Friday, June 29, 2012


Trying to keep 25 first graders engaged and involved during math instruction is no easy feat.  My goal is to provide instruction that is meaningful, manageable, and measurable.  This is where math workshop comes in. I've tried teaching whole class math lessons with my first graders and I must admit, it wasn't some of my best teaching.  Using a math workshop approach has made all the difference in the world.  Not only do my student thrive, but I keep my sanity and my hair from turning gray in the process.

My students love our math workshop time.  I teach math at the same time every day.  Whenever I announce math workshop, cheers echo throughout the room.  Yes, cheers, even though math workshop happens daily  in our classroom.  I think the cheers have to do with the element of surprise as my first graders anticipate what they will be doing at each of the rotations.  My workshop revolves around four rotations:  Teacher, Computers, Independent Work, and Games.  I start with a whole class focus lesson, which includes a review of the rotations, and an explanation of any new game that is introduced.  I end math workshop with a whole class sharing session.

Rotation 1:  Working with the teacher.
Group 1 meets me on the rug near our SMART Board  or Interactive Whiteboard.  Since my district uses the Everyday Math program, my instruction and rotations are centered around the lesson that I'm teaching in Everyday Math.  We usually work on our math journal pages together or in partnerships, as I project the math journal page on the SMART Board.  Sometimes we use manipulatives to demonstrate our learning.  At other times, we use the tools on the SMART Board to support our learning.  Everyday math has a huge collection of eTools that students can interact with.
Working in Math Journals
Working with Base Ten Blocks and Dominoes
Rotation 2:  Computers
Group 2 starts at the computers.  We have four classroom computers.  Students work in pairs and individually.  I choose math games that reinforce the skills and concepts that we are working on that day.  One of my favorite math game sites is  They have a ton of games that are organized by grade level, concept, and themes (ex. holiday themes).  The Everyday Math site also has a ton of games that my students enjoy playing and learning with.  I allow my students choice when we use the games from Everyday Math.  They learn how to play a variety of games and at varying degrees of difficulty.  Allowing them choice with the games is highly engaging and keeps them interested in playing and learning.
Math Games on the Computer
Rotation 3:  Independent Work
During rotation three, students work independently.  One of the favorites at this rotation is Number Scrolls.  Students use hundreds charts to write and record numbers.  They tape additional charts together to create a scroll.  As an incentive I have a Thousands Club lunch twice a month with students who reach a 1,000 number milestone.  One of my students had lunch with me 6 times since his scroll was over 6,000.  I also have leveled math packets that students often choose to work on, and baskets of math trade books students may read.  Using templates and pattern blocks to design pictures are examples of other math related experiences students participate in at this rotation.
Concentrating on a Number Scroll 
Rotation 4:  Math Games
Students play math games both  individually and with a partner at this rotation.  Most of the games are from the Everyday Math program.  Some of our favorites are Number Top-It, Rolling to 100, and Beat The Calculator.  We also use some of the games from the Daily 5 website.  One of our favorite games from that site is, Sum It Up.  When we are not playing math games, we sometimes complete investigations as a group or with a partner at this rotation.
Using a Balance Scale
Math workshop is manageable for me.  My math block is 90 minutes long.  I spend 10 to 15 minutes on the focus lesson, and each rotation is 15 minutes long.  My students rotate four times in order to participate in each rotation, and it takes an hour to go through all four.  I leave 15 minutes at the end of math workshop for sharing and putting away supplies.  Once students learn the rotation routines, the rest is easy.  This chart helps us stay on track. If someone forgets their group or rotation, we can refer to our chart which I keep posted the entire school year.  My students are very independent during our workshop time.  They know what the expectations are for a successful workshop, and any problems that come up are discussed during our share time.

Rotation Board
 Names are across the top.

One of the most important benefits to doing math workshop is that learning is measurable.  I know my students as mathematicians better than I ever did when I taught math in a "whole group" lesson format.  By working with small groups, I know when students are struggling with a concept, and I can give them extra support.  My quiet students don't get left out or overlooked.  I can also enrich the instruction for my stronger students so they are challenged and continue to grow as mathematicians and learners.  Students are grouped by mixed ability and they support, encourage, and challenge each other as a community of learners.

I'm still tweaking Math Workshop in my classroom.  I want to incorporate more learning with my SMART Board.  I'm thinking about making that a separate rotation on its own.  My students enjoy interacting with the    SMART Board and are totally engaged when using it.

What does math look like in your classroom?  What role does technology play in your math instruction?


  1. Valerie, I've used Everyday Math before and have found it be useful in creating guided math groups. When utilized appropriately, math stations are a beneficial way to individualize instruction for students. I appreciate a teacher that is able to use data with a first grade class. That data comes in handy when writing out report cards or facilitating conferences. I look forward to your next post.

    1. I think it's important to use data to inform our teaching and differentiate instruction. Meeting the needs of my students is my main goal. Thanks for sharing and commenting.

  2. Valerie,
    Thank you for outlining how you instruct your students in math! No wonder they love it - there is something for everyone!

    I have been struggling to change the way that math is done in my 4th grade class. I had wanted to try a Daily5 style math. There hasn't been a lot of clear cut information for upper grade levels, but your system would work nicely. I think the trick would be finding websites, games and independent work on a daily basis. We do not use everyday math and have an old program that is not aligned to the Common Core standards. Looking forward to trying this out.

    Will keep you posted on how we make out next year. Thank you for continuing to be a source of inspiration.

    Kind regards,

    1. Nancy,
      I've also used this math workshop model with 3rd grade students and it worked beautifully. I'm looking forward to reading about how it works in your classroom next year. Keep me posted!

  3. Hi- I love your workshop idea. I do reading groups very similar to this. But I don't know how I would come up with another 90 minute block for math? How do you do it? My reading block is in the morning. But then the rest of my day is chopped into half-an-hour increments, with lunch or special classes throughout the afternoon. Any ideas? I would LOVE to do small group rotations for math too.

    1. Hi Stephanie,
      If you have at least two 30 min increments within your afternoon block I'm sure you could do math workshop successfully. I begin with a brief focus lesson and move into the 4 rotations. Afterwards, we have a 5 minute share. You could do your first two rotations during your first half hour and your last two rotations during your next half hour. As long as you have 5-10 minutes in the beginning for the focus lesson. Once kids understand the structure and routines it runs very smoothly. Reflect and refine in order to make it work for you and your students.

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