How to Manage Math Workshop in 1st Grade

How do you teach math? Do you teach lessons to the whole class? Pull small, guided math groups? I'm no math expert, for sure, but I've found that having a balance of whole group and small group instruction really helps me differentiate and help students acquire the skills they need. Over the past couple of years, I've developed my own version of math workshop (and it continues to evolve!)- it works well for my first graders and they LOVE it! Here's how it works....
Math Workshop in First Grade, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
In the morning (before my official math block), I use Number Corner as my calendar math program. It's the first year that my team is using it and we are finding it to be very comprehensive and effective. Each daily session lasts about 20 minutes- I move at a pretty good pace and try to make it really interactive so my kids are engaged, otherwise it's just too long for a firstie!

Later on in the day, I teach a math block for 45-50 mins. On the first day of the week, I assess students on what they worked on the previous week. I feel that if they really know it, the weekend won't matter. Besides, I need to I introduce the new stations (math centers) for that week.

I follow the M.A.T.H. acronym like many other teachers. I purchased the Math Workshop Rotation Board from Clutter-Free Classroom and adapted it into my own rotation poster.
Math Workshop in First Grade, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
Students have two rotations per day; I see two out of four groups a day/ each group twice a week. As you can see, I write the date on the poster to help students keep track of where we are in the rotations.

I prefer to call my groups "teams" to encourage cooperation and peer teaching. I chose to name the teams based on colors so I could easily print their names on colored paper- that way when groups change, I can easily reprint names. Nothin' fancy, but easy and effective!

Here are the stations:

Math Facts: Students practice addition and subtraction concepts or math facts for fluency through games and activities.

At your Seat: This is when students work on their math journal. I pull from Reagan Tunstall's interactive math journal resource. These activities are more independent practice to either reinforce or review what we've been learning.

Hands-On: This is a hands-on game using manipulatives. It may be something we have done is small group previously, or a game that reinforces a skill or concept we have studied, but presents it in a different way.

Teacher's Choice: This is when I pull my guided groups. I teach all students the same objectives, but differentiate for my students based on what they need and what they are able to do.

We don't have Target or Wal-mart in Bangladesh, but we do have a school carpenter! I have this shelf in my room for storage. I keep station materials in these baskets (the other half of the shelves not pictured hold supplies and guided reading materials!) Again, nothin' fancy, but it serves its purpose.
Math Workshop in First Grade, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
I have one "turn in tray" on top of the shelf to collect recording sheets. I check those daily to see how students are doing.

Here's the general timetable for Math Workshop:
Math Workshop in First Grade, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
We all gather on the math rug at the beginning and I teach a mini-lesson based on whatever objectives students need to learn. Currently, we are working on beginning addition and subtraction concepts and strategies.

At the end of the mini-lesson, each team goes their separate ways to their assigned stations. My teaching assistant monitors the stations so I can focus my attention on my guided group.
Now, we practiced this A LOT at the beginning of school! On the first day, I just had students walk to their station (table) and stand there a minute before practicing the clean up procedure. We did that a couple of times. The next few days, students went to their stations, and then played very simple games so I could walk around and monitor them (My group was also playing a game- I was not teaching). During these days, I explained to them that I expected them to know which team they were on and where that station was when it was announced, so we practiced reading the chart together, row by row, column by column! Finally after a week of low-key games to practice moving to stations, I finally began "real" stations and only announced teams and their stations (like you see in the video). This year I only have 14 students (I know, heaven!), but I have also done this with 20 and it works, too!

I religiously set my timer for ten minutes and get busy! My guided group basically follows the sequence of a mini-lesson. It's fast and furious, but very FOCUSED. Some people may think that 10 minutes isn't enough time, but I don't want to overload my firsties with too much information in one sitting, so I keep it concise. Of course, if we need a couple extra minutes, we take them!
Here's what I do:
Math Workshop in First Grade, Creating a Thoughtful Classroom
Once the session (10 minutes) is over, students clean up their station and prepare it for the next team. To manage this, I use a simple call and response cue; I say, "Clean up, stand up," and the students repeat it back to me. I do this purposely so they hear themselves saying what they are supposed to be doing!! Pretty slick, right? Once they "clean up" their materials, they need to "stand up" behind their chair to show me that they're ready to come back to the math rug for the 2nd mini-lesson. Somedays, when I am pressed for time, we may not have a second mini-lesson. Instead will just reconvene on the rug to transition- MUCH less traffic and confusion than moving from 1 station to the next (learned that lesson the hard way!) Once students are cleaned up, I say, "Math rug." They respond, "OK." Then they just come back- simple! Here's "clean up, stand up" in action!
SORRY my voice is so loud! Obviously, someone had to hold the camera!

Finally, when we gather for the last time, it's to review what the mini-lesson focus was and to share any reflections. This is handy when students do some fabulous thinking or put forth extra effort during small group- you get to give them praise in front of the group and reinforce critical and creative thinking!

So, this is how I manage my math workshop. I'm still learning and growing in this area, but enjoying the process. My kids love that focused small group time with me as well as the different activities and learning games at stations. I feel like it's engaging, yet balanced (not too many centers or groups) and best of all, easy to maintain once procedures and expectations are taught.

I'd love to hear how you teach math in your classroom!
Thanks for stopping by :)


  1. I have been looking for something to help guide me as I want to shift my math instruction in this direction. Thank you for sharing how you do it and including videos. It was very helpful and informative. I really appreciate it, and I am looking forward to getting this going in my classroom. I have 24 students and I only have help for 30 minutes, but I'm hoping I can still make it happen! Thanks so much!

  2. Thank you very, very much for sharing all the hard work that I know went into your system. It is so kind and collegial of you! I am definitely going to incorporate your routines into my first grade classroom and see if I can make it work. Thanks again!


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