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Math Workshop Made Simple

Summer break is finally here and life has slowed down.  It is really nice to have some quiet time to reflect on the school year and to begin thinking about changes for next year.  I started "math workshop" this year and I wanted to take the time to blog about it while it is still fresh in my mind.

The biggest challenge that I always have when teaching math with my third graders is meeting the needs of all students.  It seems there are always a small (or large) group of kiddos that just aren't getting the lesson and need more support.  This year, before I started my math rotations, math time was like a juggling act!  I had so many students that needed my help, even after a lengthy whole-class lesson.  Also, I had a group of students who always got it right away and were done so quickly, asking me what they should do now.  I felt like I was running around like a crazy person, but never getting to everyone who needed me.  That's when I knew that I needed to organize things differently, and incorporate some time for small group instruction.  Enter math rotations....

I started by splitting my students up into three groups:  low, medium and high, with 8 students in each group.  I know this seems fairly basic, but I needed a quick solution and it worked great!  Since I started this mid-year, I knew (without a lot of additional assessment) which students would be in which group.  When I start up in the fall, I will use grade level common assessments for each unit to group students.  If you need some quickie assessments for this purpose, or for a quick check up on a standard, these are perfect:

My math block is 90 minutes.  Here is how it all plays out:

1.  Fact Fluency Quick Quiz (5 min)
2.  Whole Group Lesson (25 min)
3.  Rotations (60 minutes/three 20 min cycles)

I would love to figure out how to make time for a 10 minute post-workshop share, but it was a tight squeeze just fitting in all of the above.  I also want to work in more time for fact fluency practice, even though I do include some weekly fact practice during math workstations).

I used the Engage NY lessons this year, and they worked perfectly for this schedule.  Most of the lessons take about 25 minutes or less, so I do those as a whole group, and then during our guided math groups, we review what was learned and do some guided practice with the concept.  Engage NY has Problem Sets, which we also worked on during our small groups.  With my low group, I would usually do some remediation to help them to understand the lesson and with my high group I would extend the lesson to make it more challenging.

Each student was given a plastic pocket folder to keep their workbook and any other papers that they would use for math.  These folders also had a small pocket, which was great for keeping additional math tools like rulers, fraction strips, clocks, or other manipulatives that we might need.


  • with the TEACHER
  • by MYSELF
  • with a PARTNER
I have a visual timer in my classroom and feel strongly that all classrooms should have one.  Before the start of each rotation, I would set the timer to 20 minutes.  This helps students to keep track of their own time and also helps me to stay on task with my group!

I don't know about you, but I have very limited wall space in my classroom for displaying charts and things.  Therefore, I did not want a cumbersome rotation board that we only would use once per day taking up prime real estate.  So, I created a powerpoint slideshow, which I display during math on my interactive white board.  It could also be displayed on any computer screen or simply printed out on paper and displayed.

Here are the powerpoint slides that I display.  Click on the photos below to download these for FREE and edit as desired.  Keep in mind that the fonts may not transfer.  I used KG Fonts for this display.

I rotate the names down on this board DAILY.


This is obviously when students work in small guided math groups with me.  My group meets me in the large carpeted area of my classroom, where we would all sit on the floor in a semi-circle.  This gave us plenty of space.  Students would bring their math folder, a pencil and a clipboard.  We would begin by going over the previous day's math work and homework, then we would work on the current day's lesson, which included some guided practice.

I always meet with my lowest group first, so that the lesson is still fresh in their mind.  Their next rotation will be working independently on the practice pages for that day's lesson (which we started together in our group).  Since we just met together for some intense guided practice, they are usually able to do it on their own at this point.  My high group meets with me last, and their first rotation on the next day is to do the independent practice.  They are capable enough to carry over the lesson to the next day with no problem.  Also, they often don't need the whole 20 minutes of our small group time, so they can work on the practice pages and often finish at that time.  In that case, I usually have some challenge work for them to do instead on the next day during their first rotation.

Our first rotation always looks like this:

low group:  with the TEACHER
med group:  with a PARTNER (math work stations)
high group;  by MYSELF (independent practice from previous day's lesson)


This rotation is for math work stations.  I set up nine boxes (three extra boxes are shown) with different math activities such as games and task cards.  Students work on these with their math partner during this 20 minute rotation. The stations are self-checking (I always include an answer sheet), but students are required to turn in their work from the station (unless it is a game and there is nothing to turn in).  All of the stations can be done with a partner or independently, so if your math partner is absent, it still works!

I set up the 9 boxes with my three groups in mind.  I set up three boxes for each:  three for my high group, three for medium and three for low.  That way I know that students are working on something at their level, that can be done with a minimal amount of assistance or explanation.  These work stations usually align with the unit we are currently working on, but I occasionally include some activities that offer spiral review of past learning.  It is important that the work station activities can effectively engage students for at least 20 minutes, so that you are not getting the "We are done....what should we do now?" routine.  

My suggestion is to provide games that can be played again and again, or enough task cards that they likely cannot do them all in the time provided. Open ended activities that do not need to be done to "completion" work best.  For example, I don't recommend worksheets because some students can finish those really fast, and some take forever.  Task cards work great, since they can work at their own pace and do as many as possible in the time provided.

Here are some of my "go to" math work stations:

Lakeshore Learning File Folder Games.  This is a tiny picture, but if you click it, it will take you to the website for a better view.  These games are common core aligned and super engaging.  They are easy to set up, and students are able to use them with no explanation at all.  These are perfect for math work stations!!  They come in the most amazing file boxes for easy storage and since they label these with the common core standards right on the side of the box, it is so easy to find the game that I need!  I love them!  They are pricey...but worth finding a way to get your hands on some!

Thinkfun Games are addicting logic and problem solving games that work great for math work stations.  If you cannot afford to purchase some for your classroom, they have a collection of free downloadable games that are awesome!

Games 4 Learning.  If you have not checked out this TPT store, you should!  This teacherpreneur from Australia has some simple, no-prep games that are perfect for math workstations.  You just print them, add a baggie of game markers, and some dice and you are ready to go!

Task Cards.  You can find these all over the place on TPT.  Most are pretty cheap and I have even found some great task cards for FREE!  I like to organize these in binders by math standard, to make it easy peasy to find the ones that I need in a snap!  I put each set in zip loc bags, copy the answer sheets and answers, and put it all in a plastic sheet protector (or two), which I clip into the binder.  I have a task card binder for each math strand that I teach.  

Tablets and Laptops.  Twice per week students work on a tablet or laptop instead of doing a math workstation.  There are thousands of amazing free math websites and apps.   My favorites are Khan Academy and Moby Max, which both are free and provide instruction as well as review and practice.  Our district purchased Compass Learning for us, which is great too!  Technology is also a great way for students to practice their basic facts!  

Math Workstations are great and the activities that you can choose are endless.  It is important to carefully organize your materials so that when it is time to change out your work station, it is not a huge chore.  You know right where to find everything.


During this rotation, students complete independent practice on the skill learned in class that day.  If your math program has a student workbook, this would be a great time to have students work on it.  You could also provide worksheets from or  As mentioned, I used Engage NY this year so students used this time to finish up the Problem Set that we started during our group and also can work on the homework practice pages at that time.  At the beginning of each unit, I put together a workbook for students that included all of the problem sets and homework pages for each lesson.  This saved me time at the copy machine and helped students to keep their work together and organized.

That about covers it!  I know I have probably left something out, so please feel free let me know if you have any questions about this post!  I know this system is not perfect, and I will be fine-tuning things this fall!  But it is a simple way to get started with math workshop using rotations.

Here are some products from my TPT store that you might like:

If you like INTERACTIVE NOTEBOOKS, here are some resources that you will love:

I hope you enjoyed this post!  Thank you so much for supporting my work by visiting today!

If you are also interested in READING WORKSHOP ROTATIONS see THIS POST!
Love and Peace,

Flash Drafting...The Best Way to Improve Writing Fluency

I have been promising this post on FLASH DRAFTING for a while now...sorry for the delay, but end-of-year crazies took hold, keeping me pretty busy at school.

This term was first used (I think) by Lucy Calkins.  No surprise there!!  Lucy refers to flash drafting as "fast and furious" writing that is done in one writing session, rather than across several days.  It is also done prior to any planning or outlining.  Basically, students just open their notebooks and start writing.  They don't plan.  They don't revise.  They don't edit.  They just write.


1.  It improves writing fluency!  So often, I see students struggle to get started on writing.  They sit there with their chin propped on their hands, staring at the ceiling waiting for the right moment to put pencil to paper.  We ask them why they are not writing and they tell us they don't know what to write, or say they are just thinking about what to write.  But writers don't think about writing...they write!  A lot!!  All the time!!  Flash drafting is a way of getting your students writing....without having to think a lot, or even knowing what they will write.  It can be an effective cure for writer's block!  Its not easy to get students into this habit though, especially if you are working with third or fourth graders who have been allowed to sit and do nothing during writer's workshop.  You will need to model the practice by writing in front of your students, daily or weekly.   So, YOU will need to practice flash drafting too!  You will be surprised at how ideas begin to flow better, once you start writing.

2.  It encourages revision!  It is important that flash drafting be done in one writing more!  Students are much less likely to want to spend time revising their writing when they have spent days drafting.  They are too invested in their piece to want to make changes.  When they've spent only a short amount of time on a flash draft, revision takes on a whole new meaning and becomes a true part of the writing process, rather than "that thing that we do when we finish a piece".  The flash draft becomes the starting point for planning, outlining and revision.

 3.  It encourages students to take risks!  When I ask my students to "flash draft" I remind them that they are to write, write, write without stopping (fast and furious).  The idea is to get their ideas down on the page, without worrying about getting it perfect.  I say, "Just start writing....and see where your pencil takes you!"  They know that they will be given the opportunity to work on the draft more, perfecting it, and making it exactly the way they want it later.  This is just a first step.  When students have the freedom to just write without worry of getting it right the first time...that is when their creativity flows and they begin to see themselves as real writers!


At the beginning of a unit is a great time to have students flash draft.  It is a perfect compliment to immersions lessons that you might do prior to starting a new writing unit (more information about immersion using mentor texts HERE).  I like to spend a week or so reading and discussing a few different mentor texts prior to starting a unit, having students examine the structure and elements of the writing type (i.e. personal narrative, persuasive essay, informational, etc.).  During this phase I have students take out their writer's notebooks and "take a stab" at the text type by flash drafting.  By the end of this immersion phase we will have looked at 3 or more mentor texts and they might have written 3 or more flash drafts to get them started.  Then when you begin the actual lessons in your unit, they will use their flash drafts as a starting point.  It is a risk-free way to let them have a go at it!

Another great time to use flash drafting is when students are stuck.  Have them begin again by writing a flash draft.  It is a quick and easy way of getting them writing again by wiping the slate clean and starting with a fresh idea.


I like to have students do their flash drafting in their writer's notebooks.  You could also have your students use loose leaf paper and keep the drafts in a binder.  Some teachers like to use yellow legal pads for flash drafting.  Do what works best for you and your students!


A great way to start is by doing it yourself!  Great writing teachers write themselves!  I truly believe that you need to experience the writing process and all of the angst that goes with it in order to effectively teach your students.  So go out and buy yourself a writer's notebook and start writing (there are lots of digital notebook apps out there too).  Summer is a great time to get started on flash drafting.  By the time your school year starts up, you will have some examples to share with your students and some great pointers for them as well!

Make sure that you MODEL flash drafting!  This is sooooo hard to do, but sit down in front of your students, without a solid idea of what you will write and just start writing.  Talk aloud as you write, sharing what is happening inside your head.  This is magical for students and helps them to understand the thought process involved in writing.  I think that piece is missing for many young writers....they don't understand how a writer gets their idea from their brain onto the page.  At first you will think...oh my gosh, this is taking up so much time.  But hang in there, it will get easier and you will see a difference in your students by investing the time!  Sometimes, this can be more of  a shared writing....where your students help by adding their ideas.

Just like anything else you must be used and taught consistently.  You can't expect to teach them how to flash draft ONCE at the beginning of the school year, and think they are going to run with it.  It needs to be taught, modeled, practiced, again and again and again all throughout the school year!  It needs to become part of their writing conversations with you and with their peers.  The payoff is so huge.....confident writers...writer's that take risks...writers that revise....writers that write a lot and love it!!


If you are interested in reading more here are some great blog posts to check out:

The Power of Flash Drafting:  More Writing, Less Thinking at Moving Writers

Flash Drafting Leads to Large Scale Revision at Two Writing Teachers

Here is a video clip where LUCY CALKINS talks about flash drafting as a strategy.

I also have to plug Aimee Buckner's book (again) is the best book on how to effectively use writer's notebooks with your students!

Here are some products that I have created that might also be helpful:


I hope you find this post helpful.  I am planning to create a series of videos this fall that will highlight how to use mentor texts and flash drafting with young writers!  So stay tuned and keep writing!!