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Structuring Guided Math Workshop

“Because of its instructional value to both students and teachers, Math Workshop is an essential component of a Guided Math classroom.” (Sammons/Boucher, p 11)

I’m so excited to kick off another series of Book Study Mondays! Be sure to check out all the comments on the announcement post to read what your colleagues are hoping to gain from this book study and to learn more about getting started with Twitter. It was super exciting to hear from so many middle school/junior high teachers who are hoping to get Guided Math going in their classrooms.

So let’s get going!

Reading schedule

Join the slow Twitter chat

If you have participated in Twitter chats, you know they are typically regularly scheduled events, taking place once a week on a certain day and time. Depending on the chat, they can move pretty quickly! I participate regularly in #elemmathchat on Thursday nights at 8:00 CST. Twitter chats are a wonderful way to collaborate with other educators and become part of an online professional learning network (PLN).

A relatively new twist on the Twitter chat is the slow chat. Rather than having a scheduled time to show up and chat, questions are posted throughout the week and participants respond at their leisure. It’s a much more relaxed way to participate in a chat. For our slow Twitter chat, we will use the hashtag #GMWorkshopTCM. I plan on posting questions each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout the book study, however you can respond to the questions at any time. Search on the hashtag to read the questions that have been posted and add your comments. We will use the standard Q & A format–questions will be tagged Q (Q1, Q2, etc.) and you tag your response with an A (A1, A2, etc.). Don’t forget to tag your response with #GMWorkshopTCM so it will show up in the search. You can also use the hashtag to share what you’re doing in your classroom related to Guided Math. That’s how the PLN grows! It’s one-stop professional development, and you are now part of a learning community.

This post contains affiliate links, which simply means that when you use my link and purchase a product, I receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, and I only link to books and products that I personally use and recommend.


I don’t know about you, but sometimes I skip a book’s Introduction, because I want to jump right in! If you have not previously read Laney’s original Guided Math book, then you most definitely don’t want to skip the introduction. Even if you have read the original book, the Introduction provides a great reminder of the Guided Math framework and the importance of Math Workshop within the framework.

One big take-away here is that Math Workshop is just one of the seven components of Guided Math, albeit a critical one. This book does not, for example, explain what and how you teach in your small group lessons–it focuses on the Math Workshop component. Math Workshop is the work students are doing independently–in pairs, individually, or in cooperative groups–which allows the teacher to pull and instruct in small groups. What you will find in this book is everything you need to plan, organize, implement, and manage a successful Math Workshop.

And finally, as we get started, we should probably ask ourselves why are we even headed down this path? Why do we want to implement Math Workshop? With instructional time being so precious, we can’t squander it on fads and whims. The rationale for Math Workshop laid out on pages 15-17 should guide our implementation process. For example, if we want to promote student independence and self-reliance, how are we planning for and teaching that? It sure doesn’t just happen! Honestly, that is why a whole book is required for Math Workshop–if not implemented properly, it can seem chaotic, overwhelming, and frustrating to both students and teacher. The thought and preparation that goes toward planning, implementing, and managing Math Workshop is what pays off in student success.

On pages 18 and 19 of the Introduction, guiding questions are included for each of the chapters in the book. I’ll be using those questions as we discuss each chapter

Chapter 1, Structuring Math Workshop

  1. What Math Workshop model will work best for me?
  2. How can I create a management board to help students identify where they will work during Math Workshop?

The power of the Guided Math framework is in the flexibility it provides teachers. Your first decision will be how you want to structure your Math Workshop. The book explains two rotation methods, a method that allows students to choose from available workstations, and the GUIDE model. There is no right model! You have to decide what will work for you. When I was in the classroom, I was least successful with the rotation model. The timing was hard for me. Some students finished the tasks too quickly and others never finished their tasks. I was more successful with a menu approach–students had a weekly list of must dos and may dos. They could choose the order that they wanted to work on the tasks. It solved the problem of students finishing too quickly or not ever finishing. I just had to make sure my must dos were doable for all students and the I had enough may dos to keep all students engaged. I should mention that I taught 5th grade, so the kiddos were pretty independent. I think the GUIDE model takes the menu process to a whole new level and the structure of GUIDE makes planning easier.

The GUIDE model features five workstations, each with a different focus. Students visit only one workstation each day, so each workstation must include enough tasks to keep students engaged. As with the menu model I previously used, some tasks might be mandatory, while others are optional. Tasks don’t need to be changed each week, which makes your life a little easier. I like that groups are heterogeneous and that the teacher just pulls the students she needs for small group instruction. Also, if you need to skip a Math Workshop day, the rotation just rolls over to the next day.

I realize I might be showing a little bias for the GUIDE model, but the beauty of Guided Math is that you can use the model that feels right for you! The table on page 32 is great for comparing the different models.

Once you decide on the model you will use, you need to think of how you will communicate the structure to your students. What type of management board will you use? To maximize your instructional time, it’s important that students know quickly exactly what they are doing once Math Workshop starts. You have lots of options for management boards–just make it each for both you and the students.

Here are the slow Twitter chat questions I will post this week. Just search on the hashtag #GMWorkshopTCM throughout the week to see the questions, read comments, and add your responses. We will use the Q and A format. For example, to respond to Q1, start your response with A1. Don’t forget to add the hashtag #GMWorkshopTCM to your tweet. Also, be sure to follow other participants to grow your PLN!

Can’t wait for the conversations from this chapter!

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  1. For several years I have used a rotation model for math. I wasn’t necessarily using the Guided Math model. I would do whole group then I would do small group rotations to better meet the needs of my students. Now that I am teaching special education students I feel that I need to modify what I do to better meet their needs. This year I would like to use the GUIDE model. I feel that with all of the IEP meetings I have to attend it would help to use the GUIDE model to have a better grasp as to what tasks students have done.

    I’ve never used a management board. This is new to me. Since I’ve never used one I think using the GUIDE model will help since I will be using a management board for the first time.

    1. I think you will love the structure of GUIDE! Having a focus for each workstation makes planning so much easier and also makes sure you incorporate all the essentials of high-quality math instruction.

      Management boards don’t have to be anything fancy, but it sure makes things easier when the kiddos know the routine and know just where to go.

  2. Thank you for stressing that there is no RIGHT model. I know teachers that do not use either model from the book and those that find rotations very successful. The most important thing being that students are engaged in meaningful, differentiated tasks that require the application of current knowledge and extend knowledge. Also, students should be given time to independently converse about math daily within whatever model is being used. I think it’s interesting, too, that for many years there have been teachers providing a “workshop” for students so they can meet with small groups of students before it was ever called a workshop or guided math. Teachers have created systems to best meet their students’ needs and should feel confident it what works. Enjoyed reading! Thanks for all you do to inspire!

    1. You make some excellent points, Sarah! As we get deeper into the book, we’ll talk a lot more about those mathematical conversations.

  3. I work as a Math Coach in an Urban setting. We use Eureka Math. This previous year, we used the rotation model; Small teacher group, JUMP journals (journal for understanding mathematical practice) which included the application problems from Eureka, technology (Zearn which is an online program of Eureka lessons with independent practice and fluency). Occasionally, we would add or change a group and include a game or activity that reinforced foundational standards that perhaps students needed more practice with. (assessed with a pretest prior to a unit). This year, we demonstrated the most growth in years by having this model. I am hoping to include younger grades but looking for tips to help teachers without additional staff to help with younger children.

    1. Someone on Twitter asked about Kindergarten, and this was what Laney offered:

      Works well w/K–but Ts may opt for shorter time periods. Ss learn to work independently and love having that responsibility

      Plan well and prepare Ss before beginning. I taught K for many years. K was easier in many ways than with older Ss–different challenges.

  4. Ugh…hate Twitter. I’ll go try to figure it out. For some reason the layout makes no sense to me and I can’t figure out how to pull up hashtag stuff. But my book finally arrived so I’ll do my best to figure out how to participate in the conversation there.

      1. Yes . I tried that article and numerous other videos and blogs about how to use Twitter today. But I did also find in the descriptions the idea that Twitter isn’t good for in-depth discussion and that is what I need. So many acronyms and abbreviations and having to reword my answer to make it shorter and everyone just throwing out single answers that don’t seem to relate to each other. I just don’t find it conducive to good discussion. I’m also quite confused on the format. I’m confused about what chapter I’m supposed to be reading. I shouldn’t be this confused only being 2 days late getting my book. I suspect Twitter is just too kinetic for me. However, I’m excited to have the book in my hands. I’ll just have to read it on my own and work through it.

        1. Sorry for the confusion! The reading schedule is in the blog post. On each of the days listed, I will publish a post about the chapter we read. You can join in the conversation either by commenting on the post, and reading others’ comments, or by participating in the Twitter chat. Maybe you could also find a colleague in your school or area interested in the book so you could have more in-depth discussions!

  5. Myself and two other teachers are attempting guided math workshop this fall. We are struggling with the idea of a condensing a whole group 25 minute lesson to 10 minutes and are beginning to feel overwhelmed. Perhaps this will come later in the book, but I am struggling with this as an over arcing and nagging problem. So we aren’t sure what model to begin with. Suggestions?

    1. In the Guided Math structure, small group instruction is actually a separate component from Math Workshop, so this book doesn’t go into detail about small group instruction. I’ve been doing some workshops this summer about small group instruction, so maybe over the next month I can blog about it.

      1. That would be WONDERFUL! We recognize this as the ‘learning curve’ year so to have blogs by experienced teachers would be so very helpful.

  6. I am going to attempt math workshop for the first time this year. I used to be a special education teacher and then 3 years I become a Core Math teacher. This year, I will have a co-teacher for half the time and I am truly stuck on how to do any of this with him only being there every other day. Lots of logistics. I wonder if I need to get the other books in the series…. I really want this to be successful!

    1. I think you will love the structure, once you get it figured out! If you don’t already have Laney’s original book, Guided Math, I would say that it would be a good addition to your library. The Twitter chat has been very active, so if you post any questions you might have there, you might get some answers.

  7. Yay! I finally got my copy of the book in the mail yesterday!!

    After reading on page 17 of the introduction about letting students pursue their curiosity about math, it made me think of the “genius hour” or “20% projects”. I’m thinking I could have each student select a continuing topic they want to work on like some of the examples given such as the stock market, sports statistics, etc. I’m not sure how this would fit into the workshop rotations yet, but I’m sure as I read on I’ll see more clearly how to incorporate this idea. I also definitely want to include spiral review, fact fluency, and games to practice the current topic. Looking forward to reading more!!

    1. If you are using the GUIDE structure, fact fluency, games, and the spiral review are all covered with the G, I, and D. Your project type work could easily go in the U or E workstations.

  8. Hi. I know i’ve been asking questions/commenting a lot on facebook as I am very interested in your work with guide structure and I’ve purchased a few thing by you on TPT. We are just delving into Calkins work for reading/writing workshop and I’ve loved the little bit I’ve done the past 2 years and this reminds me of it but for math! I read a ton of the slow twitter stuff from the book study even though I don’t have the book (I’m another person not super versed/comfortable in twitter but I’m trying). I read somewhere that math is an hour (I teach K and have about an hour) and I’m assuming that includes the warm up, whole class instruction (which I’d like to minimize like we do in reading/writing mini lessons-10 min), and then workshop where kids are at stations and I’m pulling to do small group, one to one, etc and then is there a reflection piece as well. What are the approximate time breakdowns for this? I’ve done centers and something similar to guide, but will be getting book to really get a deeper meaning. Can’t wait to try it all out!

    1. I’m glad you see the parallels between reading/writing workshop and Guided Math. Your classroom is going to rock! If you have an hour for math, you could do a warm-up for 5-10 minutes, a mini-lesson, if needed, for 10 minutes, and then the rest of your hour could be used for Math Workshop, with small group instruction and conferencing going on while the kiddos work in workstations. Using the GUIDE model, the kiddos can stay in the same workstation for all of Workshop, or if you feel that’s too long for the littles, maybe split the time between two workstations. You can pull kiddos to your table as needed. Just save a few minutes at the end for reflection.

      1. That’s great! I love watching them help each other in reading/writing workshop and would love to extend that to math! I know they can really help each other grow and learn. The potential for power in the workstations seems incredible! I just need to get busy making some really strong ones that they can get involved in. We have a bunch of Kathy Richardson stuff and I hope to incorporate some things I already have made into the stations. What would be the workstations you’d suggest for K? I was thinking I probably need 6 weeks to teach routines, expectations, and the activities in your book I’m getting…I want to keep it simple yet powerful!!!

        1. Gosh, I love your enthusiasm!! There are some workstations for K in the book, and we just published three additional books (K-2, 3-5, and 6-8) with additional tasks. But I’ll bet your Kathy Richardson stuff will be great. When we get to Chapter 6, you’ll see the 15-day plan for rolling out Workshop–teaching your routines and introducing tasks. I think it’s one of the most powerful chapters in the book.

  9. I am taking a guided math class and was assigned to read articles or blogs about the math I am learning. I know this blog is old but I have gotten a lot out of it. I would love to start following you on twitter as soon as I get an account. Guided trading is something that I have always done, but not so much of the guided math. That is not like the guided math with work stations. I love math and want to get better at guided math workshop. Is the name of the book you’re referring to called Guide Math? I am so heartbroken that I am learning so much and can’t figure out how to do all this remotely. Any suggestions?

    1. Don’t worry about being late to the party! You want to learn and that’s what’s important! Since you are just starting out, you probably want the Guided Math book by Laney Sammons. It’s a phenomenal resource! Good luck with your journey.

      1. Thank you so much for responding. Right now I am reading or just read Guided Math in Action By Dr. Nicki Newton. Have you heard of it. I will buy the book you suggested today. I am eager to learn more.

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