Guided Math: How It Has Changed the Way I Teach

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I’ve taught math many different ways over the past 11 years.  I spent many years teaching math to my whole class.  Then, my third grade team and I started moving kids around based on ability, and we taught either the “high” kids or the “low” kids.  This is the first year we’re trying guided math, and it’s completely changing the way I teach.

Looking for a way to meet all of your students' math needs? Use guided math to help your students and to save your sanity.

 The History of My Math Instruction

When I first started teaching, whole group math lessons were the way it was done.  I stood in front of the class delivering my lesson for 30 minutes.  Half of the class was sleeping.  Then, we started independent practice.  The students either got it and were able to do it on their own or they were completely lost and had no clue.  The next day, we continued on to the next lesson, and those students who didn’t “get it” got farther and farther behind.

Then, my school was chosen to pilot homogeneous math groups.  At the beginning of the year, we looked at all of the students’ math data from second grade and split them into four groups.  One was the “high’ group.  One was the “middle” group.  The last two were the “low” groups.  The “low” groups had a few less students, but you were still trying to teach the content to about 20 students who struggled with math.  The years you got the “high” group, you were golden.  The students came to you able to score proficient on the standardized tests.  However, when you got the “low” group, you had a year of stress ahead.  Every lesson was torture.  As soon as you felt successful with one student, you realized you had 19 other students who didn’t understand it.

Math can be a challenging subject for students. Use guided math to meet their needs

Enter Guided Math

The primary grades in my building had been using guided math for a few years.  They used five centers each week.  The centers were games, reading math books, technology, writing math problems, and using tools to solve performance tasks.  My principal wanted the intermediate grades to try guided math, too.  She thought it would help us better meet the needs of our students.

At first, we were skeptical.  We talked to some of the primary teachers, and they weren’t meeting with all of the students every day.  Some of the students were just working at the centers if they “got it”.  We’ve always worked really hard to challenge our strong math students.  The primary grades also have all year to cover their math content, so they were able to spend several weeks introducing this model to their students.   In the intermediate grades, we have to get started right away, and we have to cover all of our math content prior to the state tests.  As a result, the five center model of guided math didn’t seem like it would work for us.

Our Guided Math

My team sat down and thought about what our students needed in a math lesson.  All of the students needed to meet with us for a guided lesson.  They also needed some type of performance task, or application of the skill.  Finally, they needed review of concepts we already covered and fact practice.  With these areas in mind, we developed a version of guided math that uses three centers.

Meet with the Teacher

I think it’s very important for every student to meet with me for a guided group every day.  Even if they completely understand the concept, I like to help them dig deeper.  We do more challenging problems based on the same skill.  Sometimes, I look at the fourth grade standards to see the types of problems to give them.

My on-level group usually works though the regular lesson.  We have the enVision math program, so this group works through the problems in the textbook.  We do a few together, and they solve the rest on whiteboards while I monitor and check.

My below-level group meets with me first each day.  That way I can spend a little bit more time with them if they aren’t understanding the concept.  I do a lot of modeling for them, and we work through some problems together before they try a few on their own.

Problem Solving

The problem solving center is where students complete performance tasks and apply the day’s skill.  They work together and talk about the math problems to solve them.  The problem solving tasks are differentiated, so there are three different performance tasks.  Some days, the students struggle with the problem-solving tasks.  Then, we go over the problems together in small group the next day.  If the students finish early, the problem-solving center is stocked with flash cards and games, so students can review previously-covered concepts.



The third center is a technology center.  We have Chromebooks for each student.  Even if you don’t have a whole class set of devices, you might have enough for one group of students.  At technology center, students practice their multiplication facts, review concepts we’ve already covered, and practice the current skill.  You can find out about the specific online programs I use at technology center in my post about the best online math programs.

The technology center allows students to practice their facts and review math concepts during guided math rotations.

Forming Guided Math Groups

The enVision math program is divided into topics.  Before each topic, I give the students a few questions about the next topic to see what they already know.  I use that data to divide my class into 3 groups.  Usually it works out pretty evenly, and I end up with between 6 and 8 students in each of my groups.  The groups are very flexible.  If a student didn’t do well on the pretest, but they are able to answer questions without support in my guided group, I’ll switch them to the on-level group for the next lesson.


My Guided Math Schedule

A guided math schedule is going to look different for everyone based on the amount of time allotted for math.  We have 75 minutes for math each day.  I start with a 5-10 minute minilesson.  Then, we start our groups.  They last 15-20 minutes each.  I usually end up keeping my lowest group a few extra minutes, since it takes them a little longer to grasp a new concept.  Then, I adjust my other groups, so I don’t go over an hour with the groups.  Finally, the students complete an exit ticket at the end of the lesson, so I can tell who has mastered the concept.  That takes 5-10 minutes.


Are You Ready to Try Guided Math?

I would love to help you get started with guided math in your classroom.  You can download my guided math planning template at the bottom of this post.  You can also check out my Teachers Pay Teachers store to get my 3-day money guided math lessons.  In those lessons, I shared my minilesson slideshows, what I do with each of my guided groups, the activities for problem solving and technology, and the exit tickets.  I’ll be working on outlining the lessons to go with other math standards soon.  You can follow my store to get updates on my newest products.


Use this money lesson to get started with guided math.


If you have any questions about guided math, comment below or email me at [email protected]  Guided math can change the way you teach math, too!


Guided Math Planning Template

Interested in starting guided math, but not sure how to plan for it? Enter your email to receive a FREE download of my guided math planning sheet.

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