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How to Use Math Small Groups in Middle School

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Use these tips and tricks to get the most out of using math small groups in your middle school math class this year.

Math small groups are one of my favorite and most effective classroom components. These little sessions are the key to keeping the math mojo alive in my classroom. Hardly a day goes by when I’m not gathered around with at least one of my small groups. They’re so beneficial for my middle school math crew.

When it comes down to it, it’s all about personalized attention. Sometimes, all it takes is a bit of one-on-one time to smooth out those tricky spots or give them that extra boost of confidence. At the same time, I’m able to build stronger connections with my students.

Today, I’m sharing the ins and outs of math small groups in the middle school classroom. From the nitty-gritty organization to the fun-filled activities we dive into, I’m laying it all out for you.

Benefits of Math Small Groups for Your Middle Schoolers

Let’s chat about why math small groups are so awesome for middle schoolers. First, personalized attention is key. In a big class, it’s easy for students to get lost in the shuffle. In small groups, everyone gets their moment in the spotlight. That means questions get answered, and confusion gets cleared up quickly.

Using math small groups in the middle school classroom is a great way to have personalized learning, collaboration, communication, and confidence boosting.

Then there’s the collaboration aspect. When students work together in small groups, they’re not just solving math problems. They’re bouncing ideas off each other, sharing strategies, and learning from different perspectives.

But the real benefit? Confidence. When our students realize they’re not alone in their struggles, it’s like a weight lifted off their shoulders. With a little encouragement and support, they start believing in themselves and their math skills skyrocket. As they work together, they may even start forming friendships as they naturally learn about connections they may have. There’s something special about bonding over a tough math problem and coming out victorious together.

Organizing a Class Period for Math Small Groups

Time to talk logistics. How do you fit those essential math small groups into a jam-packed class period? You may be sitting here reading this thinking it feels impossible to meet with groups effectively in such short periods of time. To help with crowd control, I make sure to meet with a math small group or two during center time. While I’m knee-deep in small group action, the rest of my class is buzzing with activity at various math centers. Independent work, as well as self-contained small groups, are also an option if you don’t typically incorporate centers into your lesson plan.

Using math small groups in your classroom doesn't have to be complicated when you work them into center time.

I make sure to include math activities that have them apply our current math concepts and some review concepts. This keeps everyone engaged, but it also gives me the freedom to focus on my small groups without any distractions. Make sure to read Math Centers in Middle School to learn more about my center time in my classroom!

Making it All Fit

It’s really easy for me to say that I meet with small groups during center time, but what does that mean exactly? When I was first introduced to small groups in the middle school setting, I was filled with questions. The biggest one being, “How do I fit it all in during one class period?”

So let’s jump into the nitty gritty details of what a class period looks like when incorporating small groups.

Math Small Groups in 45 Minute Classes

1. Warm-Up

First, divide the class into smaller chunks of time. You can start with a quick warm-up activity to get those math muscles flexing. The warm-up can be on the board when students arrive and they know to get started right away. By the time you’re done taking attendance, they are ready to talk about it. Total class time, five minutes max.

2. Whole Class

Next, dive into the main lesson as a whole group. If you’d like your students to take notes, an amazing resource I use with all of my classes are the Math Doodle Wheels. They break down each math concept into smaller steps to simplify the problem-solving process. This block of whole class time varies depending on the concept and whether this is our initial introduction or we are adding on to the previous day. The goal is to keep the focus lesson to about 20 minutes – but some days are shorter and others are longer.

3. Practice & Small Groups

Using math small groups in a 45 minute class period is absolutely possible when you break up the time into manageable chunks of 10-15 minutes.

After that, it’s center time or independent work time. This is where small groups come in. Before I meet with a small group I go over what the class will be working on. Sometimes this is working with a small group or partner and other times it’s working on their own. Once everyone is working I pull my first small group.

When I pull a group I plan to meet with them for 10-12 minutes. Again, I keep these times flexible because sometimes we are done in eight minutes, and other times it takes 18 minutes. I really let the needs of the group on the particular skill or topic dictate.

Depending on the length of the small group activity, I usually meet with one or two groups in a typical day. I may go into the next day to meet with the groups I didn’t the day before.

Other times, I do more of a small group check-in, which usually goes faster and allows me to check in with more groups.

The best advice I can share is this: Try different formats and test out what works best for you. Make it fit your teaching style and your classroom – otherwise, you aren’t likely to keep up with it.

Math Small Groups in 60 – 90 Minute Classes

Now, let’s crank it up a notch for those longer class periods, the ones that stretch out to 60 or even 90 minutes. With all that extra time, we can really sink our teeth into some math goodness. It feels less choppy because it doesn’t feel like you just started and have to stop at the end of class. But we do cover more material each day.

1. Warm-up

Just like with the 45 minute class, you can start with a warm-up activity. Not only does this allow you to ease into the lesson, but it also gets the kids working while you take care of those daily administrative tasks like taking attendance. About 5 -7 minutes is the amount of time I’d schedule for our warm-up.

2. Whole Class

Using math small groups in 60-90 minute class periods is very beneficial when you break up the time into manageable chunks of 15-20 minutes.

Then, dive into the main lesson as a whole group. You can spend about 30-40 minutes of direct instruction during the class time. However, depending on the skill, you might break this up. If students need to practice steps individually you might use a mini-lesson format that’s followed by practice time. Other times, you can do all the instruction first and all the practice after. The Math Doodle Wheels are handy because they give students notes to refer to while working independently.

3. Practice & Small Groups

When it’s time for practice, make sure to get everyone started on their practice activities. This can by center style, where students rotate every few minutes to complete multiple activities, or they work on one activity for a longer period of time.

While students are working, pull small groups so you can work on reteaching, enrichment, or just talking through questions. With a longer class period, you can generally see the entire class in small groups during your time together. You can spend 10-15 minutes with each group, really honing in on their needs and giving them that personalized attention they crave.

Just like the 45-minute class, this time will vary. You may meet with some groups longer than others. You know your kiddos, so you’ll be able to gauge what they need.

How to Create Math Small Groups

We have our class periods chunked and organized. Now, we need to think about how to group our kiddos. Do we want to look at ability levels? Do we want to look at interests?

Create math small groups by gauging interest or planning activities to help students with skills they need to focus on.

One way I group my kiddos is by using pre-tests and formative assessments. This helps to gauge where each of my students stands. This helps me to individualize the learning process for my students and make it more engaging. I can focus on areas they need to work on instead of walking through a concept they have known for a long time. Once I have that data from the pre-tests, I can group them based on their strengths and areas for growth. For example, if the pretest shows a group that already have a solid understanding of the topic, I work with them at a higher level. I can also use a formative assessment to see where students are confused or need additional help. Grouping those students together allows me to clear up any confusion or misunderstanding at one time.

It’s very common to have groups at varying levels. Some students thrive on complex problem-solving, while another group needs to be focusing on mastering foundational skills. By tailoring each group to specific levels of proficiency, we’re setting them up for success and ensuring that every student gets exactly what they need to shine.

Another way is to combine students of different levels for smaller discussions. By bringing together students with varying strengths and perspectives, you’re creating a dynamic learning environment where everyone benefits. Maybe the advanced students can offer insights and support to their peers, while the struggling students gain confidence and new strategies from their classmates. It’s a win-win situation!

Purposes of Small Groups

Now that our math small groups are all set up and ready to roll, let’s talk about what we do during those precious moments together. Let’s talk intervention. For our students who need a little extra support, small groups are like a lifeline. We dive deep into the concepts they’re struggling with, breaking them down step by step until they’re feeling confident. We can simplify the process of the concept, which makes math approachable for our students. It’s all about meeting them where they’re at and giving them the tools they need to succeed.

Math small groups are a great opportunity for you to get in some important intervention.

Sometimes, we’ve got students who are ready to zoom ahead. That’s where enrichment comes into play. We crank up the challenge level, throwing curveballs and brain teasers their way to keep those sharp minds engaged and hungry for more. For instance, we could introduce real-world applications of math concepts, like analyzing data from sports statistics. The goal is to push these students beyond their comfort zones, sparking their curiosity and taking on more ownership of their learning.

Small groups can also be a time to check in on how students are doing with the current topic. Some students are more likely to ask questions or participate in a small group setting. So making sure they have that available will make their entire math experience more productive.

Math small groups are a true testament to the power of practice. In small groups, we can zero in on specific skills and concepts, drilling down until they’re second nature. Whether it’s extra notes, hands-on activities, or targeted practice problems, every minute counts. Each activity brings us one step closer to math mastery with consistent exposure to the concept.

Small Group Activities

To help with reinforcement, practice, and review, I have a variety of activities that I love to use with small groups (although I love to use them with the whole class too).

Task Cards

My first go-to activity is using Footloose task cards. When I use them as our whole class activity, I will carefully choose a few cards that they will do in a small group setting with me. These task cards can be spread out around the room but work just as well in math small groups. They cover a wide range of math concepts, but each set has 30 cards. I make sure to pick cards that cover the different steps or concepts we are working on. Additionally, I might choose some of the trickier cards so I can see how students work through those. The remaining cards are completed during independent work time.

Another great thing about using task cards is that I can quickly and easily pull a few cards for almost any skill or concept. So whether it’s a reteaching small group or an enrichment group, task cards are an easy way to have just what I need without feeling I am preparing another lesson.

Math Games

There are many different resources to use for math small groups. Task cards and truth or dare math review games keep the reinforcement fun and beneficial.

Another resource I love to use is Truth or Dare Math Review Games. My students love playing these review games together to practice their math concepts. Not only does this make them perfect for center time, but they work well with small groups too.

The game cards are split into two groups. Truth cards are going to ask true and false questions about the vocabulary and basic steps of the math concept. Dare cards ask more challenging questions and encourage more application. The different types of cards have varying point values, which amps up the motivation to try their best to solve the problems.

Math Wheels

Sometimes our small group time is focused on completing the practice problems found on the outside of the math wheel. This is one I generally do with students who are having a hard time with the concept. The reason I do this is because I want their math wheels to be complete and accurate since we often refer back to them during the year.

Activities for Students Not Meeting in Small Groups

One part that always made me nervous when I started with small groups was managing the rest of the class. It could easily become overwhelming! Over the years, and with support from teammates, I’ve learned a few tricks to keep everyone engaged and on track.

There are various activities to use for students who are not meeting with you in small group. Such as, seat work assignments, technology, or small group collaboration.

First, there’s the classic independent seat work. Students tackle assignments or practice problems on their own. It’s a chance for them to demonstrate their understanding and work at their own pace, all while building those essential study skills.

We can kick it up a notch with some small group work of their own. They could be collaborating in mini-groups to tackle a challenging task or project. It’s like a mini-replica of what’s happening in my small groups, but they’re the ones calling the shots and working together to find solutions. This is where I would use those task cards and review games I mentioned earlier.

Let’s not forget about the magic of technology. With computers at their fingertips, students can engage in educational games, color-by-number digital activities that reveal a picture as they practice skills, or online websites that provide practice problems, like IXL. These digital options are tailored to their individual needs.

So, whether it’s independent seat work, small group collaboration, or computer-based learning, one thing’s for sure: there are multiple ways in my classroom to stay engaged with math. With a variety of engaging activities to choose from, every student has the chance to shine and make the most of their time while I’m focused on my small groups.

Start Using Math Small Groups in Your Classroom

Wrapping up our journey through the world of math small groups, it’s clear that these sessions are the secret to keeping the math mojo alive in any classroom. With personalized attention, collaboration, and confidence-building at the forefront, small groups offer our kiddos a tailored approach to learning that’s both effective and engaging.

Tap into the power of small groups in your middle school math classroom.

Whether you’re meeting for 45 minutes or diving into longer class periods, there’s always room to squeeze in some small group time. By organizing our time effectively and creating dynamic groupings based on student needs, we’re setting our students up for success while fostering a love for math that lasts a lifetime.

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite math Pinterest board to help when you are ready to organize your math small groups!

Ellie

Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!

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