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Managing Guided Math Rotations

Making the switch to doing my "Core Teaching" in small groups has been one of the biggest game changers in my classroom!  It definitely didn't happen overnight.  It took one baby step at a time to get to where I am now, and I couldn't be more excited to share what's working in my classroom
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Why I Made the Switch

Studies show that whole group instruction does not reach all of your learners.  Chances are, the students who are less engaged are the ones who need engagement the most!

How I Implement My Small Groups

Whether I have 3 or 4 small groups, I have a 4 Rotation System that works for me.

These four areas are specific enough that my kids have a definite idea of the expectation.  However, it is also broad enough that some of the area could be switched up from time to time and STILL be covering content in a way that I prefer.


M could stand for anything you need!  Math Facts, Math Journals, Math Games, Math...whatever!
For me, M stands for Math with the Teacher.  This is my small group time.  This is the first step in planning my lessons.  I have found over time that starting with my my "on-level" kids works best.  Why?  For the most part, these students are most likely to grab onto the lesson.  They are also the safest group to do the practice lesson.  Because they are less likely to struggle, I can gauge how parts of the lesson are going before I teach it to future groups.  Additionally, if I have a student who is still struggling, I will keep them for an additional rotation to get an extra "dip" of instruction.

I will usually work with my below-level students next.  I don't want to be rushed with this group.  Every minute counts.  I have already identified areas of my lesson that may need to be improved, or identified a change in the pace, so this lesson should be perfect!  Students who may have stayed on for additional instruction are free to leave once they get it or will be combining two of their future rotations together.

I usually end with my above level kids.  Depending on where we are in the scope of the skill, I may be teaching an enrichment lesson.  With my second graders ,for example,  we may be covering arrays to 5 groups of 5.  My above level friends might be ready for higher arrays or introducing them to multiplication.

This letter is ideal to designate for the Application of the math learned.  I also like for my students to apply what we've learned right after leaving my table.  I call this "At Your Seat Activity", but it could be called Applying Math or Application of Skills, depending on the age level of your students.  I will often use this rotation to complete Independent Practice from our math series or to complete a Math Journal activity with our target skill.  

Problem with early finishers?  I tackle this by permitting my students to begin the NEXT rotation once they have completed the assignment.  Not finished?  They can't begin the next rotation until it is COMPLETE.  The A & T rotations work really well to be combined (for three rotations).


I teach in a digital 1:1 district, so I  have one rotation dedicated to using technology.  This is also perfect for classrooms that have limited access to technology.  If you are using shared devices, using a device for QR code task cards is a great way to use technology!  Parents are often very helpful in donating old smart phones to use QR codes.  I love using websites like IXL,  Xtra Math, Moby Max, and Scootpad.  It is easy to differentiate by each rotation, too!


My favorite rotation HAS to be the opportunity to push forward interesting games, task cards,  and such to reinforce old skills, practice new skills, and provide enrichment opportunities.  H means Hands-On  Activities in my classroom.  Student have the opportunities to leave their seats and have choices of working independently or with a partner.  Children need repeated opportunities to have choices with concrete experiences.  I feel we pull back on concrete experiences too quickly, but they really need repeated exposure.  Problem solving with peers is so beneficial, too.

Small Group Management

I use simple, "timed" PowerPoints to manage my rotations. To prepare each week or day, I use a simple planning sheet to track my overall needs for the day.  It makes it pretty simple to use the sheet to fill in my PowerPoints.   I really try to set up Weekly contracts for some rotations so that I only need to update my small group or independent activities each day.

If I know that I will only have 45 minutes for rotations, I simply divide up the time into even increments, and change that one little setting on the rotations. 

Bam!  I never have to leave my small group table.  

I add the "chimes" signal for my "Clean Up".  We practice this A LOT at the beginning of the year.  In fact, I teach the HOW of small group clean up, rotating, etc. by teaching review skills in groups to begin with.  I will teach games that will go into the centers later and permit them to play at my table.  This permits me to leave the table and monitor the other groups.  

Once we've got the HOW mastered, the content can get deeper without fear of interruptions or improper behaviors.  If you'd like to take a peek at my Math Rotations slides, click HERE to see all the options for your own classroom.  Knowing that not everyone's classroom may work as mine, does, I created some options to cater to any classroom's needs.



Differentiate Centers Using Simple Color Coding

Reinforcing skills over time is such an important element in any classroom.  

The struggle: How to reinforce the skills across the classroom without reinventing the wheel each week.  I've come up with a system in my centers that has made it so simple!  


Part One: Setting Up a Color Coding System


Step One: One Skill in One Place
When I determine a skill to practice, I want my students to go to one place.  Inside that one place, I will provide the differentiation that is needed.  If my students need on-level and above level practice, I will have color-coded activities just for them.  I recommend you build any center with this idea in mind.  In math, I try to have five centers going to choose from.  Most will be differentiated with different choices inside.  Perhaps not EVERY center, but nearly every center will be differentiated.   I love using these Sterlite bins for SO many reasons in my classroom!  These are super sturdy, stackable, and easy to label.  I buy mine at Dollar General mostly, but Target will often have a different color on the handle that I like to buy, too.  If you don't have these stores, buying them in bulk is a great option with Amazon Prime.  


Step Two: How to Prep Differentiation
To set up the assignments for the students, you will need to choose a consistent color scheme.  The first three colors you choose may depend on some systems you already have in place.  


I want to be fair in saying that I determine the level based on year-end grade level expectations.  At any given point in the school year,  below-level activities might be the appropriate choice...and that is okay!  My students are not labeled-the activities are.  My fourth color will be for everyone-my generic color.  If I have an activity that is not differentiated, I code it pink.  Pink is just a color that works well in my room and I always have tons of pink paper!  My kids know right away that if there are pink cards or a pink bin, they don't need to find a certain color. 

Step 3: Differentiate Using Existing Activities
If you have been collecting centers and task cards for any amount of time, you need just a few simple tricks to push them out to your students.  I use a combination of these all the time!

I love these Target brand sandwich bags to put my task cards in.  They are already blue, yellow, green and red (but they look pink!).  It is so simple to just drop in what I need for each group.

No colored baggies?  No problem!  Use any task card holder and drop a sticky note or colored index card inside.  You can even add specific directions on the card.  Simply discard the directions or save them for future us.


Step Four: Prepping New Activities
With my system already in place, I may decide to use colored paper to copy the activity or task cards based on how it meets the standards I am addressing.  For example, as a 2nd grade teacher, I often have children ready to do multiplication activities or 4 digit subtraction.  If they come in an ink-friendly format, I would copy them on blue paper before I laminate.  I've created some task cards for my student-centers and made them Low, On-Level, and High to cover certain math skills so that I can easily differentiate throughout the year.  
You can take a closer look at all of the skills covered in this series by clicking HERE.  


Tune into PART TWO of this blog series when I share some other ways I differentiate and set up my centers!


Using Popplet in the Classroom


I'm back again for another tech tool to share!  But, let's me honest...


Well...Have I got the perfect starter tool for you!

In all honesty, I can only juggle about 3 tools at a time.  Any more than that, the kids forget how to use it (time wasting).  Symbaloo and Padlet are the biggies for me.  Once my kids are proficient in those, I can bring in something else.

It is available in both web-based and for iPads.  ANY classroom with digital access can benefit!
Ready to be convinced?  Here goes!

I promise you…there is nothing SIMPLER than Popplet!  Double tap anywhere and POP!  You have your first popple.  Tap on any of the settings below to create the popple of your choice.
See the little white circles? Simply press and drag to create an ATTACHED popple.
BAM!  Instant graphic organizer!

This graphic organizing tool can easily be used across the curriculum!

This week,  we located examples of text features.  They took pictures using their iPads and added text to label & explain the feature.  Talk about actively engaged!


One of my little buddies asked to make a popplet about our reading.  Can't you see kids working in groups making different presentations for the class to EXPLAIN what they researched??

Other ideas?
Retell a story in order
Main Idea & Details
Problem/Solution
Beginning/Middle/End


In math this week, we were working on place value.
How perfect it is to start with a number:
Would this make an AMAZING center activity!  No  copies..no laminating.  Roll three dice and GO!

  • Create a base 10 model and snap a picture
  • Write the number in expanded form
  • Write the number in word form

This could also be used to show different parts to create wholes, different expressions to express a number--the number of digits will depend on your needs!

For science & social studies, students can respond in so many ways to show understanding!
Learning about animal groups?
Learning about types of rocks?
Name the group-the popples will describe the attributes

This is all fun, but it is important that the students are focused on the task.  I give my kids an easy rubric so that they stay on track.  Since this is one of those tasks that the parents DON'T see, I add two places to check off.  One is for the students--this is their promise to have double checked what is expected.
The right side is for me to do the final check.  Kids on iPads can take screen shots or you could check them off personally.  I like the chance to discuss and help them make improvements-clarify their thoughts.  When I can, that is!
Despite the fact little buddy has HORRIBLE handwriting…yes, I WILL be using some of Melissa's tips for this guy, but…He had done an AMAZING job!  Do you give your kids feedback when they do an amazing job?  I like to give them hearts.  Love hearing when they look over their papers and are excited when they earn a COVETED heart!

I'd sure love to hear how YOU use Popplet…or if you TRY it!