Math Workshop

By: Chris Schwab


What Is Math Workshop?

Math workshop is known by various names: math workshop, leveled math groups, guided math, differentiated groups, etc. Whatever you call it, math workshop is a valuable way to teach math concepts.

Math workshop is an instructional method where teachers 1) hold brief math warm-up sessions (number talks, calendar time, fluency practice, etc.); 2) present a math topic to the whole group; 3) hold small-group leveled sessions to fine-tune and/or differentiate; 4) give students multiple and varied opportunities to practice; and finally, 5) close with time to reflect or share.  

What Math Workshop Looks Like

Look for engaged students in a math workshop session. It begins with a short warm-up to get students thinking with their math brains. It is followed by a 10- to 15-minute whole-group mini-lesson where a new skill is introduced. Later, four to eight students sit with their teacher. The rest are engaged in practice activities. One group may be playing a game. Some may sit alone or in pairs. Students who require intervention may work on targeted review. Finally, everyone comes together to close the session.

Some useful suggestions are:

  1. During small-group, use math talk and math tools to reinforce and expand on concepts taught in the mini-lesson. This is also a good time for one-on-on conferencing or observation.
  2. Other students typically rotate, according to a schedule, through each of three to five stations for 10–20 minutes each. They practice previously learned or new skills. They may work alone, with partners, or in small groups. Independent activities may include:
  • task cards
  • simple games
  • fluency practice sheets
  • worksheets
  • manipulatives
  • math journals
  • interactive notebook pages
  • technology
  1. Close math workshop with a short recap. Answer any remaining questions. Encourage students to share “a-ha” moments or to work in their journals. Additionally, you could provide exit tickets to allow students to show what they learned (and provide a quick formative assessment).

Organization and Planning are Key

Organization is key to making a success of your math workshop program. Start slowly because it can be overwhelming. Here are some tips:

  • Make a rough plan for the year. Figure out what you need to teach and how long it will take to cover it.
  • Be flexible. Due to the nature of math workshop, things may take longer or shorter than you expect.
  • Choose a few key independent practice activities to use all year long. This way, students will always know the rules. Choose activities that can easily be adapted to multiple concepts. Some simple examples are Read the Room, path games, task cards, etc.
  • Fill a tote with things that students will need during small groups, such as dry-erase markers, crayons, or pencils.
  • Place manipulatives where students can get to them on their own.

Start Soon!

You can start math workshop at any time. Don’t wait until the “right time”. It requires planning and organizating, so you can’t start today. But, maybe you can start tomorrow!

If you’re putting together a full-year plan, ask: What do I need to teach and how long do I have to cover it? Write it down. Remember, these are rough estimates.

Begin with a mini-lesson. Teach one quick concept, model it, and show students examples. Next, pre-teach one of the rotation activities. Add it to the mini-lesson. Repeat this until each rotation has been practiced and learned. This is less frustrating for the students and for you.

Make a visual schedule to share with the class so that everyone knows what they’re doing and where they’re supposed to be.

You need very little to get started, such as:

  • A special space to meet with students
  • A designated space for all your math manipulatives
  • A storage solution to hold games and game pieces
  • A visual schedule
  • Patience, hope, and determination!

Setting up math workshop can be challenging. But once there’s a schedule and once students know what to do next... it’s a most efficient and effective way to teach math to all students.