How to Get Organized for 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. Getting organized for Guided Math is a critical first step. Here are four things you should consider when setting up your classroom for Guided Math.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

Once you figure out what Guided Math program you're going to use there are several things that you need to take into account to really get organized:

  1. storage
  2. creating groups
  3. organizing groups
  4. managing group expectations

Storage

Figuring out how you will store your centers, manipulatives and student materials is a HUGE part of being ready for the Guided Math process. They need to be ready-to-go before the session begins. You do not want to spend your valuable small-group teaching time trying to get the right tools into the hands of the right students. 

In my classroom, I first organize my centers by topic and use magazine holders to keep all the activities together.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

Within each of these topic boxes I have my centers arranged into three groups, based on the structure of my Guided Math program: Math With Someone, At Work On My Own and Hands-On - Manipulatives. (You'll notice that these three groups, plus the small-group Teacher Time, create the acronym M. A. T. H.)

I only have one topic on hand at a time, so there is little confusion about which centers belong in which set. 

Next, each of the groups mentioned above contain a variety of individual activities. These I generally store inside large freezer bags, although large manila envelopes would also do the trick. The individual activities are then kept inside a set of clearly labeled bins that I purchased at Walmart, for easy student access throughout the unit. I usually provide several activities within each group because the power of choice is a HUGE motivator and my students stay engaged, although you could pick and choose which activity you would like your students to complete during their rotation.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

All of my math manipulatives are in a central location in my classroom - clearly labeled and easily accessible for my students. There is never a question of not being able to find something.

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

Creating Groups

My groups are ability-based, although you can create them any way you wish. At the beginning of a new unit I do one of a variety of things to get a handle on what my students know, and identify where the gaps in prior learning are:

  • I love to start with a math story related to the topic and get my students talking about the concepts. I always get great formative data from this.
  • You may begin with whatever formative assessment package your board or district has chosen for your grade level.
  • Choose a whole-group activity that will allow you to observe your students engaging with the content. You'll quickly be able to see the strengths and weaknesses and be able to create groups from there.
  • If you can manage it, do a quick interview or survey of your students' understanding of the topic. A quick one-on-one chat will give you a ton of information.

Organizing Groups

Once I know what my students can and cannot do, I get them sorted into four groups. I try to group them with students who have similar strengths and needs, but my groups remain fluid all the time and my students know this. Even though I teach in a cross-grade classroom, I very rarely group my students by grade. I think this has made my students more accepting of one another and less aware of differences in ability. #teacherwin

I display my groups on a bulletin board organized to show two rotations a day. Some years I've aimed for more, but by the time I do a whole-group activity most of the time two rotations is perfect for the length of time we have. (We usually have about 60 minutes for math, but transitions like undressing from recess in the middle of the winter always impacts that time. It is what it is!)

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

In this photo I have the student names on the small blocks and the activity centers that are in the bins labeled on the large blocks. I have also used large blocks to identify member of each group and have them duplicated so that we can see at a glance which station to switch to when it is time to transition.

If you've already signed up to receive the Guided Math Starter Kit, which includes FREE centers, keep an eye on your email for a sample center rotation schedule! If you haven't signed up yet, you can do that here:

Managing Group Expectations

For Guided Math to truly work, you need to have expectations in place for what the students outside of your small group are doing. It takes a lot of practice to get it running like it should, but is completely worth it once your Guided Math time begins running smoothly.

I organize my expectations in a very similar way to the expectations in The Daily 5. Since we use this structure during our literacy block, the application of these skills to the new subject happens seamlessly.

We begin by establishing the "Why", our purpose or goal for participating in Guided Math. After this, we brainstorm together (although I have these ideas already in mind - be prepared with exactly what you want) a list of expected student behaviors. Basically, what it should look like and sound like when your students are doing what is expected during centers. 

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

Remember that you are supposed to be working with a small group on Teacher Time activities, so you aren't available to solve the little problems. It is a great idea to anticipate issues that may arise and have a discussion about what students should do in these cases.

Some great problems to consider are:
  • "I don't know what to do."
  • "I'm finished."
  • "I need to go to the restroom."
  • "Can I get a drink?"
  • "Where is/are the...?"

The centers that I've created for my classroom, which you can take a closer look at HERE, have been designed to be relevant, on-topic tasks, puzzles, challenges and games that students are able to complete independently. I didn't want my students to get stuck on what to do. I didn't want them to be unable to read the instructions. I also didn't want the centers to just be busy work that my students would tire of quickly. They are engaging and fun. Some require a little explanation, but I set some time aside at the beginning of the unit to take a closer look at the centers and explain these. I also have student helpers that others can go to for help if they are stuck while I'm working with a group.

If my students finish a game, I generally ask that they play again. The centers I've provided lend themselves to repeated use. This cuts down on wandering around the classroom looking for another activity as this always results in off-task and disruptive students.

I have my restroom and drink policies clearly laid out at the beginning of the year, so there is never any question about these, and I always ensure that my students have access to the materials they need.

You're Ready to Go!

If you have these things in place, and have grabbed my Guided Math Quick Start Guide, you're ready to get started with Guided Math in your classroom! Congratulations! If you haven't grabbed it yet, you can do that here:


I've got two more posts planned for you. Watch for them over the next week.


You might also be interested in this post:

Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

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


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Thinking about trying Guided Math? Organization is a critical component for being ready to use Guided Math in your classroom. This post contains ideas for how to organize your Guided Math centers, how to create and organize student groups and how to ensure those groups manage working independently.

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