To teach **kindergarten math**, I use a **guided math** format. Here is how I break down **what is guided math**, how to start, setting up a system that works for you and thinking outside of your set curriculum. This format has become my go-to way of teaching kindergarten math and I won’t turn back!

If you’re considering teaching math in small groups, I hope this can serve as a cornerstone place to start with and come back to. I’ve hand picked the included articles to help break it down and work at it one step at a time.

## What is Guided Math?

Guided math is a system you put in place to teach students math in small groups. You guide them to master the standards {and exceed them!} by offering opportunities to create strategies, discuss math thinking and learning in a range that is differentiated for them.

Normally in a guided math classroom setting, you’ll be working with a small group of students. The other students are working on developing their math skills and practicing strategies independently. It works out great if students can work on center or station type of open-ended activities in heterogeneous {mixed ability level} groupings. This is so that other students can support and learn from/teach each other.

If you’re considering making the jump to teaching in this format, then here are my top tips on how to put guided math into practice in kindergarten. My top tips include my thoughts before I started and how I’ve adapted them since starting. Everyone will tweak the system to make it work in their own classroom. Hopefully some of these tips can help you find what works for you!

## How to Start Guided Math

### Planning

Guided math takes planning to get up and running. If you’re anything like me, it means you’re not using any set curriculum. It means that you’re using your standards as your guide and you’ll be creating lessons to help students dig deep to explore, work through misconceptions and really LEARN and master the nitty gritty of it all. I generally plan my kindergarten standards-based math curriculum in nine week chunks. This helps me get the big picture and I can work my way down to a weekly set of objectives.

The beauty behind teaching math this way lies in meeting students and growing them where they’re at. While my big picture planning helps me have main goals for the quarter, I’ve created a guided math binder that helps me plan for each group. I create a set of plans that follows the skills at different paces to meet the needs of my kinders and tweak those plans on a regular basis.

Planning can feel a bit overwhelming at first, just as when learning anything new. But, it’s totally worth it. And – you can do it.

To help with planning, stash away game and activity ideas for your centers as you find them by standard or skill. That way you’ve got a go-to set of resources when you see it on your planning schedule! Here’s an example of materials I’ve collected for teaching math in the last quarter of the school year and how I organize it all.

### Time

Carving out time to teach math this way is totally worth it. I had to ditch some things I normally had in my lesson plans and make some tweaks to find roughly an additional 45 mins. four times a week. Why? Because I felt it was worth it. And I never went back. I simply either got more creative or more effective with my time elsewhere.

I’ve taught math in the mornings and the afternoons. Both work! Keeping a routine in our day has always been an advantage for my kinders. No matter when you can fit it in, or even if you have to break it up – you can still make teaching in groups work.

### Creating A System {Setup}

The details of how many independent centers you set up, the rotation of groups and the rules are all things to consider when creating your own system. Start simple! You can always add to it later on.

Create a teacher space where you can meet with your group. Keep your most-used teaching materials close by so that you have what you need without a lot of prep time. Set up your teaching space to be as smart-working as possible. You want everything within arm’s reach whenever possible.

**If you teach guided reading, think about how can you make your guided math time feel similar?** Can you use a similar rotation system? How about keeping a stash of tools like dice, number lines and counters in arm’s reach – just like you keep pointers for reading leveled books?

## Guided Math Zones {Or Stations/Centers}

So, how do we keep other kinders engaged while working with a small group of students. In kindergarten, I find it’s always a balancing act. There are times when technology or social skills impede what’s going on, but that’s just part of life with five year olds.

I call my independent math zones just that. Zones. I wanted something that sounded very different from ‘centers’ to avoid any confusion when rolling it out with my new kinders. I have 3 independent zones that operate at the same time as the teacher zone. I currently do not have heterogeneous groups, but I’d like to!

### Practice Zone

Students play games or do interactive/manipulative activities to reinforce skills or strategies that I’ve taught in groups in the Practice Zone. It’s one that can really be simple and run smoothly if you offer choice.

### Technology Zone

Students use classroom laptops {that are practically dead} to play skill-based games online. I’ve set up this Technology Zone to be differentiated already. They play a set of games twice each week for two weeks. With good repetition, they enjoy playing these cool games for kids.

### Recording Zone

Students learn to record their thinking using math journals. It’s called the Recording Zone. It’s my way of staying away from worksheets and offering students the chance to work through multi-step work and often problem-solving prompts. They choose how to represent their thinking with just a few requirements (that grow as they do). It’s one of my favorite ways to see student growth and an easy built-in assessment tool!

No matter what zones (or math centers) you choose to include, you can work smart and have students engaged leaving you to work with small groups!

## Teaching Small Groups

So you find the time, you plan the big picture and you even figure out what other kiddos will do while you work with groups. Now… what in the world do you do in small groups?

### Teacher Zone

What you don’t do is teach the same lesson to every group! You may teach a similar lesson, or use the same materials, but you change up the level of support (or the range of numbers) for each group. I’ve found that composing and decomposing numbers is a great example of how to teach a similar concept at different levels.

**Asking questions is important.** When you’re guiding readers you don’t tell them what strategy to try, you ask questions… It’s the same in math. You ask questions to help them think. While it may feel awkward (and you may face crickets) it’s totally worth it. My most famous question on this blog is why does 10+6=16?

What I’ve found is that keeping my kindergarten math teaching materials organized makes teaching different levels and teaching something on the fly easier.

My favorite thing I continually learn over and over? They end up teaching me! When listening, discussing and trouble-shooting in small groups you really get to know how each child thinks about solving math.

### Assessing

Building assessment into your small group lessons is a big time saver! I like to recognize students who meet kindergarten goals whenever possible. Plus, tracking data is now just a part of what we do with Common Core. For some of the direct 1:1 testing (like can they name or describe the 3D shapes), I will do my best to knock that out during a lesson warm up or build it into a lesson activity.

## Do You Still Teach Math Whole Group?

The answer is yes. In order to get the entire system up and running, we take the first four weeks of school. I rely on teaching monster numbers {tools to learn 0-10} whole group to help get everyone thinking math and understanding what math time will look like. We don’t break into small groups until week 4 or 5. I start out teaching groups with these basic five-frame activities.

Throughout the year, I use “calendar time” to work on the basics and unify the class with exposure. I knew that calendar time needed to change and when the Common Core standards were in place, that I needed to dig even deeper. So, we do calendar time binders which allows me to teach Common Core standards whole group. With this built in, I can choose to do as little or as much in a day as needed to support my students. The “calendar” portion takes only a few minutes and the rest is all **math thinking exploration** and practice.

## Thinking Outside The Box

If you’re not being handed a box of guided math curriculum… what do you do if all you’ve ever known is following a curriculum guide?

### Creating Games and Lesson Materials

You may find that there are resources already available like 12 free picture directions for math games {printable}. You may also find yourself creating games or manipulatives like a math rack {rekenrek} or ten frame manipulatives in order to help your students be more successful. That’s great! Either way, choose the tools to best help your students understand and master the objectives.

Choose materials that will allow for discussion and encourage multiple strategies for solving! I had to completely ditch my math curriculum since it didn’t go at a pace to match our standards nor did it actually go deeper than surface level skills.

Scary? Yes.

Too Hard? No.

### How Do I Teach Without Curriculum?

First, you’ve got to know your standards and which ones are the most important. Be real with yourself and study them. Find out what they mean and ask someone if you’re not sure! Truly, not all standards are created equally. Some will demand more time and attention. That’s okay.

You may find that some skills can easily be taught with little repetition like 2 activities and 5 videos to help teach 2D shapes or that you need to invest multiple lessons to work on describing 3D shapes with a particular group. You have the flexibility to do that with teaching math in this style.

### …from Someone Who’s Been There…

- Decide to do it.
- Find a starting place.
- Dig deep and don’t let fear hold you back.

If you like what I do here on KindergartenWorks, then be sure to subscribe today. I look forward to sharing ideas with you weekly.

### More Kindergarten Math

- Composing and Decomposing Numbers: A Guided Math Lesson Plan Flow
- Kindergarten Subtraction Game: What’s the Difference
- Ways to Make 5 Bingo {Freebie Printable}
- Subtraction – Am I the Last One? {printable}

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Holly says

Quick question…do you use the same guided math lesson plans each year or do you write new plans each year based on the needs of your students?

Leslie @KindergartenWorks says

That is an excellent question! I will often re-use the same lesson ideas to cover the standards, but I will always plan/tweak it to fit the needs of my current kinders. Sometimes it’s just the pacing that’ll change because one group just gets it! Having said that – that goes for mainly my on-grade level students.

For my way advanced kinders or for those who are way below grade level – I’ve had to create new lessons that tailor to their skills and pacing.

– Leslie

Heather says

Can you share a bit more about the recording zone? Where do you get the prompts? How does it work?

Leslie @KindergartenWorks says

Hi Heather,

Here is a link that can give you a little more info: http://www.kindergartenworks.com/kindergarten-teaching-ideas/math-journals-meet-common-core/. I wrote the prompts along with a teaching partner. Hope that link can help you learn a little more.

– Leslie

Amanda J says

Hi Leslie! I love reading your blog! I am really excited to try guided next math year and have already begun planning for it even though I’m not done with this year! I know you talk about your centers being open ended so that the students can keep going for the whole time and aren’t “done” before it’s time to switch centers. What do you have students do who finish their math journal in the recording zone before time is up?

Leslie @KindergartenWorks says

Hi Amanda,

Congrats on planning for next year – you’ll be so thankful you did. I’m excited for you! Normally, we tried to make our math prompts for their math journals open ended too. We taught various expectations along the way that would keep them working as they grew their skills. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

– Leslie

Andrea says

I just love the idea behind guided math in kinder. I’ve been trying to start implementing it for the last year and half and haven’t been super successful. My district has a purchased math curriculum that includes the purchase of daily math worksheets. For many lessons these need a lot of direct instruction and I found it hard to teach in a small period of time during my small groups in guided math. I should mention I also teach half-day K so my math time is limited to 30-40 minutes max. Do you have any tips on where to start or what to prioritize?

Leslie @KindergartenWorks says

Hi Andrea, Congrats on doing your best to get it off the ground and running! Our math curriculum was Saxon and it was all worksheets (blah! in my opinion). So, to be honest, I just ditched them! I save a copy of each to use for remediation (or sometimes homework) but normally, found that the hands-on, small group work had way more impact with my kiddos. I understand that with a half day program you have to cut things down, but I felt like teaching in a small group/center format was highest priority for me in both la and math. When I taught half day, I didn’t do guided math yet, but I did prioritize guided reading and could see doing the same today with both if I went back to a half day situation. See how you could re-work the idea of the worksheets (if you have to use them) or have a parent helper assist. Focus on the meat of what they really need to know during your math time – in as much as a small group setting as possible and consider how you can borrow from your calendar time to work on the core math things at levels that are more differentiated for each group.

– Leslie