Launching Math Workshop - Step by Step - Must Have Resources & Freebies

Ok, here it finally is, the promised post about how to launch your Math Workshop.  Sorry it's taken so long, I forgot how tiring the first few weeks of school are.  But after a 9:30 pm Friday bedtime (so long social life) I'm up and recharged this Sunday morning. So here goes....

First of all, when setting up your Math Workshop you need the following:
  1. A gathering place where you will meet with students for the daily mini-lesson.
  2. An easel with chart paper to record anchor charts of notes from the daily mini-lessons.
  3. Students need math notebooks and folders.
  4. An organized area in your classroom where you will label and store your math manipulatives.
  5. A timer to keep track of center time. 
  6. A table or carpet area where you will meet with small groups of students.
  7. A clipboard with labels for notetaking during conferring.
  8. A math skills screener such as STAR math or Moby Math or Accelerated Math, or you can create your own - you will use the data to select math partners and form guided math groups.
  9. A Math Workshop conferring binder, click HERE to check out mine. This binder is a MUST HAVE for keeping you organized, scheduled and accountable during Math Workshop. I couldn't do Math Workshop without it! The binder includes calendars to schedule your guided math groups, strategy group planning & notetaking sheets, daily conferring schedules, conferring notetaking sheets, check off lists, CCSS mastery charts, intervention group planning sheets, intervention data pages, progress monitoring data pages, assessment data recording pages, a student binder pack for students to track their own math workshop progress, set goals, record notes during strategy groups, and much, much more!

10. A Math Workshop center board, click HERE to check mine out. Available in jungle, chevron, polka dot and zebra.  This product is ESSENTIAL for organizing your math centers.  Once you've used the screener data to place your students in groups, you'll use this chart to determine which centers each student group will complete. See photo below for how I set it up in my classroom.


Okay, once you have all the "stuff" organized and ready to go, then you can begin talking with your students about Math Workshop.  The best piece of advice I can give up front is to go slowly.

Your first few mini-lessons should be about classroom managment details.

- How will students come down to the meeting area? I call them by groups - students wearing pink, or students having cold lunch, or girls, etc..  Also reinforce what students must always bring with them to the meeting area (my students always bring their math binder and pencil).  You may want to set up math partners whom they sit by in the meeting area for discussion purposes (I select partners of similar ability level so that one student is not doing all of the thinking. And I change up partners every few months).

Once that imporant stuff is practiced and practiced, then you can begin to discuss:
-"What is Math Workshop?"  This lesson is all about routine. Walk your students through the routine of how Math Workshop will run in your classroom.

     Here is our classroom routine. We start each morning with a calendar math review warm-up.  Of course I use the fabulous calendar math resource from Teaching in Room 6.  Click HERE if you're interested. Later in the year I switch to Fraction of the Day for our math warm-up.

     Students take 10 minutes to complete the warm-up while I take attendance, lunch count, check in planners, etc.  Since we do Math first hour, we officially start Math Workshop with a 5 minute number talk about our calendar math warm-up. We only go over random parts of the warm-up to save time. Next, students come to the carpet area with their notebooks, folders and pencils (they sit next to their math partner) for the mini-lesson. The mini-lesson is either procedural or based on my district's curriculum. I explain the daily learning target, teach the lesson explicitly, give a few minutes throughout for the students to turn and talk, take notes, and then wrap up by summarizing the learning target. Fifteen minutes is my target time. (Yes, this is the hardest part of math workshop - staying on time!! At least for me.) 
     Students then head to their first center of the day. They know where to head based on the Math Workshop Center board shown above. Since I've already taught each center during the first few weeks of school (I'll explain this later in the post), students know what to do and I don't need to explan each center during the mini-lesson. I set the timer for 15 minutes. One of the groups will meet with me for guided math during this 15 minutes (according to which group I'm meeting with (I level my groups based on the initial math skills screener) I use this time to fill in gaps if necessary, reteach the daily learning target, provide scaffolded practice or extension activities. Guided math is very similar to guided reading. The students take notes in the guided math section of their conferring binder shown above and set goals to accomplish before we meet again. Meanwhile the other groups are working independently at their assigned centers.   (Just a side note: I do not provide intensive intervention during guided math, because we have a 30 minute block in our schedules where all students either receive math intervention from their teacher or a special education teacher, and/or receive additional math practice/extension on accelerated math.)
     When the timer goes off, students move to center number two. I again set the timer for 15 minutes.  I meet with a second guided math group, and the others work on their second center of the day.  This time when the timer goes off. Students clean up and come back to their seats.  I pass out the daily exit slip while students talk at their teams about what went well and any questions.  We hold a 5 minute closure discussion whole class, students then take 5 minutes to complete the exit slip in their notebook. I have students leave their notebooks open on their desks and I walk around and spot check the entries during snack/restroom break.  
     Our Math Workshop time takes 60 minutes each day.  Yes it is hard to stay on schedule as I mentioned. Yes I realize students need time to clean up & travel, etc. There are many days where we unfortunatley run over or run out of time for an exit slip.  It takes us about a month before students are able to complete everything in the 60 minute time frame.  If you're running short on time, for the first few weeks only do one center a day until students are familiar with watching the timer, and begin to clean up a minute or two before it goes off, and travel quickly to center two. 
     We follow this schedule on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. So students complete six centers throughout the three days.  I'm able to meet with each group once and my lowest group twice (I have five groups of six-seven students). Thursday is our catch up day. We still do our calendar math warm-up, number talk, and I teach a mini-lesson, but then students individually finish up any centers they did not complete, or choose a center to practice again.  I walk around, monitor and confer with individual mathematicians on Thursdays. We do still end with a closure discussion and exit slip based on the week's learning target. On Fridays, we check over center work in groups or as a class if necessary.  We also always take a quiz or do a longer written response in our notebooks which I assess for a grade.  I use these quizzes/responses to determine what centers we'll need for the next week and who needs intervention or enrichment, etc.
  • See the anchor chart below for our Math Workshop routine. You will notice the format is similar to Reading and Writing Workshop routines. 

Your next few mini-lessons should be about the procedures & expectations of Math Workshop. Some topics I discuss are: 

-Where are the math manipulatives in our classroom and how do I use them properly? We discuss where everything is located in the classroom, the importance of using manipulatives to visualize the mathematics, how to clean up and return the materials, why we don't use math manipulatives as 'swords', etc. :)

- Ask 3 Before Me (for a FREE poster click HERE) - this rule states that students must ask 3 other students their questions before they ask me - building student's independence and keeping you from being interrupted during guided math;

- How do I ask to use the restroom, get a drink, go to the office, etc.  I teach my students a series of hand signals for this purpose (again this cuts down on interrupting you during guided math) one finger up means bathroom, two fingers up means drink, and three fingers up means office.

- What should Math Workshop look like & sound like?  Sample responses from my students include: Students are: working quietly, using inside voices, using manipulatives to help them solve problems, taking care of the manipulatives and cleaning up after themselves, writing about their thinking in their math journals, staying on topic, not giving up when the math gets hard, "Asking 3 before the teacher," following rules and procedures, smiling and having fun, listening to their partners mathematical thinking and ideas.

- What are the two golden rules of Math Workshop?  In my class they are 1. you must be doing math the whole time, and 2. you must use quiet, inside voices. I've found that if students follow these two rules, our Math Workshop usually runs smoothly.

- What do good mathematicians do?  This is a tough one, we don't discuss this nearly enough with students.  They can easily tell us what good readers and writers do, but what good mathematicians do is a mystery.  After some guidance, see the anchor chart below for my students initial responses.

- How do we use our math notebooks during Math Workshop? We use our math notebooks for several purposes. The first is to take notes during mini-lessons (students always copy the anchor charts down in their notebooks as we create them); the second is for computation & problem solving during math centers; and the third is for daily exit slip responses. We cut and glue our exit slip into our math notebook each day. This creates a record of student's thinking throughout the year.  It's wonderful to look back in notebooks as the year progresses and see the progress. If you're in need of exit slips, as well as other formative and summative assessments, I have several Common Core Aligned math assessment packs currently in my store that all include exit slips, quizzes, tests, study guides and vocabulary cards.

Place Value Assessment Pack
Factors & Multiples Assessment Pack
Multi-Digit Multiplication Assessment Pack
Long Division Assessment Pack
Decimal Numbers Assessment Pack
Fractions Assessment Pack
Algebra Assessment Pack
Measurement Assessment Pack

You can get all of the assessment packs for a great deal with the BUNDLE below. :)

Or, if  you're just interested in the exit slips -


How do we organize our weekly center work? My students keep all their weekly center work inside their math notebook.  They also keep their daily calendar math warm-up packet in the folder as well.  On Fridays, we take everything out of our folders and turn it in.  This doesn't mean I suddenly have a TON of papers to grade.  Most of the work has already been self checked.  I always tape answer keys around the room for students to check their work against once they finish.  We also check over some of the work together on Thursdays and Fridays. And our calendar math warm-ups we've gone over each day during our number talk.  So my only job is to make sure everything is turned in and complete.  What I DO have to grade throughout the week is random exit slip responses to inform my instruction, and the Friday quiz.  Not too bad.

- How do we close Math Workshop each day? What is an exit slip? Almost every day I give the students an exit slip (see above) to glue in their notebooks and complete. I get the questions for the exit slips from the curriculum. The questions are formative assessments and are tied to the daily learning target. Usually they are reflective, but often they require students to solve a problem, do an error analysis, explain a procedure or teach something we've learned.

After you've covered all of the above procedure and expectations mini-lessons I suggest the following mini-lessons:

     Go through each math center - one a day - as a whole class.  I discuss the procedures & expectations of each center during the mini-lesson and then the students practice the center all together as a class while I monitor.  Then we discuss how it went.  Here are the eight centers that I use in our classroom all year long:

 - Guided Math (Meet with the teacher - what is the purpose?, where do we meet, bring your binder & pencil, take responsibility for your learning, other students use hand signals and "Ask 3 Before Me" so as not to interrupt guided math groups, how do we set goals, a place to ask questions and clear up confusion, etc.)

 - Vocabulary Center (Enter new words into the vocabulary section of your math binder [vocabulary sheets are included in the math conferring binder product above], create flashcards for each new word, use the flashcards to play vocabulary games like headbands, memory/matching, family feud and much more)

* If you're in need of Common Core academic vocabulary words for your vocabulary center and your word wall, I have 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade sets in my TPT store. The sets come in zebra, chevron, rainbow colors, black and white, polka dot and no background themes.  Or you can purchase the whole set as a BUNDLE.


 - Fact Fluency Center (Quiz a partner with flashcards - keep track of known and unknown facts, play addition, subtraction, or multiplication war, use the computers or iPads to practice facts, do speed drills with a partner, use timers and practice 5 min. fact tests)

 - Problem Solving Center (Complete the problem solving activity that goes along with the daily learning target, use manipulatives, use the KWC strategy: K-highlight what you KNOW, W-circle what you WANT to find out, C-are there any special CONDITIONS, show all of your thinking in your journal)

 - Digital Center (Use the smartboard to practice problems that are focused on the daily learning target)

 - Task Cards Center (Choose a set of task cards to practice problems that are focused on the daily learning target, self check your answers, reflect on how you're progressing in your journal)

 - Independent Work Center (Complete a practice sheet of problems based on the daily learning target, self check your answers, reflect on how you're progressing in your journal)

 - Math Games Center (With a partner or small group, use the directions and materials provided to play a math game to practice the daily learning center, use quiet voices, record all of your thinking in your journal, take care of the materials and clean up)

     Those are the eight centers we use all year.  I choose six a week for students to complete. I start by teaching my students how to do four centers. We practice each one all together and then on the fifth day, we practice with four groups each doing a different center. I do not introduce guided math until students are able to rotate through the centers independently.

    If you follow this step by step launching plan, your students will be independently moving through Math Workshop centers quickly and quietly, staying on task and working with perseverance, using hand signals and "Asking 3 Before Me," now you can begin to teach your curriculum during the daily mini-lessons.  Your centers will be focused on the daily curriculum's learning target (I usually incorporate one review center a week as well).

Also you can begin to use exit slips to inform your instruction and gather data on student progress.  You will also gather this data through guided math and daily math conferring. Once again, you can keep all your data organized in your Math Workshop Conferring Binder.  And there you have it.  My Math Workshop in a 'nutshell' as they say.

I hope this post is helpful and not overwhelming.  I'll reiterate that my best piece of advice is to go slowly.  It's taken me four years to get our Math Workshop to where it is today.  Each year I've added on another layer. So I recommend choosing parts you feel comfortable with this year, and then building from there.

Why should you try Math Workshop? Teaching your students to be independent during Math Workshop will allow you to meet with Guided Math groups and that's where the true magic of math instruction happens.  Reasearch has proven that students make much more progress with small group differentiated instruction vs. whole class instruction. Guided Math allows all students to excel, from the struggling learners to the gifted and talented.  And isn't that what teaching is all about?

I'd love to hear your comments and questions about how Math Workshop is going for you!


  1. I so want to try this with my class this year! Thank you, Melissa!

  2. Melissa--†hank you, thank you, thank you! This is so helpful.
    The Wild Rumpus 

  3. Melissa:
    What a GREAT post! I love the way you spelled out all of the steps. I really want to try this in my classroom. I think it would be perfect for my bunch because their skills are so disparate. I'm trying to get guided reading cemented this week... then... maybe I will find the courage to investiage this further. Now I'm off to do a little shopping in your store!

    Finding JOY in 6th Grade

  4. Eggcellent work from a very smart cookie. I Love this post! I am bummed I gave up teaching math this year. Maybe next year! I am so glad I follow your blog!

  5. Fantastic post! Definitely lots to think about, but a great perspective on how to launch a workshop successfully.

  6. Thank you so much for this. I now see a clearer picture of what math workshop looks like. Awesome job!!

  7. Thanks for linking up! What and amazing post! I also needed this, I don't feel like I have a grasp on Math Workshop they way I do of Reading Workshop.

    *Please send me a reply so I can send you a "treat" for linking up :)
    I {Heart} Recess

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Thanks so much for this detailed post! I am going to work on getting this organized for my classroom next year!

  10. I LOVE your ideas in this post! I can't wait to try this next year! I was wondering if you had a post like this about your readers workshop? I've noticed while peeking through your blog all these wonderful strategies ( close reading...shared lessons with read alouds). I was curious how you organize your time during reading to fit everything in ?!?!? If you could share your organizational structure for Readers Workshop that would be great!

    1. Great idea, I will work on that for a future post!

  11. I want to try this next year! I love my guided reading workshop and want to incorporate the same idea into math. I was hired the week before school started this year, so didn't get to fully research and put all of my ideas into place once I knew what my grade level and specific curriculum and pacing would be. Thank you so much for spelling so much of it out, it's so helpful to newbies like myself :)

  12. Thank you so much for this in-depth and helpful post about beginning math workshop! I'm excited to begin. I wondered if you would be willing to offer any advice about running this during a 45 min. math block. Also, what does the day to day rotation look like? Do students work at two stations on day 1, and two more on day 2, and so on? I appreciate any advice you can offer. Thank you!

    1. Hi Meagen, I have a 45 min. math block this year as well. I set up five centers per week. After my 15-20 min. mini-lesson, students spend 20 min. at their center for the day (unfinished work is homework). They have a different center each day and complete all five by the end of the week. We spend the last five minutes discussing and sharing questions and celebrations.

  13. Thank you for this!
    Can I ask, how do you meet with the struggling students twice and the other groups only once?
    I have been using stations/centers more and more, and I group them as well on how they are doing on the current topic, but I am not sure how I would meet with one group twice. Do you follow them to a different center?
    Thank you in advance!

    1. Hi Jenna, I meet with only one group per day. I have four groups so that allows me to meet with my lowest group again on the fifth day. I hope this makes sense. The rest of the time I'm monitoring the centers as needed.

  14. Where do you get mini lessons. I can find centers everywhere but mini lessons seem to be top secrete.

  15. Where do you get their independent work from? We have to use My Math.


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