Let me say this first and foremost... The first several weeks are critical in correctly teaching students the procedures and expectations for guided math. Not following through or cutting corners can lead to frustration and guided math failure. As most teachers know the key to a good system is practice, practice, practice. As with your literacy stations-centers; you wouldn't just sent kids to the station and say, "Have fun!" You teach and practice what is expected of them, for weeks.
Typically I introduce guided math the very first day of school. I gather the kids around and say that they are about to experience math different than what they might have in the past. (as I am the only teacher in my school who has done it, have since converted a couple teachers)
I briefly describe what the guided math block of time will look like.
- You will be in math groups. Groups might change over the course of the school year.
- Each math time you will rotate through 4 stations.
-You will spend about 15-20 minutes at each station.
- You have a different task to accomplish at each station. I then explain each one; card station, game station, independent work station, and lesson with me.
At this point I only introduce one station at a time. I usually start with the card station because the games are easy to teach and easy to model correct behaviors. Here is what a typical introduction would look like.
"Students today we are going to learn our very first station! Today we will be practicing the math card station. Remember this is the station where you get to play card games that help you with your math skills. I will tell you what card game to play each day. One day a week I will let you have free choice!"
I label the top of a piece chart paper : MATH CARD STATION
I then make a T chart. Labeling one side, Student and the other side Teacher.
"Boys and girls let's take a look at this chart. I thought we could start by brainstorming some good things that you would expect to see from your classmates when they are at the card station."
Students start the list:
1. Take Turns
2. Play Fairly
3. Clean Up All Materials
4. Put Back All Materials Where They Belong
5. Get Started Right Away
6. Work Quietly
7. Play The WHOLE Time
Notice that I tend to use positive statements, not statements that begin with Don't or Never. These are just a few staple statements that I want to include on my chart. Students can usually think of a couple other important good behaviors.
"Now, these are things that you are doing when you are working. Let's take a look at the other side of the chart. Notice that it says, Teacher. Who can raise their hand and answer this question? Your job is to play cards following all these rules. What do you think is my job while you are doing this?"
Students usually can guess this one right away (ok, depending on the grade level :)
"That's right, I am working with students. So boys and girls, let's put on this side; Working with groups or individual students."
"And guess what? That is what my main job is the whole time. If you keep up your job, then I can do my job." (I sometimes go into the whole interruption speech, what happens to the poor kids I have to stop teaching because I have to go tell you to stop your bad behavior.)
"So now we are going to have three students model what they think working at the card station would look like. "
I give a verbal overview to those three students as to what they are going to do first. Go get the cards, go to the designated card playing area, get started right away, play nicely, clean up and return materials when I say stop.
I then have those students give a short (no more than 2 min) overview of what the whole process looks like. The go and pretend they are at that station. I then call, "Ok, card station is over." (or whatever system you use to indicate it is switch time or the end of math).
The students come back to the group. We look at our chart. I go down the list calling out each behavior. Students give me a thumbs up or thumbs down to show if the group demonstrated that behavior.
Next is the fun part. Choose a few students to show the wrong way. Yes, I do show the wrong way, because every year a student demonstrates something the kids might not recognize as the wrong way. I ask this group to go wild, be noisy, toss the cards, don't get started right away, and don't clean up. The kids have a blast (obviously :) Showing this one. I then again signal for them to come back, and we go over the chart, but this time we all give thumbs down.
Now most importantly, you need to follow up with another group showing the correct way again. "Boys and girls, I need three more volunteers who can show the last group how the real card station should be done. Who thinks they can do it?"
At the end of all this I then introduce their first math card game. Something simple, very easy to play and to teach. I then give students a chance to work with a partner or two and show me how they all can practice the good behaviors on our chart.
This sequence goes on for several days. So the next day, this is what it looks like in short review...
-Gather kids, ask them if they remember what some good things are that we should see when we are at the math card station.
-Review chart and get any that they may have overlooked
-Have group model, good, bad and then good again.
-Show new card game
-Have students practice
Yes, this does take a good chunk of time and will each math time until you are ready to begin stations. I follow this same format when I introduce all four stations. At the end all four stations will have its own chart that can be shown somewhere in the room for student reference.
Now when you are ready go begin introducing the math game station. I usually do a quick review of expected behaviors at the card station and then introduce the game station.
The next day same thing.
A few days in, I will split the time between practicing card and then game. Really you set the time on this one, how long you want them to play and practice the games (10 mins max to begin with I would say, build your time stamina).
I know some of you are thinking where does fitting in the actual math manual lessons work when introducing stations. I teach the lesson first, then do the practice of the stations.
This is just a guideline on how to get it started. A lot of you have your own ways and tips and tricks you have learned throughout the years. Use it! Do what works for you, but remember like I said at the top, guided math will not be successful unless you take the time to teach behavior and model them over and over again.
To see the full series of posts on guided math go here: