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Smashing Strategies for Guided Math: Planning For Groups Made Easy


Hi friends! This is the 3rd and final post in the Smashing Strategies for Guided Math series for the 2017-2018 school year! *Don't forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post to win a $75 amazon gift card OR Giant Magnetic Tens Frames for your classroom! 


So far in this series we have talked a lot about routines and structure that included a detailed post on Guided Math Center Rotations and Fact Fluency. Today we are going to get into the nitty gritty of differentiating your groups in a way that is not going to be so overwhelming that it makes you feel like you’re losing your mind!! Let’s be honest, as teachers our jobs at technically 8:00-3:00 but planning for 3 math groups, 4 writing groups, 4 word study groups, and 5 reading groups, plus social studies, science, character education, and parent communication, etc... is about 80 hours of work a week. We have to find the easiest way to be EFFECTIVE and EFFICIENT.


In college, do you remember all that talk about objectives and essential questions? I remember thinking I was going to die of boredom if I had to generate ONE MORE essential question… oye! However, when we are differentiating, it really is a huge time saver and here’s how...



Today I am teaching a lesson on arrays. I want to lay a foundation for my students to understand that multiplication is simply repeated addition. At the end of the day I want my students to understand that skip counting (instead of repeated addition) can help them find a sum faster, which is essentially the concept of multiplication.

However, I realize that about 1/3 of my students are still memorizing their addition facts and are nowhere NEAR ready to multiply. BUT, that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to be exposed to the concept that multiplication is repeated addition.

Another third of my students are doing well with their fact fluency but developmentally are not ready for multiplication yet... they're getting close though! Again, I still want them to be exposed to this concept. 

Then the last third of my class knows their addition and subtraction facts backward and forward. They are READY to multiply!

So, to keep myself from having to plan for HOURS, I am going to keep my lesson simple.


Mini Lesson: Before we start the math block, I tape three large circles (one blue, one red, and one green) on the carpet that we gather on for mini lessons. I tell my students that today we are going to figure out how to use skip counting to teach us to multiply. I ask for nine volunteers to line up next to our SMARTBOARD in front of the class. We work as a group to EVENLY divide up the kids into the three circles, which will result in 3 kids per circle. Then on the board I write:

3 + 3 + 3 = 9




We talk through how the first 3 stands for the three children in the blue circle (Michael, Nelson, Rashaud).

The red three stands for kids in red circle (Shantelle, Hunter, Kameron).

Finally, we discuss how the green three stands for kids in green circle (Moncia, Danielle, Zeke).


Our exchange is as follows...
Teacher: "How many circles are there?"
 Kids respond “3”
Teacher: "How many kids are in each circle?" 
Kids respond “3”

I write on the board:
3 x 3 = ?

Teacher: "How many kids are up in front?"
 Kids respond “9”

I then refer back to the board where the two statement are written:

3 + 3 + 3 = 9     AND     3 x 3 = 9  

Teacher: "Who can make a connection between these two math statements?" This then leads into a discussion about the connection between repeated addition and multiplication. 

After the mini lesson is over, kids break into their Guided Math Rotation Centers and I begin to pull groups.

First Group:

I have large 1” graph paper or printed out grids. On my white board, I tell my students that today we want to make a square with 2 across and 2 down. I write 2 + 2 = ? on my board and model for my students coloring 2 down and 2 across then cutting out the square

Together we record 2 + 2 = 4 on the array I cut out. Then the students try, I write 2 + 2 + 2 = ? on my board and students work to cut out a 2 x 3 array on their grid paper. They glue it on their large paper and record the repeated addition statement. 



Second Group:

I have large 1” graph paper or printed out grids. On my white board, I tell my students that today we want to make a rectangle with 3 across and 2 down. Each  I write 2 + 2 + 2 = ? on my board and coloring 2 down, 3 across and then cut it out. After we finish, I point out to my student that there are 3 across and 2 down, which would make a multiplication equation 3 x 2 = 6. We discuss the fact that 2 + 2 + 2 = 6 is the same as 3 x 2 = 6 (three groups of 2).



Then the students try, I write 3 + 3 + 3 = ? on my board and students work to cut out a 3 x 3 array on their grid paper. They glue it on their large paper and record the repeated addition statement. Once they have recorded their repeated addition statement, they create a corresponding multiplication equation as well.


Third Group:

These friends had have their addition facts memorized for month and are ready for MORE! I write out the equation 4 x 4 = ? on the board and tell them it means I have four groups of four. Then I give them grid paper and ask them to attempt to build an array that demonstrates 4 x 4.


As the children work, I come alongside any individuals that may be having a little difficulty, but for the most part, I have found these children that are “gifted” in the area of math, enjoy the challenge. The rest of the guided math group is spent discussing how multiplication is simply groups of the same number being repeated.



I switched up their next task by showing them a grid that looked like this asking if they could come up with a multiplication equation to accompany it. Each child recorded their answer on a sticky note! We love sticky notes for guided math!!! [Answer: 4 x 6 = 24]





After our centers are completed, the children gather on the rug to talk about arrays. I ask the children to whisper to a neighbor their definition of an array. We talk about how our addition strategies can be useful in getting us ready to multiply and how multiplication is simply multiple groups of the same number.



It is certainly not as easy to plan guided math lessons that are differentiated to your student’s needs… however, I would argue it is MUCH EASIER to TEACH. When kids are learning within their zone of proximal development, they thrive! You are able to give much more individualized attention, as well as provide  remediation or enrichment as needed, in                                                                        a group of 7 or 8 as 
                                                                opposed to 20+ students at                                                                    once.


The prep also doesn’t need to be as demanding as planning 3 TOTALLY different lessons, as you can see, I used the same tools, just adapted the presentation and approach for each group



The first group had a lot of guidance and much simpler problems.

The second group had modeling with slightly more challenging problems. 

The third group was given a challenge question to solve and then we talked through it when they were finished. 

Each guided math lesson was tailored to meet the needs of the students within each group. It probably takes me 5-7 minutes extra to plan for it, but is TOTALLY worth it when I measure student growth at the end of the units… they DO WAY BETTER when instruction is directed to meet their individual needs. Plus, they LOVE the centers and look forward to math block each day.





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Oh, and check out these posts from other leading teacher-authors!



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