Since we love the workshop format for teaching and have done reading and writing workshop in our classrooms for years, we decided recently that we believe math instruction can and should look very similar. It provides students with manageable pieces of instruction, gives them the practice they need, allows for one-on-one teacher conferences, provides opportunity for differentiation and finishes with a discussion and review of the new skill that is being taught.
Much the same as in reading and writing though, students need to know and understand expectations so that you are able to have meaningful and uninterrupted conferences with your math learners, as well as have the opportunity to observe your learners closely to determine misconceptions or misunderstandings. Use the lessons we’ve laid out below to help guide you through setting up a workshop format in your classroom for math. Because this unit is designed to build the foundation of your math workshop, the lessons will not necessarily address math skills and standards. Just keep in mind that these first few weeks are critically important to the rest of your year in math workshop as they will show students your expectations and set the tone for the rest of your year.
Some of our ideas stem from what we learned from our professional development based on Larry Ainsworth’s in Balanced Math approach. If you have read his books, you will see quite a few references to ideas that he has put forth in his work.
What is Math Workshop? – The format for math workshop is much the same as a reader’s or writer’s workshop. Below is a short description of what math workshop can look like in your classroom, keeping in mind that time frames can vary a bit and that some days things may look a bit different depending on the focus and skill taught.
Math Warm-Up/Daily Math Review – We have implemented and believed in a Daily Math Review (DMR) in our classrooms for several years now. Our DMR was based on what Ainsworth has laid out in his work. It is a spiraling and class-specific daily review that is assessed weekly. The skills on the review are based on a broad range of standards and change as your class masters them. However, the nature of these assessments provides you with the data and information you will need to create small skill groups for remediation and eventually mastery. After looking at quiz results, you can then meet with small focused skill groups during independent practice or Math Centers (described below the workshop explanation).
Math Mini-Lesson – After your warm up, you will move on to your mini-lesson. This might be a review of a previously taught math concept, or it might be a new skill or standard (perhaps only a portion of a standard). You will present a 5 to 15 minute mini-lesson that focuses on that specific concept or skill. You might want to think about keeping these lessons focused and short to allow for better class mastery. Of course, older students will likely be able to handle more information, but the key to the mini-lesson is that you keep it simple and direct.
***A resource we recently finished that might be helpful for these mini-lessons is Math Vocabulary for primary classrooms. This post contains 142 math terms and their definitions for matching, display in your room or for putting in individual student math folders.
Independent/Small Group Practice & Teacher Observation/Conferencing – Following the mini-lesson, students move on to an organized small group or independent practice time. During this time students could be working on a practice page or activity (many times involving manipulatives if the skill or concept warrants it), participating in small group/partner games to practice the skill, or even focusing on a more inquiry type of practice to find answers on their own. Whatever type of practice that you plan for this time, be sure students have a clear set of directions and access to the math materials and resources they need. During this time you might be doing one of two things:
- The first will typically happen at the beginnings of many of your math units. It involves circulating the classroom to make observations of your learners as they begin to delve into their practice. You will want to take individual and fairly specific notes on what you observe of your students so that you know what you might need to address in a mini-lesson in the following days. For example, if you notice that several students are struggling with a particular part of the skill, you will want to spend some time thinking through how you might reteach that skill the next day to clear up the misconceptions that you observed.
- The second thing you could be doing during independent practice time is conferencing with individual students to check in with them on their levels of understanding. These conferences accomplish two important things. First, they will provide you with an opportunity for individual differentiation. If you see that a particular student is struggling, you can provide one-on-one instruction. Also, if there are students who need enrichment and are ready for a higher level of thinking, you can spend this time challenging them with something that will stretch their thinking. Math conferences also give you additional information about how you might need to group the math learners in your class to provide for further differentiation. Secondly, these conference times can also provide time for quick performance assessments! As you observe students mastering standards you can take notes and date them on some type of tracking page. If your math standards are CCSS then you might want to use the checklists we have created to track individual mastery. We have both CCSS and “I Can” Statement Checklists available that might be helpful in tracking student progress in math.
Lesson Wrap-Up & Sharing – At the conclusion of independent practice, the class will gather in a meeting spot to quickly review the lesson and provide an opportunity for questions (or even revelations) that students have about the skill or concept they were practicing.
Math Centers – Another idea to give students practice with specific math skills or problem solving strategies is to incorporate math centers into your math instruction. Lots of times we find great ideas involving math games or projects for small groups, but don’t have the resources or materials available for everyone in the classroom to do it at the same time. Or we would love to differentiate for groups of similar learners and give them a math task of some kind to help them move forward or practice various skills.
More importantly, we think Math Centers provide a great time for teachers to meet with small, focused guided math skill groups while other students are working independently or in small groups. (This will very much remind you of small group guided reading lessons during Literacy Centers for those who do those in their classroom.) Of course this idea can be done in many different ways depending upon the time you have available for your math instruction each day. We have incorporated math centers in various ways from year to year, depending on our schedules and the groups of students we have had. An important thing to remember is that you will want to purposefully select fluid groups of students to work together by thinking of what you want to accomplish. Will they be similar in ability in order to practice a specific skill? Will there be varied levels in the group so that all can benefit in some way ? Will the group be a homogenous mix of students put together to work on problem solving? These are just some questions to ask yourself before assigning students to math groups. Next you will want to think through how and when these math centers can be scheduled into your day. Keep in mind that you only need 20 to 30 minutes daily to provide your students with this math center time and give you time to meet with groups. Maybe it’s right after recess/lunch or it takes place during a small chunk of time between two subjects or activities. Below are a few different ideas for scheduling math centers:
- Conduct rotations of groups through math centers right after your Lesson Wrap-Up/Sharing time. Groups don’t need to visit all the centers in one day. At the beginning of the week, gather materials for perhaps five centers (your choice). During Math Center time, send groups to one center per day and continue the rotation through the week.
- Another idea similar to the previous one is to conduct centers during the first part of your week only (M -W) right after your Lesson Wrap-Up/Sharing, and then save Thursday and Friday to focus on problem solving – either whole group lessons or small group work.
- Yet another option is to make Math Centers part of your morning routine. Have one center that you can quickly and easily change a bit for differentiation each day (depending on the group that will visit). This center can be focused on one skill and you provide different levels for that one skill. Or you can change the skill to suit the specific needs of a particular group of students for each day.
- A final idea for math centers is to conduct them during independent practice time a few days each week. If you don’t have an additional 20-30 minute block of time in your day, this might work best for you. You could have set days for math centers (T-Th or Th-F) each week or you could think through the flow of your mini-lessons from week to week and schedule the two days of math center time when it makes most sense with what skills or concepts you will be teaching for your mini-lessons.
***We have created many math planning and management resources, as well as a few conferencing forms in our updated Math Management Binder. Check it out and let us know if you think we need to add something to it!
Problem Solving – One final piece of math instruction that is important is problem solving. We have learned through our studies of Ainsworth’s work that students need consistent exposure to problem solving strategies and process, and that the instruction needs to be guided and modeled several times for students to internalize the process and be able to truly understand how to think like problem solvers in math. For this reason, we also believe that one or two days each week should be dedicated to teaching and modeling this process. How often you model the steps involved in solving a math story problem is up to you (or perhaps your district), but it needs to occur consistently for it to be effective for your students. There are many ways to teach the problem solving method, so find one that works for you and your students. Ainsworth’s book Balanced Math has some wonderful ideas you can incorporate.
Launching Lessons – The following lessons are ones that we believe will help you to kick off your math workshop effectively. We have chosen to keep our descriptions simple (no actual lesson plan link) because we feel that each of these ideas will become something of a personal choice to you, your classroom, your students and your teaching style. Many districts also already have requirements or guidelines that you will need to follow. You may very well think of other management or organizational type lessons that you need to add based on your classroom and teaching style. If you do have ideas for other launching math lessons, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments below so that we can all benefit!
Lesson 1: What Our Math Workshop Looks Like – Start your workshop by spending some time brainstorming what you and your students believe should happen during a Math Workshop. You might even want to relate it to your Reading and/or Writing Workshop (if that is up and running in your classroom). Talk about your expectations for each part of the workshop – warm up, mini-lesson, independent practice and lesson wrap-up. Use our What Our Math Workshop Looks Like Anchor Chart to help you with ideas, or you could create your own. Have some simple math fact practice activities set up for independent practice time on this first day. Circulate the room taking notes about the workshop – things that are going well and things that need work. When you gather for your lesson wrap-up, discuss your notes and invite students to share how they felt and what parts of the anchor chart were successful as well as those that need work.
Lesson 2: Creating an Environment That Feels Safe – A very important aspect of any classroom is that students feel safe enough to ask questions aloud without judgment. This is particularly true in a math environment because you don’t want students to practice skills the wrong way. Many times it is not an easy task to change something that a student has already created a pattern for in his/her mind. Your mini-lesson today should start with a book about being brave or dealing with being nervous, taking risks or not being afraid to ask for help. Many back-to-school books lend themselves to good conversations. Here is a link to some Book Lists that might be helpful, but many teachers already have favorites (suggestions in the comments below are greatly appreciated!!) What we want students to understand is that we all have questions at various times and that in math class it is especially critical to feel okay to ask questions so that the teacher can provide further explanation and clarification before practice begins. Let the students know that the questions they ask might be the same questions others are thinking, so the questions might benefit lots of students. Discuss how everyone learns various things at different paces. You could relate that to babies and how most learn to sit, crawl and walk at different times, but that’s completely normal. (A great book about learning in different ways and times is Robert Kraus’ Leo, The Late Bloomer.) Introduce the students to the Class Math Pledge and have them practice reading it together. Discuss what each line means and how it applies to the math workshop. For independent practice today, you might choose to have another math fact review activity so that you can observe students in the workshop environment and take observational notes. After independent practice pull students together to review and recite the Class Math Pledge again and revisit your Workshop anchor chart if needed.
Lesson 3: The Importance of Math Fact Mastery – Instruction for math facts can be controversial among teachers as we all have our beliefs about how they should be taught. This lesson does not need to address necessarily how you will make sure your students master their math facts. This lesson is meant to help students understand why it is important that they know these facts fluently so that future skills are easier. To begin this lesson ask students what they had to learn first before they could begin to read (alphabet or letters). Then ask them why they had to know these letters in order to read (because they are the building blocks for making words, and then words are the building blocks for making sentences – which leads to reading, learning and understanding.) Guide students in a discussion to help them understand that math facts are kind of the same. Knowing the answers to math facts quickly and easily will help them to facilitate more difficult operations much better. Give an example of a big operations problem (3-digit number multiplied by another 3-digit number) to show them how it’s done, and illustrate your point by talking about how knowing the math facts quickly (without having to stop and draw a picture or count on fingers) can help them to solve the problem faster and easier. Send students to their independent practice (once again involving a math fact practice activity of some kind.) Circulate and take observational notes or sit and conduct a few math conferences. Be sure to emphasize expectations for workshop. Gather students after independent practice and share your expectations for math fact practice at home and school, as well as your expectations for mastery.
We actually believe in a mix of strategies – some involving timed tests – but ONLY if they are used in a stress free, motivating, safe and encouraging atmosphere. And we certainly don’t feel that they work for all students. Differentiation in the instruction and practice for learning facts has to occur, but most can agree that becoming fluent in math facts is necessary, or at the very least makes future math skills or concepts easier. Some of our suggestions, ideas and resources for timed tests can be found here: Addition Subtraction Multiplication. (The posts actually contain the same information about ideas, but each has links to the different operations’ timed tests.) We have also created a Math Fact Master Certificate that you can print for students as they master their facts (however you choose to judge mastery). Another resource that might be helpful is our Math Fact Menu which is designed as a tool for math fact practice at home. It provides choice and various ways for students to practice for homework.
Lesson 4: Being Respectful and Organized with Classroom Math Materials – This lesson is simply a “tour” of your math manipulatives, supplies and tools. You will be showing students where you keep them and your expectations for their use. This is a personal choice for teachers so this lesson is simply included as a suggestion so that students are clear about how, when and why to use what is available to them. If you choose to keep your supplies in open tubs for students to access, we have created math tub labels that might help. (The blue labels contain pictures as well as the words and is a PDF for you to download, print, cut and laminate. The red, yellow and chalkboard styles are editable so that you can change words and add your own pictures if you like. You might also think about having students draw pictures on them. Super cute!!!) During independent practice today, provide some activities that involve the use various manipulatives in your classroom. Circulate and take observational notes on students and also gather ideas to share during the lesson wrap-up. Gather students after practice time and discuss some of the issues you saw as they used the math supplies and reiterate your expectations for the use of the supplies.
Math Tub Labels:
Lesson 5: Problem Solving Strategies at a Glance – You will be spending a great deal of time teaching, modeling and practicing problem solving strategies throughout the year, but we think it is important for students to get an overview of some of the main strategies at the very beginning, not only to give them some initial ideas and exposure, but also to provide those who are ready with strategies they can use immediately. Discuss each item on the Problem Solving Strategies Anchor Chart. Provide grade-level appropriate short examples or explanations of each one. Copy the second two pages from the above link for all the students. As you discuss and give examples for the strategies listed, have students write notes and/or copy the examples in the boxes. These two pages will serve as the students’ reminders of the strategies. They will need to keep these in math folders. Today’s independent practice can simply involve assigning partners or small groups to complete one or two story problems, and then let them choose a strategy they think will work for their problem. Circulate to lend support and ideas as needed. Take notes on conversations you hear that are particularly impressive. (These will be used in Lesson 6!!) Gather students at the end of independent practice time to discuss the strategies that they chose. Have volunteers share why they chose particular strategies and how those strategies helped to solve the problems. Here are some links to resources we have created that might be helpful as you search for problems for this lesson or to help teach problem solving in your class throughout the rest of your year.
Lesson 6: Strong Mathematicians Have Meaningful Conversations to Deepen Their Understanding – This lesson helps students to understand that talking about math with other people may help them to understand skills or concepts better. To begin, gather students and do a short read aloud. You might want to choose a book that incorporates math into the story in some way. Discuss the story together and be sure to let students share ideas about their understanding and new knowledge. Explain to students that discussing a story with others helps them to understand it better and come up with new ideas. Let them know that math is the same and that you expect that they will have LOTS of daily discussions about what they are learning! Math is going to be very social this year so that they can increase their understanding and gain new ideas! (Exciting stuff!! They will be TALKING during math A LOT!!) Share our Strong Mathematicians Poster and discuss the sentence. Have students raise their arms and show their strong muscles in a silly way. Display the poster as a reminder that you expect lots of talking about math. Next, pull out your notes from yesterday and share some of the great conversations you heard taking place as they were problem solving. For independent practice today, give partners a few more word problems to solve and a large piece of construction paper with the task of not only solving the problem, but explaining all their thinking on the poster they create. Tell them that you will be listening for more great math conversations to share. You will learn a lot about what your students already know about the process of problem solving by walking around and listening to them talk. Be sure to take observational notes about students and also record some great conversations you heard. Gather students after independent math practice and share the conversations you loved hearing. Ask students if they have any conversations that they took part in that they feel made them stronger mathematicians.
Lesson 7: Problem Solvers Have a Process for Their Thinking – We want students to get into a pattern with their approach to problem solving. It shouldn’t be too lengthy or cumbersome, but they need to have steps that they take each and every time they are faced with story problems. If there is a framework in mind and a place to start, many times anxiety over more complex problems can immediately be alleviated. To begin this lesson, write or find two different types of story problems that can be worked through together. Display and discuss our How Problem Solvers Think anchor chart which gives students the “steps” they can go through in their minds to solve problems. Work through both of the problems you have by referring to the anchor chart and completing each step. Allow students to participate as you share your own thinking to model how this process works. Refer to the new anchor chart often, as well as using the problem solving strategies anchor chart if needed. For independent practice today, pair students with a partner and give each set the same problem to think about and solve using this process. (If students finish early, be sure to have a few more problems available so that they are continuing to work.) For the math wrap-up today, have the partners bring their papers with them so they can refer to them as reminders of their own thinking. Go through the problem together as a class, discussing and sharing thoughts on the process. Be sure to address questions and make clarifications as needed and make sure all students understand how the process worked to help them.
Lesson 8: The Importance of Daily Math Review – We want students to begin a Daily Math Review very early on in the school year. You can start your review with standards or skills from the previous grade level. Some schools and districts may already have a format for this, but if you don’t then our Editable DMR PowerPoint Template might be something that you can use. This review changes daily, so you can change the day, date and skills each for each week. (This is a great thing to have a parent volunteer get copied for you if possible.) The procedure for a Daily Math Review was explained above and you can get more specific information in Ainsworth’s book if you wish. This lesson calls for you to show and explain to your students your expectations for the Daily Math Review. You will want to share your procedures for how and when it will happen (warm up time? morning bell work?), as well as display your template and walk through the steps for how this will be done as well. We like the idea of students working independently on DMR for a few moments and then talking about their answers with partners. (A great time for you to put two students together who might benefit from each other’s knowledge.) However you do this, the important thing is to discuss answers as a class, let students erase and make changes on their papers and then send the papers home so that parents are aware of what you are reviewing and what will be on the Friday assessment (or whatever day you choose). For independent practice time today, give students an example DMR paper and have them practice the procedure you have put into place. Circulate and clarify as needed, but be sure not to help too much. We want to get students into the habit of discussing thoughts with their peers. Gather students together after independent practice and discuss the DMR answers. This is a great time to let a student act as a teacher (with your guidance) or you may want to save that for later when students have gotten more exposure to how DMR works. Discuss the successful things you saw as you circulated the room.
Lesson 9: How to Help a Friend – This lesson also stresses the fact that your Math Workshop will be a social experience for the students. Gather them together and tell them that your expectation is that they will all be needed to help you teach math this year. All of them will most likely be called upon to help a friend who might be struggling with a particular skill or math concept. Remind them about how everyone develops and learns at different paces, and that they will probably all experience times when they understand something well and times when they need some help and more practice. Tell them that you will need them to help their friends at various times, but that there is a way to work with a friend that is NOT a good thing – and that is when they simply tell their friends answers. Discuss how this will not help to TEACH because giving answers does not give students the knowledge to solve problems on their own when they are asked to do so. Display and discuss our How to Help a Friend Anchor Chart. Today’s independent practice should involve some type of partner work – perhaps another problem to solve. Circulate and take notes on student understandings and also on some of the great things you see with regards to today’s anchor chart. Gather students together after independent practice and share some of the situations you saw where friends were helping friends effectively. Revisit the anchor chart and then display it in your classroom.
Lesson 10: Interactive Notebooks – Many teachers these days are loving the idea of incorporating interactive notebooks into their classrooms for various subjects. We think they are a great way to not only facilitate student understanding of math skills and concepts, but also to provide students with a measure of autonomy during independent practice time. These notebooks serve as way for them to potentially answer their own questions as they can look through the notebooks to find steps, procedures and directions for a number of skills for which you have already provided instruction. There are many ways to incorporate interactive notebooks, but the purpose of this lesson is not to provide you with HOW you will do that (an upcoming post of ours this year!!). This lesson is incorporated into the math launching unit because we feel it is important (if you are going to use them in your classroom) that students have some procedures and guidelines in place before they start. To begin, pass out the notebooks to each student and explain to them a little bit about interactive notebooks. Tell them that the notebooks can be used as a fantastic resource because they will begin to fill up with notes, sample problems, teacher feedback, definitions and many other math ideas.
Have students open up their notebooks and write the title Math Notebook Guidelines/Rules (whatever you want to call them) on the inside cover. Then talk through your set of guidelines for the use of these notebooks as students write them on the inside front cover. Some initial suggestions might be: I only write about math in my notebook. All of the pictures I draw will be there to help me understand my math work. I will write, cut and glue everything neatly in my notebook so I can easily use it to help me. Regardless of your own personal guidelines for the notebooks, we believe the following (or something similar) should be the final “rule”: I will always look for work in my math notebook before I ask my teacher a question. We have created a Check My Notebook Reminder Slip you can copy onto colored card stock to pass out to students for this last guideline, because we feel it is the most important point they should take away from this lesson. We need students to know that the notebooks will be their greatest math resource! For independent practice today you might choose to simply have students spend time decorating their notebook covers with all types of things that remind them of what math is. Wrap-up time would involve students sharing their interactive notebook covers as well as a reminder about what they are and how they will be used.
**NOTE: We found this great resource online to give you some ideas on how to possibly begin these notebooks. Take a look at this Interactive Notebook PowerPoint to help you get started if you don’t already have these in place in your classroom.
Good luck with your launch!!!!!!!!! Remember to leave your ideas for other great math workshop launching lessons below!!