How to Organize a Math Workshop

Don’t start a math workshop until you have done a little organizing and planning!

Math Workshop

The better you organize your math workshop, the better your results will be!

Once you know how you’re going to divide up your block of time, you can start putting routines and procedures together that will help your workshop run itself!

Teach Routines and Procedures

Your workshop will be broken into 3 main parts: mini lesson, practice opportunities, and assessment/reflection. Each portion of your workshop will look different, but will each have important routines and procedures.

But first, why are routines and procedures important?

  • makes the teacher’s life easier
  • saves valuable classroom time
  • gives students boundaries
  • Helps create independent learners
  • Frees up the teacher
  • Helps prevent behavior problems
  • Helps students feel safe


Routines that are helpful for the mini lesson portion of the math workshop

  • Where will your mini lesson be held? I like to have the students come sit on the carpet facing the smart board. Many teachers allow their students to stay in their desks, but I find having them closer to me helps me connect with them as I teach the lesson. 
  • How will the students know it’s time for the mini lesson? Use a verbal or auditory signal to let students know the lesson is starting. You may choose to play a quick song that gives the students enough time to finish up and make their way to the carpet.  At this point, students should know where they’re sitting, how they’re behaving, and what they need to have with them. For example, you may have your students bring a white board and dry erase marker or a set of answer paddles with them. 
  • How do I keep my mini lesson on track? Your lesson should be short. Use a timer to make sure you don’t go too long. It also helps to have all the teaching materials and manipulatives you may need near you. 

Organizing the practice portion of your math workshop

Math Organization

How can the teacher work with a small group of students while other students are working independently? 

This is the most challenging part of math workshop for most teachers. One of the foundations of this teaching model is the ability to have small group instruction. For students to work independent of the teacher, strong routines and procedures must be in place.

The following questions will need to be addressed:

  • What activities will students be working on when they are not working with the teacher?
  • If there are multiple activities going on simultaneously, how will the teacher ensure the students are learning?
  • How will the students know how to complete any given activity?
  • How will the students know when it’s time to start a new activity?

Let’s start with the last question. We’ll dig deeper into the other questions in a later post.

Centers, Rotations, & Stations

The easiest way to keep your students moving smoothly from one activity to another is by having a well-versed system in place

I have found that categorizing learning activities helps plan a variety of engaging practice opportunities.

In my classroom, we had the same centers all year long:

  • Math with a friend
  • Math with yourself
  • Math with the teacher
  • Math with technology
  • Math in the real world

Math Workshop Students

Each of these centers were stocked with worksheets, task cards, games, and other learning activities, and students rotated among them.

When students are in Math with a Friend, they typically play review games. Sometimes the game is assigned digitally and sometimes it’s a hands-on board game. Students will need to understand how the game is played without interrupting you while you’re teaching your small group.

Create procedures that help ensure students know:

  • how to play the game
  • where to find the materials
  • How to deal with conflict
  • When & how to clean up in preparation for the next group to play
  • how to get help if needed

Math with a Friend

During  Math with Yourself, I usually had students complete worksheets or math book pages, take formative assessments, finish up unfinished work, or work on independent projects. Luckily, this station doesn’t require a whole lot of focused teaching of routines and procedures.  They will need to know how to get help when needed and how to access any materials they may need while learning.

To me, Math with Technology, is one of the easiest stations to manage! This is because everything a student could need can be provided by the tech they’re using for learning. Make sure you have a process for:

  • Retrieving and returning the device
  • Sharing technology with a learning partner
  • Logging in to needed programs and sites
  • Dealing with inappropriate content if it comes up

But, the benefits are that:

  • You can alleviate questions with video instructions
  • You can link to needed reference materials, such as glossaries, teaching videos, and reviews of previously taught concepts

Math with Technology

I used a schedule to keep my students on track. You can read all about my digital rotation board here

No matter how you organize your centers and stations, having your resources and materials planned ahead of time will help everything run smoothly. I’ve been ordering meal delivery kits for a few years now.  On the weeks I don’t order, I find myself scrambling and making due with less desirable meals. Having your resources and materials planned for your classroom ahead of time will take the daily stress of “what am I going to do today” off your plate.

If you’re looking for something to take the guesswork out of planning your math workshop, check out our math kits. You can read more about our “Everything You Need” Math Kits. Plus, you can download a free kit to try it out!

Prepare your learning materials ahead of time

One drawback of a math workshop is that it does require more materials than a traditional classroom that depends mostly on a textbook.  Students will need games to play, manipulatives to help build understanding, activities that facilitate repetitive practice, videos, games, assessments, and the list goes on.

When planning, I think about my stations and the skill I want students to learn. Let’s say I’m teaching equivalent fractions. Here’s what I’ll need:

  • equivalent fractions game for my “Math with a Friend” station
  • practice sheets (or textbook pages) for “Math with Myself”
  • fraction bars manipulatives for my “Math with the Teacher” station
  • a website or online activity for “Math with Technology”
  • Videos that teach (or reteach) the skill
  • an assessment so that I’ll know when students have mastered the skill

Math Manipulatives

Once I know what I’ll need, I can quickly find those things. 

Games for centers or small group lessons require a little prep work. Printing, cutting, laminating, pasting, and preserving.  By “preserving” I mean finding ways to make sure I can use the game again next year. I may find a plastic box or envelope to keep all the pieces in.

I’ll also make sure that everything the students need to play the game is available.  Oftentimes, it’s scratch paper, dry erase markers, calculator, or dice. 

I also find that I’ll need copies of worksheets or other paper-based activities. Having all these copies ahead of time will help you avoid standing in link at the (broken down) copy machine during your lunch break.

Systems and organization are the magic words for making your math workshop run smoothly day by day.   Think of your planning, gathering, and organizing as an investment into the rest of your week. 

Anticipate what could go wrong

The last thing I want to talk about in this post is the importance of thinking ahead about what could go wrong in your math workshop so that you can have a plan to mitigate any issues.

Here are some things that could go awry:

  • The students could talk and play instead of working
  • The students could rush through their work
  • The students could not pay attention when watching learning videos
  • It could get too loud if everyone is on technology
  • Students could not use technology correctly or visit unapproved sites
  • The students may not understand an assignment
  • Game pieces could go missing
  • Students may not know where to turn in a paper

This list could go on and on.

Crazy Classroom

But the important thing is to spend a few minutes thinking about what could go wrong so that you can put systems in place to help keep those things from going wrong.  Logical consequences can help alleviate misbehavior, and organization systems can answer questions that might arise about where materials are or where they go.

So, just to recap, it’s really important to stay organized while you are planning and running a math workshop. Over the next weeks, we are going to continue sharing bite size pieces of information that will help you get started.

Read as many or as few of these posts as you want.  Dig deep or just test the waters. It’s up to you! Either way, I’m convinced that you will soon see that the math workshop format is an amazing way to build mathematicians in your classroom.

Fraction Anchor Charts

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