Math Groups in the Elementary Math Clasroom
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Effective Math Groups for the Elementary Classroom
Article Summary: Using math groups effectively in the classroom takes planning and strategy. Gain valuable teaching strategies how to incorporate math groups in your elementary classroom.
Topic Keywords: math groups, elementary math groups, math groups strategies
Effective Math Groups for the Elementary Classroom
by Gregory L. Gomez

If you have not utilized math groups before, this is one teaching practice that can have an extreme impact on performance and achievement in your classroom.
From my personal experience, I was always terrified of placing students into groups. On the rare occasion when I did try to have group work time during math, chaos would erupt and I found myself running from group to group in a frantic manner completely burnt out after an hour ready to go home and take a nap.
Why didn't my groups work for me? That was the question that haunted me time after time.
Even when I carefully placed students in groups that I felt were leveled appropriately, and with students that could interact well with one another, my group experience continued to fail miserably.
After reflecting back on my experience, and having a few conversations with colleagues, I realized the error of my ways.
No matter how well the groups are organized or how great the activity is, the students need to learn what the group rules and expectations are before a single activity is attempted.
This is crucial for groups to be effective!
The students need to know exactly what your expectations of behavior are, what the procedures are from start to finish, and how they are to conduct themselves while in their group.
Students need to be taught explicitly how to work in groups. They need to know what you expect of them. They need to know what is appropriate and what isn't.
Think of all possible scenarios that could arise throughout group work time and answer those questions prior to beginning groups in your classroom.
For example, how are the students supposed to ask questions when they are stuck or encounter a problem? What do students do if they finish early? What will be the signal you give for starting and stopping - a bell, timer, hand clap?
These are just a few things you need to address when teaching the students how math groups are supposed to function in the class.
Implementing Math Groups In Your Class

Another key component to utilizing groups for math is that the group themselves need to frequently change.
What I really think is beneficial about our math workshop time is the students get to work in a small group that is constantly changing. Just because Student A is in the "Gets It" group this week doesn't mean that this will be true next week. It is all dependent on each students' need, which means there needs to be some type of assessment for the teacher to make this determination.
Therefore, before I assign/redesign groups, I give a quick assessment to check and see at what level the student is performing. Simply 3-5 problems to let me know where they fit into one of three categories:
1: "Needs Help" - need re-teaching
2: "Gets It" - just need practice
3: "Watch Out!" - ready to take it to the next level
Keep in mind, just because a particular student is having difficulty with multiplication and needs extra assistance and accommodations, that may not be true for when you are working on place value, or geometry.
In this situation when you are working with multiplication, that certain student might be placed in the "Needs Help" group, but during geometry, that student could possibly be in the "Gets It" group.
My class is currently divided into 5 groups with each group consisting of 5-6 students. This allows me to have relatively small group sizes and at the same time, it gives me the opportunity to work with one group per day during our math workshop time. I am then able to get to all five groups each week.
A typical plan that I like to use during math time for my fifth grade students is to teach a mini-lesson for the entire group which generally lasts for 20-25 minutes. Afterwards we will break into our math groups which I refer to as "Math Workshop Time".
For example, last week we were working with adding and subtracting integers. Two groups were working to master the concept of a number line and positive/negative integers ("Needs Help"), one group was working on mixed addition and subtraction problems while another group on a computers/laptops using a number line interactive game I found online ("Gets It"), and the last group was working on higher order thinking problem solving strategies ("Watch Out!").
In Conclusion

If you have not used math groups before, hopefully you have been inspired to implement them in your classroom. If set up properly and taught explicitly, they can have an immense impact with your students.
Just remember to teach students exactly what is expected during math groups time and make sure they adhere to your expectations. Doing so will help ensure the time spent in math groups becomes a valuable instructional tool.
Gregory L. Gomez, M. Ed, has been teaching 5th grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 12 years. He created to help teachers and parents provide children with a fun and creative way to review grade level math standards and concepts. Get valuable teaching strategies and teaching tips along with FREE math worksheets samples to download.
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We hope you found this article informative and that you will be able to take some of these ideas and incorporate them into your classroom. We invite you to take a moment to download two FREE math review worksheets that students have found exciting and inspirational. These aren't the typical worksheets that you've seen before, so don't be surprised if you find your students begging for more!
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