I first started teaching self-contained third grade three years ago.  After spending close to 10 years in and out of classrooms, working with intervention students, and seeing some amazing teaching and learning, I knew I wanted to do math centers in my room and I knew how my math block ‘should’ look.  I wanted time to meet with small groups of students, and I wanted students to have time working independently.  And I hated it in action in my classroom. My math block is basically always in the afternoon because I do reading and writing in the morning as much as possible.  So, the kids are a bit more tired and energetic.  Maybe this is part of the reason they didn’t work for me.  Maybe it’s because I’m less patient in the afternoon.  Maybe it’s my fault in planning and/or execution.  Either way, for a year and a half I tried various different models and groupings trying to find what worked for me.  And, I couldn’t. I tried 3 centers each day in about 45 minutes and the students would rotate to the other 3 the next day. I even blogged about how I used Powerpoint to help me manage it all. Small Group Powerpoint tutorial While not all of them changed each day, some of them did, and it was a lot of planning and effort.  This was my favorite set up, but something just felt “off” to me.  I could see students in action every other day, but I struggled with what I had students do independently on the day they weren’t with me because I often had students do their independent practice while I was nearby so I could keep an eye on what they were doing.  I also had a hard time with spending 45 minutes of my block (half of it essentially) all in centers.  I just didn’t feel like what I had students doing during that time were meaningful enough, and warranted half of the block.  I tried just doing 1 group each day and students rotating through, but I didn’t feel like it was enough time for me to see my students working live.  It wasn’t giving me enough time to work with my needy students.  I tried reading every blog post I could find on Guided Math and couldn’t quite wrap my head around exactly what it should look like, and how it was different from what I was already trying to do in my room.  I also couldn’t quite go with the idea that I was teaching everything in small group every day without a lot of whole class instruction.

But then I found what did work for me in my math block.  I split my students in half and taught my lessons twice.  My kids were engaged and I was able to differentiate for them in smaller groups to meet their needs.

Essentially, after our daily, introductory activities, I split the class in half and taught the lesson to both of them.  However, I taught the lesson differently with both groups.  I’ll explain more about that in a bit. Here’s a look at how our typical 90-minute math block was scheduled in this format. 90 minute block

Problem of the Day

The beginning of our math block is *always* a story problem of the day.  My first year in the classroom I quickly realized that my teaching of problem solving for a day at the end of another unit, or as a unit itself, just was not enough practice for my kids.  I immediately began implementing a “Problem of the Day” format and have seen the difference that it makes with my kids.  We now implement it school wide and I’ve developed 1st grade and 2nd grade year long bundles that the staff at my building use.  At the beginning of the year, this takes much longer than 15 minutes, and there are days throughout the year that it takes a few minutes longer, for sure.  But, I’ve learned that giving students daily practice with various levels of rigor, and spiraling through the standards, is key for my students to feel not only comfortable on their state assessments, but also confident that they can read a problem and develop a plan of attack to solve it.  We use my Problem of the Day bundle during this time as they’re rigorous, focus beyond just correct answers and into problem solving strategies, and keep students’ fresh on all of the standards through an ongoing build and spiral. 3rd Grade Problem of the Day Story Problems Bundle Cover First Grade Story Problems Bundle

Number of the Day

I began a number of the day routine using an outside resource with students reviewing the Number and Operations standards.  We also did Number Talks based on the book.


I also developed my own Number of the Day printables (and digital versions) that can be used with any number you want to practice.  I used these with students for a few minutes each day to continue to review place value and number sense standards.  There are 6 different versions that review a variety of place value skills, along with some number sense building mental math questions. You can download them by signing up for my Number Sense Newsletter in my Building Number Sense blog post. When I moved to 1st grade I changed the way I do Number of the Day to an interactive whole group time.  I continued it in 2nd grade, and have continued it in 3rd grade. The number sense and mental math kids have shown due to this routine have forever changed my view on number sense and have made me believe that 10 minutes is the most powerful part of our day.  The above sheets will be used as review, homework, centers, etc.  To see more about my Number of the Day routine the last two years, you can watch the video below (please forgive the issues right in the beginning as I had some tech issues during my Facebook live)



I split my class into two groups: one with the average and above average students (the kids that “get it” after they see it, or the ones who already have a ton of background knowledge); the second group is the below average and low students (with a few average students that need a bit more repeated practice to get something).  Depending on my number of students at the time, the groups range from about 9-12 students.  While this is higher than my group numbers when I taught in centers, I still could group the kids into smaller groups for on the fly reteaching.  I taught the two groups slightly differently. Math Block Group 1 Math Block Group 2 For the groups, students bring their dry erase boards and markers and come and join me on the floor.  This allows me to get down and see what each of them are doing throughout each step.  When I would do this whole class, it was so much harder to keep tabs on everyone and circulate.  This allows me to jump right in, quickly put a couple kids together to reteach, or to show something to the entire group.  Students also often jump in and assist each other when someone isn’t getting it.  Because we’re all sitting close together and have fewer students to wait on to finish the students stay engaged with what we’re doing.  They also know that if they work hard with me, I’ll generally give them a few minutes to have free draw on their boards before they put them back.  2 minutes of drawing time does wonders! 🙂 The big differences between the way I teach my two groups is the “We do” part of our lesson.  With my higher group, after a very quick two problem or so review of yesterday’s lesson, I quickly explain the new lesson and we practice a couple together.  The bulk of our time is students practicing the skill on their own with me checking.  I do this one problem at a time so I can clear up misconceptions right away.  After the group has demonstrated mastery we often are able to take the skill to the next level: to quickly apply the next step in the standard, or even sometimes doing the next grade level’s standard for the skill.  We often continue this practice as “we do” as well, but it sometimes is done independently depending on how the students are doing.  Previously, I’d never been able to really push my strong students in math to apply their learning beyond our current standards.  Giving them these little opportunities to try out and apply the skills at a higher level gave them confidence and helped them solidify the current standards, too.  This has meant that by mid-week, group 1 has generally finished the week’s skills.  When I plan, I plan out the week for group 2, and look to see where I might be able to take group 1.  We often were able to reach that next level. With group 2, we spend most of the time working on the problems together.  This is the group that needs additional practice, that often has previous misconceptions.  We discuss the steps together and do problems step by step before I “turn them loose” to try on their own.  Even when they do try it on their own, I’m still closely monitoring to see who is getting it and who is not.  Often, even within just that few minutes, I’d do a quick reteaching with a small group, or the whole of the group to make sure students understand. This set up is the first time I’ve been able to feel like I can push my high students and also reach my low students who need a lot of “cleaning up”.  It’s allowed me to really differentiate and meet their needs. I now follow my district curriculum much more specifically than I did previously.  However, my group functions essentially the same, with students bringing a math book and pencil rather than dry erase boards down to group.  We work through the curriculum together, just at different paces and different levels of scaffolding.


When I’m working with one of the groups, the other group is on Technology.  We have students computers and a small group set of ” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>Kindle Fires I got through a grant so students are further split in half and go to one of these.  They rotate between the two each day; so one day they’re on the computer and the next their on a Fire.  This time is important to me as well since it’s a big chunk of time.  I wanted students to stay engaged and really be furthering their knowledge.  They are usually Freckle or Moby Max but occasionally I’ll throw in something different to keep their excitement up.  These two websites allow you to assign specific skills/standards and also allow students to practice on their individual levels.  With Freckle, I love that I can have students work within the domain that we’re practicing but working at THEIR level.  I would tell students to practice a specific standard from time to time, but often they’d work where they need to work, and with my low group it’s been great to know that they’re practicing those skills that need to be cleaned up.  To see more about Front Row, click the image below to head to that post. front-row-website-cover

Math Facts

I often use our Rocket Math program during this time but we also play fact games as well.  My students absolute favorite way is to play 5 in a Row.  They beg to play each day.  Click the image below to head to my blog post to see more about the game and how it’s played.  You can also check out all of my 5 in a Row items in my TpT store.

5 in a Row math games

Spiral Review

I do a daily spiral math review every morning as part of our morning work outside of our math block.  I like to do this sort of system because it gives students a chance to work through all of the standards several times a year and gives students practice on various standards each day.  We do one set of the previous year (40 pages so that makes it through about the first quarter of the year) and then do three sets of the current year throughout the year.  I have spiral review sets for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades.  You can click any of the images below to head to my TpT store to check them out.

2nd math spiral review

1st Math Warm Up Set 1

I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a walk through our math block. For other math posts you can click the images and links below.

Building Number Sense

Part part whole

Math Block