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Some Tips for Planning Math Small Groups

a few thoughts about math small groups

One of my biggest goals this year was making my small groups hassle-free, easier to prep, but also effective and meaningful for my students. I felt like I had so much to tackle, and a very small amount of time to do it. So, I wanted everything I did to have a big impact.

Since I started teaching 5th grade math these have been some of my thoughts regarding math small groups : “man this is hard, some of my student have so much unfinished learning, where do I even start?”, “what group should I put this student in?”, “I need to change what students are doing independently more often”, “I’m not doing enough.” Can you resonate with any of those thoughts?

So here are some things I’ve done this year to tackle some of these thoughts.

#1 most of my small group lessons are task-based 

This is the most authentic way I’ve found to address students’ unfinished learning and push them to new understandings. It allows me to see their entry point and meet them where they’re at in their math thinking. They feel safe to share and show their thinking in a small group setting, and this gives me so much insight. We’re able to address misconceptions in an authentic way and use concrete models to deepen our understanding. Added bonus: it makes my planning much easier and streamlined. I’m able to use one task for all of my groups, scaffold when needed, and see the magic happen from there.
Here are a few of my favorite places to pull tasks for my students: Illustrative Mathematics, Mine the Gap, and here!

#2 my groups are flexible and somewhat heterogeneous (most of the time)

This has been a game changer because now I don’t think so much about “what group should I put this student in/where do they fit?” This was a big shift because I was so used to grouping students homogeneously (hello, primary literacy teacher brain). I’ve found that heterogeneous groups work really well in math, and having the flexibility of switching up groups based on the day works well too! I’ve found that this helps a lot with students hearing different perspectives on problem solving and pushes students in the group to reflect and possibly revise their thinking based on what they’re hearing from their classmates. It puts a lot of the heavy lifting on the students and less on me, the teacher! Which is a win-win in my book.

Ps…are there days when my groups are more structured and planned? Of course! It all just depends on the day!

#3 make independent work easy to prep and consistent

Say it with me, independent work can be basic and still meaningful. Not only does this make prep much easier but your students get to know the drill and the focus is on the math. Now, this doesn’t mean students are doing the same exact thing every week, but they are doing a different version of the same activity.

Here are what my students work on independently throughout the week:

>Math app/website: There are so many great math websites and apps now. My school uses IXL and so that’s what I use in my math classroom, but I like to switch it up with Prodigy and 99math too.

>Weekly Number: My students complete a weekly number worksheet. The template is consistent but changes weekly to address standards we’ve learned. There’s also a self-checking component so students are able to see how they’ve done.

>Math Identity Journal Prompt: I’ve used this in my room for a couple of years now and I love it. Students complete a weekly prompt that addresses various aspects of their math identity. I read these responses and respond to them periodically. I use a digital version which makes it super simple to assign and check. If you’d like to check out this resource in my tpt store here it is!

a little bit on systems and organization…

One more note because you know your girl loves some organization. I’ve also made sure that I created a space that is conducive to what I’m doing in my small groups. I wanted a space that was functional and worked for my students and I, and I truly feel that I’ve created just that! Here are a few of my favorite things that I use to organize my space: this container is great for organizing my tasks, love having a little caddy with some frequently used supplies, and these little pouches are perfect for organizing all of my favorite math tools. Check out some more of my small group faves here!

Also, because I’ve really streamlined what I’m doing in both my small group lessons and independent work for students this makes planning and prep a lot easier. I’m able to batch plan which is so darn helpful! Check out my no-fuss planning template below!

Welp, I hope this gave you some things to think about in terms of making your math small groups a little more no-fuss, but also meaningful and rigorous for all students.

small group planning template

*please note: this post includes some affiliate links, which means I earn a small little commission if you follow those links and purchase something! So thanks in advance for showing your support, it truly means the world to me!