The Honest Truth: You Need More Than Just Math Centers

Guided Math is a fabulous approach to teaching in elementary classrooms, but is using centers enough? Probably not.

Photo of math manipulatives with text, "The Honest Truth: You Need More Than Math Centers."


Guided Math is a structure.

It is a way of presenting the content in our curriculum in a way that is more individualized and differentiated than whole-group lessons.

It isn't so much WHAT you're teaching as HOW you're teaching it!

There are many different ways to organize Guided Math sections, but there are two things they {should} have in common. These are centers and small groups working with the teacher on directed lessons.

My Guided Math program is structured in this way:

Graphic of Guided Math structure.

An acronym isn't necessary, but it makes things more fun for everyone!

I'm often asked by teachers who use my Guided Math centers, whether I supplement these with textbooks or other resources.

Well, the honest answer to that question is YES.

The reason?

Centers are NOT your teaching tool.

The Purpose of Guided Math Centers

When I designed my Guided Math centers, it was to have my students engaged with high-quality, curriculum-related resources while I teach my focused lessons.

I don't assess the work my students are doing in centers. You may wish to, but I see this time as the independent or small-group practice of the skills I'm teaching in my small groups.

Photos of Guided Math centers.

I definitely hold my students accountable for the work they're doing in these centers. However, if I assess the work Student A completed while working with a partner, Student B, how can I be sure that it is Student A's thinking?

If you're interested in one easy way to keep students accountable for their center work, take a look at this blog post.

So What More Do I Need?

Teachers need to remember that Guided Math is not just centers. It is what YOU are doing while your students are engaged in these centers that really matters!

In my Guided Math structure, this is the "Teacher Time" section.

It is precisely what it sounds like - time in a small, differentiated group with me!

It is in my "Teacher Time" lessons that I am:

  • Targeting the specific expectations in the curriculum.
  • Selecting activities based on the individual and very different needs of my students.
  • Observing how my students interact with math tools and tackle problems.
  • Assessing what they can do independently and determining what they need additional practice with.

Photo of Guided Math lesson.

What resources you use to deliver the curriculum to your students in these small groups really doesn't matter.

You may have access to old textbooks to select activities from, purchase commercial resources from your local teacher store, or write lessons of your own.

If you'd like to save yourself a ton of time this year, I have an entire year's worth of Differentiated Guided Math Lessons available! They are aligned to the Ontario mathematics curriculum and CCSS standards and ready to go right here:

Cover of Differentiated Guided Math Lessons resource.

For a closer look at what this resource includes, you might want to check out this blog post.

To find more Guided Math resources, including a year's worth of centers, visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

If you'd like to try Guided Math, grab a set of FREE Guided Math centers and a Quick-Start Guide right here:
Image of Guided Math Quick-Start Guide

For more information on how to get started with Guided Math, check out these posts and don't hesitate to reach out by email!


Find more great math resources for your primary classroom on this Pinterest board:


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Photo of math manipulatives with text, "The Honest Truth: You Need More Than Math Centers."

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