How to Accomplish Differentiation in Guided Math

Study after study has proven that Guided Math is a powerful approach with big results in the elementary classroom, but many teachers are hesitant to get started because they lack the necessary background knowledge to pull it off effectively. Differentiation is a necessity in today's classroom and a Guided Math structure actually makes it very easy to do. Here are two ways you can accomplish differentiation in Guided Math.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.


Once you get your Guided Math program activities and groups organized you'll need to start thinking about planning. Because of the small-group nature of Guided Math, differentiation becomes quite easy. You'll need to focus on two main categories of resources:

  1. independent centers
  2. teacher-directed lessons

Small Groups

As soon as you break your students apart into small groups and provide different activities to each, you begin differentiation. Guided Math is the perfect structure to be able to provide differentiation in your math class because of the small-group structure. 

Our primary classrooms generally contain no more than about 23 students, and more typically around 20, so creating four groups for differentiation is really very manageable.

If you recall from my previous post, How to Get Organized for Guided Math, the structure I use with my students contains four groups: Math With Someone, At Work On My Own, Teacher Time, and Hands On: Manipulatives. Differentiating to meet the needs of these four groups is quite easy. 

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

Independent Centers

When I refer to centers as independent, what I really mean is that my students are working apart from my direct supervision. Since I am working with a small group on a directed lesson, my students must manage without my help.

For each of the independent categories mentioned above, I've provided several activity choices for my students. This varies depending on the unit we're working on, but generally my kids have 3 or 4 activities available.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

Having several choices within each category means that there is an activity that is appropriate for everyone. None of the choices are so challenging or difficult to understand that students are unable to proceed.

I will often specifically assign a particular activity to my lower-functioning groups, while my top groups have a little more choice and access to centers that will better challenge them.

When planning what activities you'll provide during your independent centers, you'll want to consider:

  • having activities at a variety of levels to meet the needs of all students,
  • having several activities within each category - the power of choice is HUGE and increases engagement,
  • ensuring the activities are straightforward enough that your students will be able to manage with little or no support,
  • choosing activities that are fun, age-appropriate and on-skill. You don't want to just provide busy work!

If you are landing on this page from elsewhere, you may have missed out on my free sample of Guided Math centers! You can grab them by entering your info here:

Teacher-Directed Lessons

In my Guided Math classroom, the real differentiation happens within my small teacher-directed groups. 

This is the time that I hone in on the gaps in my students' understanding and correct misconceptions my students have around a topic.

In my grade 2/3 classroom, I typically have students working anywhere from a kindergarten level to well-beyond grade level. It is impossible to teach a whole-group lesson that meets the needs of all students. I created detailed lessons based on our Ontario curriculum document and Common Core standards to be able to reach the students who are working below grade level, at grade level, or beyond grade level. I have designed my lessons to be as hands-on as possible because I want my students engaging with their learning in meaningful ways.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

When planning what you will teach during your teacher-directed lessons, you'll want to consider:

  • reviewing the curriculum for the grades before and after your current grade level,
  • collecting a variety of professional resources and text books, including the grade below and above yours, to access activity ideas,
  • how you will assess your students as they work through your lessons,
  • which manipulatives and resources you will need to have prepared in advance - you don't want to waste your teaching time gathering materials!

Ready-to-Go Resources

It is a HUGE job to prepare great centers and lessons for Guided Math. Most of the commercially available publisher programs are not designed for small-group use and don't work well with a Guided Math structure. If you have some flexibility with the resources you choose to use in your classroom, I've got hundreds of activities and lessons ready for you today! 

My independent centers alone are over 1000 pages of instructions, games, printable manipulatives and puzzles and just three units-worth of differentiated lessons contain more than 500 pages of detailed discourse, intervention strategies and assessment pages.

Click on either of the images below to see ALL of my Guided Math centers and lessons!

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

And take a look at my newest addition to the Guided Math family of resources - digital activities for the "At Work On My Own" category!

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

If you missed the first post in this series, How to Get Organized for Guided Math, you can take a look at it here:

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

I've got one more post planned for you. Watch for it in the coming weeks.


Take a look at more primary math resources and ideas on this Pinterest board:


Pin this post for future reference!

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Differentiation is a huge benefit of the Guided Math structure. Meet the needs of your students by differentiating in small groups and targeting specific needs. This blog post details how you can differentiate your independent centers and teacher-directed lessons.

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