Math Workshop in First Grade

October 4, 2016

Successfully implementing math workshop in first grade took a long time for me to feel comfortable with and I finally felt like I had a system of math games, activities, and a layout that worked in my classroom!


That being said, I wanted to take some time today to share what my math block looks like!

I use the workshop model in reading, writing, and math and it is a model that I truly love. It fosters independence and allows me plenty of time to get to my guided groups without all the hustle and bustle (and confusion) of rotating centers.

The overall outline of my math workshop looks like this:
[5 minutes]      Warm Up
[10 minutes]      Whole Group Lesson (explicit teaching)
[5-10 minutes]      Guided Practice
[20-30 minutes]      Math Tubs
[2-3 minutes]      Closure


Any model you choose to do in your classroom requires practice and stamina and believe me, I’ve tried quite a few, but workshop is most certainly my favorite. It works for me and my first grade students! I thought I would share a bit about each section of math workshop and what it looks like in my room.


Warm Up:
5 minutes
This is generally short and is a FUN way for us to get our brains ready for math! This can be a great time to review a skill we’ve already learned, get some practice on what we are learning now, or challenge ourselves with some critical thinking practice! I wrote a whole post about my favorite math warm ups [here], but I will highlight a few of my favorites.


Students stand in a circle and practice counting. Each game has a rule for buzz. For instance, the buzz may be multiples of 5. So each student goes around saying a number, but if their turn is a multiple of 5 they must say BUZZ instead! If they do this correctly, the person after them must sit down. If a student messes up or doesn’t know the next number, they sit down. The last person standing wins!
{1, 2, 3, 4, BUZZ, 6, 7, 8, 9, BUZZ}
You can do this while skip counting as well!


Make 11:
This is a simple partner game where students face one another with their hands behind their back. On the count of 3, they throw out any combination of their fingers and together, with their partner, they try to make 11. They do this over and over for 5 minutes seeing how many times they can do it.


Fix it Cards:
Generally once a skill has been taught already, I will use a fix-it card as a warm up for review!


Here is what they look like:
These are great to throw under the projector and have students EXPLAIN their thinking and not only identify what is wrong, but also how they could fix it. Listening to their explanations really lets me see what they have learned and if they need to review certain skills.


You can find fix it cards for every math subject here in these: higher order thinking tasks!



Whole Group Lesson:
10 minutes
 After our quick warm up, I begin our whole group lesson.


This is where I explicitly teach and model the skill we will be learning!
As the teacher, I am the driving force of this portion. This is where I will be as clear as I can when teaching the skill at hand.


I will:
– Stand (or sit) where every student can see me
– Model with concrete examples
– Think aloud throughout my process
– Explain common misconceptions
– Model the activity we will be completing during guided practice



Guided Practice:
5-10 minutes
 During this portion of the lesson, my students are given the opportunity to practice what they have just learned. During this time, I generally have students pair up or work in groups to practice what has just been taught/shown in my modeled lesson. As the teacher, it is my main job to go group to group to help guide my students.


This is where I take many observational notes on which students may need re-teaching (or extension) of this skill during small groups. My students also know I am available to help answer any questions about the activity and clear up any confusion!


I will often pose guiding questions to my students and try to listen in on their math conversations!


[activity above from my Number Sense Unit]



Math Tubs:
20-30 minutes
 During this portion of the lesson, students are working with a partner or by themselves on games and/or activities that they already know how to play and have been taught before. This gives me the time to focus on my small groups.


This portion can be the trickiest in terms of student management, but if you set your clear expectations and stick with it, your students will often surprise you and you’ll get a good chunk of time to focus on small groups!


This is how I run math tubs:
My math tubs are numbered 1-8 and then I have 4 colored buckets underneath.
There are often 2 activities inside each numbered tub correlating to the same skill. Each tub has all the materials needed to play the game or complete the activity.


The colored bins underneath each have 1 activity in them with the materials needed.


I often pair up my students during this time based on ability level and they keep those partners for a couple weeks or until they need to be switched!


I will simply tell them:
“Student A and Student B, you can work from bin 5 today and then choose purple or pink”


That will look like this:
Let’s pretend bin 5 has addition activities within 20 because that’s what student A and student B need some practice with! So inside the bin it will have:

A hands on, addition activity [free, here]

and a print and play board game practicing addition within 12. [math game, HERE]


My students will work on both those activities together until they are completed. If they would like to, they can play both or one of the games again! It’s up to them. However, once those are completed, they can choose to go onto the purple or pink bucket which has a third activity (not necessarily addition related and usually a review OR extension activity).


For example:
after practicing addition, students could choose this missing addend game from the pink/purple bucket. [game found in my print and play math games]


It isn’t that often that my students make it to a third activity during their time, but it does allow them the opportunity to play a new game if our math tubs time is not over.


This system allows me to know exactly what skills my students are working on that day/week and let’s this time be geared towards their needs.


My students know those are their only options during that time UNLESS I have stated otherwise!


I will often use our technology during this time as well and will allow students to play school approved math games online or on the iPad when specified.


Also, each month students receive a mini-book of story problems and instead of choosing a colored bucket, I will ask that students go back to their seats and complete some pages from their booklet:
[story problems, found HERE]


While my students are having ALL that fun. I am pulling small groups to either re-teach the lesson from the day, review a lesson taught previously, or challenge and offer extensions of the skills we have learned! The materials I use to complete all those are often the same as in our math tubs with some minor differentiation and ME, of course, to explicitly guide and teach. If I am offering extension, I love to have my students work on higher order thinking questions.


[higher order math tasks HERE]


2-3 minutes
 After we clean up, but before we move onto the next subject, I like to provide some closure to our lesson.


– I may pose a question to the class that I already asked during our main lesson and have students share their answer with a partner while I walk around and listen.
– I may have a student share a lightbulb moment I witnessed during the math block and we will all cheer for him/her!
– I may ask one student in each group to “be the teacher”  and explain to their peers what the lesson was today.


Whatever it is, it’s generally quick and to the point!

Here is an example of what a number sense lesson looks like in my room:


So there you have it, that’s how I run math workshop in my first grade classroom! Do you use math workshop in your class? What does it look like for you? Any tips or tricks you can share to help it run smoothly? Share them with me in the comments!


Looking for lessons and materials to run math workshop in your room?! I have ALL the warm ups, detailed lessons, hands on activities, centers, games shown above, and MORE ready for you in one, easy bundled unit! This first grade math workshop curriculum will last you the ENTIRE year!


You can check them it out by clicking the image below:


Looking for more standards-based math games that will engage your learners and save you lots of time?!

Join hundreds of primary teachers over in the SJT Math Club:


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  • Hi! I am a first year teacher teaching first grade. Our math block has been a little hectic this far, especially in terms of my orgnization. By having it all spelled out like this with the time frames, plays your detailed ideas for different activities, it is so helpful! I can't wait to try out your methods this upcoming week. Thank you so much for this helpful article! 🙂