I’ve taught math many different ways over the past 12 years. I spent many years teaching math to my whole class. Then, my third grade team and I started moving kids around based on ability, and we taught either the “high” kids or the “low” kids. Last year was the first time we tried guided math, and it’s completely changed the way I teach math.

## The History of Math Instruction

### Whole Group

When I first started teaching, whole group math lessons were the way it was done. I stood in front of the class delivering my lesson for 30 minutes.

Half of the class was sleeping.

Then, we started independent practice. The students either got it and were able to do it on their own or they were completely lost and had no clue.

The next day, we continued on to the next lesson, and those students who didn’t “get it” got farther and farther behind.

### Homogeneous Groups

Then, my school was chosen to pilot homogeneous math groups. At the beginning of the year, we looked at all of the students’ math data from second grade and split them into four groups.

- The “high’ group
- The “mid-high” group
- The “mid-low” group
- The “low” group

The two lower groups had a few less students, but you were still trying to teach the content to about 20 students who struggled with math.

The years you got the “high” group, you were golden. The students came to you able to score proficient on the standardized tests.

However, when you got the “low” group, you had a year of stress ahead.

Every lesson was torture!

As soon as you felt successful with one student, you realized you had 19 other students who didn’t understand it.

## Enter Guided Math

The primary grades in my building started using guided math a few years ago. They set up five centers each week.

- Games
- Reading math books
- Technology
- Writing math problems
- Using tools to solve performance tasks

My principal wanted the intermediate grades to try guided math, too. She thought it would help us better meet the needs of our students.

At first, we were skeptical, and we had some concerns.

- The primary teachers weren’t meeting with all of the students every day. Some of the students were just working at the centers if they “got it”. We’ve always worked really hard to challenge our strong math students.
- The primary grades have all year to cover their math content. They were able to spend several weeks introducing this model to their students. In the intermediate grades, we have to get started right away, and we have to cover all of our math content prior to the state tests.

As a result, the five center model of guided math didn’t seem like it would work for us.

## Our Guided Math Model

My team sat down and thought about what our students needed in a math lesson. We came up with a list of four things.

- A lesson with us to practice the new math skill
- Some type of performance task, or application of the skill
- A review of concepts we already covered
- Fact practice.

With these areas in mind, we developed a version of guided math that uses three centers.

### Meet with the Teacher

I think it’s very important for every student to meet with me for a guided group every day.

**Above-Level Group**

This group is made of students who completely understand the concept. I like to help them dig deeper. We do more challenging problems based on the same skill. Sometimes, I look at the fourth grade standards to see the types of problems to give them.

**On-Level Group**

My on-level group usually works though the regular lesson. We have the enVision math program, so this group works through the problems in the textbook. We do a few together, and they solve the rest on whiteboards while I monitor and check.

**Below-Level Group**

This group meets with me first each day. That way I can spend a little bit more time with them if they aren’t understanding the concept. I do a lot of modeling for them, and we work through some problems together before they try a few on their own.

### Problem Solving

The problem solving center is where students complete performance tasks and apply the day’s skill. They work together and talk about the math problems to solve them. The problem solving tasks are differentiated, so there are three different performance tasks for each lesson.

Some days, the students struggle with the problem solving tasks. Then, we go over the problems together in small group the next day.

If the students finish early, the problem solving center is stocked with flash cards and games, so students can review previously-covered concepts.

Find out how to incorporate problem solving into every math lesson.

### Technology

The third center is a technology center. We have Chromebooks for each student.

Even if you don’t have a whole class set of devices, you might have enough for one group of students.

At the technology center, students complete a variety of activities.

- practice their math facts
- review concepts we’ve already covered
- practice the current skill.

You can read about the specific online programs I use at my technology center in my post about the best online math programs.

## Forming Guided Math Groups

The enVision math program is divided into topics. Before each topic, I give the students a few questions about the next topic to see what they already know. I use that data to divide my class into 3 groups.

Usually it works out pretty evenly, and I end up with between 6 and 8 students in each of my groups.

The groups are very flexible. If a student didn’t do well on the pretest, but they are able to answer questions without support in my guided group, I’ll switch them to the on-level group for the next lesson.

## My Guided Math Schedule

I have 75 minutes for math. This is what my math block looks like using guided math.

**Minilesson – 10-15 minutes**

**Rotation 1 – 20 minutes**

Meet with Teacher – Below-level group

Problem Solving – Above-level group

Technology – On-level group

**Rotation 2 – 20 minutes**

Meet with Teacher – On-level group

Problem Solving – Below-level group

Technology – Above-level group

**Rotation 3 – 20 minutes**

Meet with Teacher – Above-level group

Problem Solving – On-level group

Technology – Below-level group

**Exit Ticket – 5-10 minutes**

## Are You Ready to Try Guided Math?

I would love to help you get started with guided math in your classroom.

In the Differentiated Difference Course, I’ll walk you step-by-step through setting up a guided math model in your classroom. Plus you’ll learn lots of other strategies for implementing differentiation across the curriculum.

Want some ready-to-use guided math units? Go to my Teachers Pay Teachers store to get my guided math lessons for Place Value and Rounding, Money, Addition and Subtraction, Multiplication, Division, Fractions, and Time.

Or you can get all of the units and save 20% in this bundle.

Each lesson includes:

- A minilesson slideshow
- A lesson for each guided group
- Differentiated performance tasks for the problem solving rotation
- Online activities for technology center
- An exit ticket

## Want to Learn More?

Find out about the best guided math supplies.

Discover my favorite teaching resources on Amazon.

Want more tips for using guided math and finding other ways to meet the needs of all your students? Join The Differentiated Difference Facebook Group.

## What Do You Think?

Do you think guided math is the best way to meet the needs of all your math students?

Let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoyed this post and think your teacher friends will, too, please click the button to share it on your favorite social media platform.

### Guided Math Planning Template

Interested in starting guided math, but not sure how to plan for it? Enter your email to receive a FREE download of my guided math planning sheet.

Emily says

I have a class of 25 5th graders, and imagining 8 kids at the back kidney table makes me nervous. Have you tried this many at the back table before? Or where do you meet with your small group?

Tara Dusko says

I have 24 third graders, so we do have groups of 7, 8, or 9. I meet with my students on the carpet so we can spread out more. Then, I divide the groups for the problem solving center, so four or five kids go to my side table and the rest go to the back table. They do technology at their seats, so everyone is pretty spread out.

Mary Chappell says

Wow! I love the way you break this down! I wish I’d had this resource when I was trying to figure out guided math in first grade. What a great resource!

Tara Dusko says

Thanks, Mary! I’m glad you found it helpful!

Stephanie Casey says

Do you pull the “on-level”, “below lever” & “advanced” groups out of the problem solving & technology groups for “teacher directed” center? If so, do they only complete 2 centers a day? I use enVision math too!

Tara Dusko says

My students do all three centers each day. They rotate to each one for about 20 minutes. I use the enVision Hands-On, Minds-On for my minilesson and the last question from the Quick Check as my exit ticket. Most of our time is spent at centers.

Kaleigh says

I’m really interested in this model. We currently do homogenous groups with 27 students, and I teach the low group. It is so stressful. We don’t have TA’s either. Anyway, I digress. Do you do the mini lesson as a whole class and then break into small groups?

Tara Dusko says

Hi Kaleigh! We used to do homogenous groups, and the years I had the low group, I felt like a complete failure. I love the guided math model! I teach the minilesson whole group, and then my students go right to their centers. I meet with one group at a time while they complete the other centers. I hope you get to try it!

Kiersten says

How do you go about starting your high group on problem solving? My principal would see it as “letting them loose” without prior instruction. A collegue had recommended having the high group problem solve based the previous day’s lesson, but I wonder if that gap between instruction and practice would make it more difficult for them.

Tara Dusko says

I use the minilesson to give instruction on the concept we’re focusing on that day. My high students are able to pick up the concept quickly, so they are able to use it for the problem solving center right away. They work together and help each other. My principal loves it because they are applying the math skills without me guiding them. We discuss their task when they meet with me and work through anything they found challenging.

Katie says

How does this work for those with special needs and IEP’s? I imagine this would do well with G.T. students – is that right?

Tara Dusko says

Some of my students who have IEP’s receive replacement instruction in the special education classroom if they are far below the third grade level for math. The others who are close to grade level meet with me in a guided math group. They usually have an aide in the classroom who helps them at the other two centers. Guided math really allows me to meet the needs of all my students.

Nicole says

I experimented with Guided Math a bit last year, now I’m ready to fully implement this year! Where do you find your problem solving/performance task resources? I use Envision as well but wasn’t able to track it down. Thanks!

Tara Dusko says

In my student textbooks, the questions are broken down into sections. I forget the exact terms, but it’s basically guided practice, independent practice, and problem solving. I take those problem solving questions and use them for this center some days. Other days, I search online for performance tasks or create them to match the day’s lesson.

Leanna says

I love this idea and the structure of your 75 minutes. I have to teach math for 90 minutes and teach a 3/4 split. My question is how much planning this is and how often do you change the centers. Im struggling with 2 different lessons, mental math and practice work. Id love to have something in place for them to do without a ton of prep.

Tara Dusko says

Hi, Leanna! Setting up guided math was some work at first. However, now that I have all the materials, it’s really easy to manage. I make up questions that go along with the lesson for my meet with the teacher center. My students work on the same technology sites each day. I just have to assign the lesson I want them to practice. It’s the problem solving center that takes the longest to plan. I put a different performance task at that center each day. Guided math could be great for your 3/4 split. You would be able to group your students based on the lesson they need and possibly put your mental math and practice at the centers. You could even do an extra rotation, since you have 90 minutes.

Leanna says

Im so motivated to start and have been craving the structure. The way you described full class instruction is exactly what im dealing with. Im starting a unit on patterns for both grades on monday. Do you have a package available for that unit on TPT? Id love any help and want to start right away!

Tara Dusko says

Hi, Leanna! Guided math definitely provides a structure for my students. Unfortunately, I don’t have a unit on patterns yet. I have unit plans for place value and rounding, addition and subtraction, and money. The next one I’m working on is multiplication. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about planning for guided math.

Christa says

This sounds awesome. I used to do something like this a few years ago and I had a hard time keeping it up because of some of my behavior challenges. Could you tell us a bit about how you introduce this at the beginning of the year? I would love to know how you get them to work independently and when.

Tara Dusko says

Hi Christa! I introduce the centers one at a time at the beginning of the year. I also create anchor charts with the expectations for the technology center and problem solving center. That way, I can just point to the poster when my students aren’t following the directions instead of interrupting my guided group. It does take a bit for them to get in the routine, and at first my transitions are always longer because we’re still practicing cleaning up the center before moving to the next one. It’s important to take the time to review the expectations and hold the students accountable for the work right from the start. After a few weeks, they should be able to do everything without many reminders from you. I hope that helps!

Amanda says

I’m truly enjoying reading all about your ideas with guided math. Thanks for sharing! I was wondering do you have a plan you use for the 1st month or 20 days of guided math? Looking for a plan to set up routines and procedures.

Tara Dusko says

Hi Amanda! I start by introducing one center at a time. The first lessons I do are review lessons, so I do a quick whole group review. Then, I introduce the problem solving center by having the students work on a performance task with a small group. We do that for a few days, practicing working quietly and making sure each group member is helping. Then, I introduce technology center. Half the class works on technology and the other half does problem solving. That way, we can practice moving from one center to the next. I circulate and make sure everyone is following directions on those days. Then, once all of the students know what is expected at those two centers, I start my guided groups. Usually by the end of week 2, my guided groups are up and running. However, it really depends on the class. If things aren’t going smoothly, we review expectations and practice the first two centers longer.

Amanda says

Awesome! Thanks for all of the info!