Small Group Work With \”I Choose\”
Small Group Work With \”I Choose\”

It is possible to use math small group instruction in middle school with a bit of upfront planning! Tips for implementation and ideas to get your math small groups running smoothly. |

What do you do with the kids that “don’t get it”? I think this is a constant battle that we face as teachers. Sometimes it even keeps us up at night. Today I wanted to share tips for implementing math small group instruction.

If your classroom functions like mine, a typical class period might consist of a warm up, guided notes, a class activity that is simultaneously accessible and engaging, and finally, an exit ticket for students to demonstrate mastery. Whew! That is a lot for 60 minutes.


In my first year of teaching, math small group instruction wasn’t even on my radar, yet the longer I have spent in the classroom, the more comfortable I am making small groups part of my daily routine. Like any classroom routine, you must train yourself as much as you must train your students. Today, I am going to give you some tips I have learned along the way, so you can set up your math small groups to be as successful as possible.


Know Who You Are Pulling
  • This might seem like a no brainer, but there were several days that I would get to the time in class for a small group, and then I would not do it because I was not prepared. Sure, I knew who my strugglers were, but I did not have a plan on who to pull or even why I would pull them. Either make a list based on class groups ahead of time, or take mental notes on which students are struggling as you circulate while teaching.
  • Consider the personalities of your students as well as their academic needs when making small groups. You will most likely pull the same students on a consistent basis, so create standard small groups that will make your job easier. Typically, I had around 8 students who I would pull, so I split those 8 students into 2 groups of 4. Group 1 might be those students who need a little more guidance to reinforce the new concept while group 2 might be the students who need significantly more support and be pulled more frequently. I also split up any behavioral needs amongst the two groups. You can even give your groups names, so that when you transition from notes to classwork, you can just say, “Gryffindor, meet me at the horseshoe table” or “Ravenclaw, you will need a highlighter for small group.”
Set Expectations for Rest of Class
  • What is the rest of your class doing during this time? How much time do they have to do it? Are they allowed out of their seat? What do they do if they need help? Your students should know the answers to all of these questions before you pull a small group. You will end up frustrated and annoyed if you’re spending your time correcting students or getting up to answer questions from other students. At the beginning of the year, I explain to my whole class why I pull small groups and how important it is for us to support our teammates who need extra help. One way they can support those students is to maintain a reasonable volume and to complete their work regardless of who is watching them. During a small group, there is a 100% chance that students in your class will have a question, so assign a responsible student to field questions for you. You can also set the expectation that students may only ask a question if no one else at their table knows the answer and they have looked at their notes.


Gauge Understanding Before You Start
  • Before you begin, find out where your students are. You can do this a couple different ways. Informally, you can ask students on a scale of 1 to 5, how well do they understand what they just learned. Side note: make sure to explain how the scale works (1 = no clue and 5 = you could teach the class). I have found that most students are great at evaluating their needs. If a student has no idea what is going on, they will tell you 1. More formally, you can have students start a problem on their own, and watch to see where or if they begin to make a mistake. And on a rare occasion, be amazed that they can do it all by themselves, give yourself a pat on the back because you are the BEST teacher ever, and send them back to work on their own.
Keep It Simple
  • You have enough to do as a teacher. You do not have to create different material for your small group. Students can work on what the rest of the class is completing. If you need to make the material more accessible, ask yourself ‘what skill are we practicing?’ If the objective is to calculate volume, perhaps you can change the classwork to include only whole numbers while the rest of the class is finding volume with decimals and fractions. Sometimes, different material is appropriate, but remember to not bite off more than you can chew. When you are first starting, keep it simple.
Whiteboards Are Your Friend
  • Students love to write on whiteboards! Whiteboards keep students engaged, and as the teacher, allow you to easily see what the students are doing. This will enable you to correct misconceptions on the spot and provide immediate feedback. Plus, they are just so much more fun than paper and pencil. Personally, I used these whiteboard clipboards.


Watch ‘Em Work
  • Provide a problem for students to complete independently. Watch them as they work. Don’t ask any questions and just allow them to show you what they have learned in your small group. If there are still misunderstandings after the student has finished, give another student from your small group who did it correctly an opportunity to explain what they did to the struggling student. Sometimes, students explain better than us teachers. 😉
Determine Next Steps

Remember, one small group pull out will not fix every math misconception, and some students need more time and more attention. Baby steps are still steps after all, and your students are lucky to have a teacher that cares so much. If you are looking for a way to track their progress, you can check out these forms I use here. Stay positive and make sure these students know that you, as their teacher, believe in them!

For more ideas and specifics on math small group instruction check out Guided Math Instruction. It is aimed towards elementary students, but has some great tips that transfer to middle school. Teachers, what other tips do you have?

For even more tips on organizing data and small group instruction, check out this follow up post.

Click to find out more about Maneuvering Math™.

Mrs. Brack is a sixth grade math teacher in Texas and my sister. She is super creative, yet practical and loves her students so well. She will be periodically posting on the blog this summer because she is the best sister and because she has great ideas that I know you will love. 😉

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