Guided Math: Differentiating Instruction

Guided Math allows the teacher to differentiate math instruction to reach every student. The structure of Guided Math allows for support of each level of learner through the use of small groups.

It’s just like Guided Reading, but for your Math block.

All teachers have this innate ability to create powerful and supportive groups for learning. We collect data like bosses, and we teach, reteach, and reinforce like bosses. It’s like it’s in our blood.

But there are times when re-creating the wheel is unnecessary, or we need to switch things up.

And it’s always a good idea to keep a few tricks in your back pocket.

So how do you group your students? And how often do you change the grouping of students?

Grouping students can be done in tens of different ways, but I group students by:

  • math topic OR
  • student ability level

I change Guided Math groups when we change topics. Because I teach in a self-contained special needs classroom, this could be weekly or monthly, depending on how quickly students are mastering the skill(s) being taught.

And, honestly, sometimes, because my classroom houses kids in grades 1-4, I am teaching 4 different topics at once. #iknow  Centers are my best friend, and utilizing my classroom para is key to surviving.

While Guided Math can look very different in two classrooms (centers are different or timing is a few minutes different), the overall scheduling piece is somewhat similar.

Your district or your school dictates how much time is given to teach math.

Let’s say you have 90 minutes a day for math:

  • Warm up – 10 minutes
  • Whole Group Lesson – 30 minutes
  • Math Centers / Rotations – 40 minutes
    • 3 – 5 different centers
  • Clean up and Closing / Reflection  – 10 minutes

You also want to keep in mind that at the beginning of the week, you may need to teach students how to use certain centers or what to do in certain centers. That way you can focus on your small group while other students are working independently.

One tip for being more efficient with time in relation to centers is to choose a couple of styles of center, and use the same styles all year. For example, your centers could be: 1. small group, 2. file folders, 3. computer / tablet, 4. work task.

At the beginning of the year, you will teach students how to use the centers and what to do, and only need to shortly reteach or use visual reminders at the centers. This will save you, the teacher, time.

Besides centers helping my students thrive in Guided Math, another survival tip is to have one key place for all supplies for each student or each group.

Student VS. Group supply caddies will depend on the dynamics of your classroom.

[ Order my supply caddy here. ]

My classroom is color coded. You can read all about that here and here. And I have found it most beneficial to have an individual supply cup for each student. The above picture is the exact supply caddy I use in my classroom.

When it is time to work, my students know to go grab their cup and bring it to the table. We do practice and have visual reminders that we only take the supplies we need out of the cup, the rest stay in the cup. When we are finished with a supply, it goes back in the cup. This helps keep individual work spaces tidy and the table area clean.

[ Order a community supply caddy set here. ]

When my students go in to an inclusive setting with their peers, most classrooms use a table supply caddy. I love this because it helps students not only learn to share supplies, but to keep a community area clean.

Teachers will number each community  supply caddy, or color code them, so there aren’t disagreements over supplies.

Supplies I have seen in community caddies include (but are not limited to):

  • 1 set of markers / 3-4 packs of crayons
  • paint daubers / bingo daubers
  • 3-4 bottles of glue / glue sticks
  • 1 big eraser for each student
  • 1 dry erase marker for each student / dry eraser
  • scissors

…but you can put any and all supplies in the community caddies.

I’ve also been in multiple classrooms where students will have individual pencil boxes in their desks, filled with individual supplies of pencils, crayons, scissors, and an erasers… and then on top of the grouped desks will be a community supply caddy with glue and other shareable supplies.

data shortcuts lead magnet

How do you plan for Guided Math groups? Let us know in the comments below!


  • Next up, the must have manipulatives you need in your special needs classroom for Guided Math. Click here to read.
  • Looking for Smashing Strategies for Guided Reading: start here.


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