13 Super Helpful Tips to Make Math Workshop Work for You

I am so thrilled to welcome award-winning teacher, Cassi Noack! Cassi is at expert at creating math activities that are both fun and effective. Today, she will share her tips for making Math Workshop work in your classroom.

How to Have a Successful Math Workshop

How to Have A Math Workshop

Long before I ever heard the words “Math Workshop,” I was doing it in my class.  I was lucky enough to go to a college that had its own lab school- complete with observation rooms! I witnessed amazing teachers doing incredible things with their students, and I wanted that for my own class.  Once I graduated, it was on!  I worked tirelessly to replicate the student-centered classrooms that I had observed so many times before.

My first few years were more trial and error than success. But because I saw firsthand that this type of framework for learning was possible, I kept baby-stepping it, and before long, I felt really good about my own math classroom.

So, today I want to share with you some of my best tips for making sure your math workshop works!

Can Any Class Have a Math Workshop?

You can do this! A math workshop is just a fancy way of describing a specific framework used for structuring lessons. The framework includes systems for teaching new content, providing for student practice, and offering ongoing assessment. This biggest difference between a traditional math classroom and a math workshop is just the amount of time that is spent in whole group teaching. A math workshop has many benefits for students including:

  • Built in differentiation and personalization
  • Opportunity for collaboration
  • Opportunity for developmentally appropriate learning
  • Opportunity to learn self-regulation
  • Opportunity to play games and complete engaging activities
  • Students practice skills over time for long-term retention
  • Students connect new knowledge to prior learning for better understanding
  • Students get more personalized attention
  • Students have opportunity to use technology and gain 21st century skills
  • Students learn how to take responsibility for their own learning
  • Students experience huge gains

A math workshop allows students to learn in a fun and safe environment.  If you haven’t had the joy of seeing students learn through a math workshop, you can start today by taking small steps toward transforming your classroom.

How to Have A Math Workshop

Tip #1: Create a routine- and stick with it!

The math workshop framework includes new instruction, practice, and assessment. Divide your instructional time into chunks that will allow you to accomplish all three phases. The majority of instructional time should be dedicated to differentiated learning, but spiraled review, whole group instruction, and reflection are also important components.

The biggest mistake teachers make when implementing a math workshop is not establishing a routine that the students can rely on.  It can be tempting to spend extra time on a whole group lesson, or to cut into differentiated learning time to lecture about a problem that’s happening at recess.  Being consistent is the number 1 key to a successful workshop.

How to Have A Math Workshop

Tip #2: Keep your mini lesson MINI!

Your whole group instruction is a very small portion of math workshop.  Most of the actual learning will take place during the small group guided instruction that happens through centers and stations. Your mini lesson should serve to introduce new concepts and connect them to prior learning. Save the examples, challenges, and scaffolding for the part of the math workshop that focuses on more personalized teaching.

If your students create a math notebook resource (such as an interactive notebook), your whole group instruction is the perfect time to work on it.  Resource notebooks are great for introducing new concepts in a concise way. Plus, they provide a helpful reference for students to revisit throughout the year.

Tip #3: Never skip the Teacher Station

Your teacher station, small group, guided lesson, or whatever you call it, is the most important part of student learning.  No matter how tempting it is to skip it here and there, don’t! Your small group is where all the magic happens.  Students learn best through your personalized instruction, and you’ll get to see all the  light bulb moments during this time.  Hold your small group time with your students as sacred time.  Don’t let anything or anyone distract from it.

Over time, you’ll realize which students you need to meet with more often, which students only require a quick check-in, and which students are ripe for a challenge. There is a lot of flexibility with the students you meet with during your small group lessons.  The most important thing is that you are using this time to make the greatest instructional impact possible.

How to Have A Math Workshop

Tip #4: Centers are the perfect way to practice math skills

Make sure the stations you choose are expertly designed to practice the skills that you are introducing in whole group and teaching in small group. Make sure the activities you choose are “meats and potatoes” activities.  Avoid station “desserts” and “snacks.” It’s tempting to choose the cutest and most engaging activities, but you should weigh the outcome with the investment.  Just because your students would LOVE that escape room, doesn’t mean you should use it!  And just because Valentine’s Day is rolling around, doesn’t mean you should pull out that super cute heart monster activity you have.  Expertly craft your centers to reinforce the skills you’re teaching. Helping your students have success will be much more meaningful than helping them have fun.  If you can combine success and fun, then go for it!

Tip #5: Don’t forget the skills of weeks past

Use a warm-up time to practice skills that your class has already learned.  Look for resources that are spiraled so that students revisit skills over and over. Long term retention comes from repeated exposure. When you don’t have to spend time reteaching, you’ll accomplish much more from your regular class period!

Tip #6: Clone Yourself

In this day of readily available technology, it’s never been easier to replicate yourself.  Screencastify should become your new best friend! It’s easy to record quick directions, instructions, and lessons.  They’ll automatically save in your Google Drive and can be shared with all of your students with a click of a button.

Instead of using whole group time to show students how to complete a station activity, just record yourself giving the instructions.  Then students can access the instructions as many times as they need to. You can use a digital white board to complete sample problems, and you can even create digital answer keys so that students can self-assess.

When you’re able to replicate yourself, you are better able to dedicate yourself to your small groups of students that need your undivided attention.

Tip #7: Go on Autopilot

The first tip I shared was to establish a routine and stick with it.  You can put your class on autopilot using digital rotation schedules.  Built-in timers and transitions will take the guess work out of staying on schedule.  Students love having a predictable day! When they know what’s expected of them, they’re much more likely to stay on task and accomplish everything. I have a post about creating your own digital rotation schedule. You can read about it here.

math workshop centers rotation chart PowerPoint

How to Have A Math Workshop

Tip #8: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

My first years of teaching were much more difficult because they were long before the invention of TpT and Pinterest. There were hardly any educational bloggers that I could learn from.  Nowadays, anything you need can be found on Pinterest or Teachers Pay Teachers. There are lots of free or very inexpensive options for helping you facilitate a math workshop.  When you’re looking for resources, choose substance over cuteness.  Splurge on products that you know you can use for years to come.  I used to be hesitant about spending money on resources, but I soon realized that I was much happier spending $2.00 than I was 2 hours!

My first few years of teaching highlighted the need for small group lesson materials, math center games, and technology-integrated activities.  For the last few years, I have focused on helping teachers by providing resources that make implementing a math workshop much less stressful. When you have the materials you need, all of the “work” is taken out of the workshop model.

Download a FREE Math Workshop Resource Kit!

You can download a free kit to help you see what kinds of resources you’ll need when facilitating a math workshop.  It includes interactive notebook pages to help guide your whole group lesson, small group materials to help differentiate for students through guided lessons, a game for practicing the skill, and an engaging Kahoot to allow students to practice with technology. 

Download it for FREE!
No strings attached!

How to Have A Math Workshop

Tip #9: Start a Future Teachers Club

When I was a little girl, I knew I would be a teacher.  My best school days were the ones where my teachers let me help file, grade, or CUT LAMINATION.  Those days that I got to cut lamination were the days when I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  Today is no different.  Every teacher has students in her class that love to help with the behind-the-scenes teacher tasks.  Why not start a “Future Teachers Club”?! You can meet with your students once or twice before or after class and work on creating the math center games for the upcoming weeks. They can help organize, prepare, and learn what being a teacher is all about.

Tip #10: Collaborate with Other Teachers

Your team can be your strongest tool for having a successful math workshop! Don’t forget about the power of great minds coming together to do great things. With some creativity, teams can greatly reduce the amount of time spent planning and prepping for the learning that will be going on. If you happen to be on a team of teachers that don’t buy into the math workshop philosophy, don’t let it deter you.  Once they see the success you’re having, they’ll be asking for your help and advice for getting them started.

Tip #11: Let Students Collaborate with Each Other


When I first started integrating technology, I was limited in the number of computers I had.  I was forced to have students share computers, which turned out to be very lucky for me! I discovered that when students worked together and practiced together, they actually learned more than they did on their own.  Don’t be scared of learning partners and team work.  Whether students are playing games or doing basic worksheets, they can and will learn more by working with a partner than if they were working alone.

Bonus tip: Invest in headphone splitters so that students sharing a computer can have their own set of headphones!

How to Have A Math Workshop

Tip #12: Practice Expectations

Dive into math workshop slowly and easily.  When you’re first starting, leave yourself enough freedom to manage student behavior and expectations. Predict problems that may arise and develop consequences to those problems so that when they do arise, students learn that unacceptable behavior will not be tolerated.  With a little time and a lot of consistency, your math workshop will run itself!

Tip #13: Don’t Give Up

It took me years of trial and error to bring my vision of a successful math workshop to life. Every thing that goes wrong is just an opportunity to learn how to do it right.  If you keep at it, your math workshop will become a success.  Your students will achieve great things, and you’ll feel like the teacher you’ve always wanted to be!

How to Have A Math Workshop

Grab a Free Math Workshop Resource Kit!

Cassi Noack and Minds in Bloom are excited to offer this free download along with 3 other money-saving bundles as part of the February collaboration. It is available in Rachel Lynette’s Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Grab this free product now!  It’s only here through the end of February!

  • Join Minds in Bloom UNLIMITED!

  • Reading Practice for the Whole Year

    Close Reading Comprehension Practice
  • Make Learning Fun!

    Using Task Cards in the Classroom
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