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5 Simple Reasons Your Guided Math Groups Are No Good

Many teachers hear about Guided Math and jump in with both feet before really understanding how it works. Guided Math is a fantastic teaching structure, but if you aren’t fully prepared, your program will crash and burn. Here are five simple reasons why your guided math groups are no good.

The goal of Guided Math groups is for you to have the time to teach focused lessons to small groups of students while the rest of the class is engaged in independent practice activities. If you want this time to go smoothly and interruption-free, you must be prepared.

Reason #1: Training for Guided Math Groups is a Must

The first reason your Guided Math groups may not be working is that your students require training. Like any other routine you introduce to a class, the Guided Math structure that you expect students to follow must be explicitly taught.

You need to clarify:

  • When students are allowed to work together.
  • What level of noise you expect.
  • How and when students may access math manipulatives and other tools.
  • What happens if they need to use the washroom or get a drink.
  • What students should do if they finish their work.
  • What they should do if they don’t understand the task.
  • Who to get help from if needed.
Photo of Guided Math Centers anchor chart for behavior expectations.

Resist the temptation to rush your students through this stage to get to covering the curriculum. If you spend the time setting up these expectations at the beginning of your program, the rest of your year will go beautifully!

Reason #2: Not Considering Group Dynamics

Guided Math groups can be created in several different ways. You might group your students by ability or place them in heterogeneous groups. Perhaps you strategically place certain students together or plan carefully to keep others apart.

Group dynamics is a critical piece of the Guided Math puzzle. If you don’t have students grouped together in a way that they can work together to accomplish a common goal, then there’s a good chance you’ll have problems.

You can read more about how I set up my Guided Math groups in this blog post:

How to Set Up Successful Guided Math Groups

Reason #3: Not Anticipating Potential Problems

Good teachers anticipate potential problems that may arise at any point in the school day when they plan their lessons. It is smart practice to be prepared for anything the day may throw at you! The same is true for Guided Math groups.

Before you welcome the students each day, take the time to consider what problems you may have and what the possible solutions could be. Remember, you should focus on a small group lesson while your students work in their groups.

  • Do you think students will struggle with the task? Pre-teach the activity to a strong student or find a student in the class who can help others.
  • Do students tend to get off task? Keep them accountable with a system like this one.
  • Endless train to the restroom? Be sure to have a solid system for breaks already in place so you aren’t interrupted.
  • Will students need a particular tool to complete their tasks? Be sure to have all the required supplies ready before the period begins.

Reason #4: You’re Using The Wrong Activities!

If you’re having trouble getting Guided Math groups to work smoothly, there is an excellent chance that you’re using the wrong activities!

Kids naturally love to work with peers on hands-on, engaging activities, so if you’re just pushing paper at them or giving them the same type of activity day after day during their small groups, it is no wonder they’re off task.

The Guided Math activities you choose to use with your students should:

  • Be easy enough for students to manage independently.
  • Incorporate hands-on manipulatives when possible.
  • Be varied and provide some choice – a very powerful motivator!
  • Give you the peace of mind that your students are practicing valuable math skills independently while you’re targeting specific curriculum expectations in your small-group lessons.

When I was teaching Grade 2/3, I created my own Guided Math centers because I didn’t have any other resources that really accomplished what I wanted them to.

First- through fourth-grade teachers have used these with hundreds of positive reviews. You can take a closer look at these right here:

Guided Math Centers Bundle
Cover of French Guided Math Centers bundle

Reason #4: Missing Management System for Behavior Issues

You may have done the group training, considered the students who are grouped together, and provided amazing resources, but you’re still having issues.

In cases like this, it is vital to have some classroom management strategy in place.

In my experience, focusing on rewarding the positive behaviors of on-task students is far more effective than calling out someone disruptive. Still, the conversation needs to be had with that student at some point as well.

  • Discuss privately what you expect and the consequences if the undesirable behavior continues.
  • Keep parents in the loop by calling home to explain the problem.
  • Remember that behavior is often an avoidance technique for students when they perceive the work to be too difficult. Do you need to explain the activities better? Would the student benefit from having a better partner? Does the child need some one-on-one time with you to look at the tasks to bolster their confidence?

I’ve found that small-group instruction tends to decrease the behavior issues rather than increase them, so a little thinking about WHY the student is acting out is essential.

Bonus Thought…

It is also important to consider WHY you are teaching using a Guided Math structure.

If you’re placing centers in front of your students and calling that teaching, forgive me, but you’re off the mark.

Guided Math is about teaching the curriculum to a small group while your other students are engaged in authentic, meaningful practice with centers.

To read more about this, take a look at this blog post:

The Honest Truth: You Need More Than Math Centers

If you’re looking for more information about Guided Math and how to get started, be sure to grab my FREE Guided Math Quick-Start Guide:

Cover of Guided Math Quick-Start Guide

You might also be interested in the information I’ve shared in this post:

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5 Simple Reasons Your Guided Math Groups Are No Good
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