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. 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.

Image of math tools with text, "How to Accomplish Differentiation in Guided Math."

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. 

Image of Guided Math group names: Math With Someone, At Work On My Own, Teacher Time, and Hands-On: Manipulatives

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 in 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.

Photo of Guided Math centers

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

I will sometimes assign a particular activity to my struggling students to ensure they'll be successful. My top group can handle more choice as well as 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!

Grab a free sample of my Guided Math centers by entering your info here:

Teacher-Directed Lessons

In my Guided Math classroom, 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 students at every level. I have designed my lessons to be as hands-on as possible because I want my students to engage with their learning in meaningful ways.

Photo of Guided Math Lesson binder

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 textbooks, 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.

My massive set of differentiated lessons contains more than 1700 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!

Cover of Guided Math Centers Bundle

Cover of Differentiated Guided Math Lessons bundle

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!

Cover of Digital Guided Math Activities bundle

If you're ready to get started with Guided Math, be sure to grab my FREE Guided Math Starter Kit right here!
Cover of Guided Math Quick-Start Guide Freebie

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

Image of math tools with text, "How to Get Organized for Guided Math."

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

Pin this post for future reference!

Image of math tools with text, "How to Accomplish Differentiation in Guided Math."


  1. You mentioned looking at the curriculum - we have fortunately been given the freedom to choose our own. Would your guided math resources be used as THE curriculum? If not, do you have one that you recommend?

    1. Wow! That's unreal, Karen! Let me see if I can explain how I've prepared these resources...

      I have designed the centers to be used independently by my students while I'm teaching my focused lessons, so they are related to my curriculum expectations (standards) while not designed to cover all of them. The lessons, on the other hand, have been aligned with our Ontario curriculum and the Common Core Standards.

      I can't completely tell you if they could be used as THE curriculum, because I've never had that freedom to pick and choose what I teach. You can follow any of the links in this post to take a closer look at the individual resources to determine whether they meet your needs.

      I hope that helps a little. Don't hesitate to email me at if I can be of further assistance!


  2. I am trying to access your digital math manipulatives that was posted on FB recently. However, we cannot access FB in the classroom. Is there a way to share this resource so that I can use it in my classroom? I am a virtual teacher, but I have to teach from my classroom. Just the kids aren't in here with me.

    1. Hi there!

      My Digital Math Manipulatives are available here:

      They open in Google Slides. No need for Facebook!

      Thanks for stopping by,


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