basic facts. You could either have a specific activity set up for the kids, or you could give several options for them to choose from.
- Computers/ iPads: Have the students work on specific skills on interactive websites or apps.
3. What is your Math Workshop schedule?
Generally speaking, math workshop consists of 3 parts: whole group instruction, center time, and closing. I usually only spend about 10 minutes in whole group instruction. My goal is for my highest group to understand the concept and go work. I won’t see them until the end of center time, so I want to teach enough so that they will be able to work independently. I also spend about 10 minutes in closing. During this time I typically project the answer key to the workbook pages (that they worked on during independent practice) on the board. All the students check their work and then complete an exit ticket (more on that in a different post). When the kids have finished the exit ticket, we review the answers. The remaining time in the middle is divided by how many groups you have.
The two keys for scheduling math workshop are the order of the centers and the timing of direct instruction. Below is a schedule for my classroom.
Basically, the lower the group, the sooner they come to you. Remember, all they have had as far as instruction is a brief overview. The higher groups come to the teacher last. The order of the other groups is up to you.
I know this post was a bit lengthy, but I hope it might help even one teacher who is resisting the plunge into math workshop. Do it- you won’t regret it!
Check out the rest of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Math Workshops Series: