What do you do with the kids that “don’t get it”? I think this is a constant battle that we face as teachers. Sometimes it even keeps us up at night. Today I wanted to share tips for implementing math small group instruction.

If your classroom functions like mine, a typical class period might consist of a warm up, guided notes, a class activity that is simultaneously accessible and engaging, and finally, an exit ticket for students to demonstrate mastery. Whew! That is a lot for 60 minutes.

# TIPS FOR IMPLEMENTING MATH SMALL GROUP INSTRUCTION

In my first year of teaching, math small group instruction wasn’t even on my radar, yet the longer I have spent in the classroom, *the more comfortable I am making small groups part of my daily routine*. Like any classroom routine, you must train *yourself* as much as you must train your students. Today, I am going to give you some tips I have learned along the way, so you can set up your math small groups to be as successful as possible.

## Before SMALL GROUP INSTRUCTION

##### Know Who You Are Pulling

- This might seem like a no brainer, but there were several days that I would get to the time in class for a small group, and then I would not do it because I was not prepared. Sure, I knew who my strugglers were, but I did not have a plan on who to pull or even why I would pull them. Either make a list based on class groups ahead of time, or take mental notes on which students are struggling as you circulate while teaching.
- Consider the personalities of your students as well as their academic needs when making small groups.
**You will most likely pull the same students on a consistent basis, so create standard small groups that will make your job easier.**Typically, I had around 8 students who I would pull, so I split those 8 students into 2 groups of 4. Group 1 might be those students who need a little more guidance to reinforce the new concept while group 2 might be the students who need significantly more support and be pulled more frequently. I also split up any behavioral needs amongst the two groups. You can even give your groups names, so that when you transition from notes to classwork, you can just say, “Gryffindor, meet me at the horseshoe table” or “Ravenclaw, you will need a highlighter for small group.”

##### Set Expectations for Rest of Class

- What is the rest of your class doing during this time? How much time do they have to do it? Are they allowed out of their seat? What do they do if they need help? Your students should know the answers to all of these questions before you pull a small group. You will end up frustrated and annoyed if you’re spending your time correcting students or getting up to answer questions from other students.
**At the beginning of the year, I explain to my whole class why I pull small groups and how important it is for us to support our teammates who need extra help.**One way they can support those students is to maintain a reasonable volume and to complete their work regardless of who is watching them. During a small group, there is a 100% chance that students in your class will have a question, so assign a responsible student to field questions for you. You can also set the expectation that students may only ask a question if no one else at their table knows the answer**and**they have looked at their notes.

## During SMALL GROUP INSTRUCTION

##### Gauge Understanding Before You Start

- Before you begin, find out where your students are. You can do this a couple different ways. Informally, you can ask students on a scale of 1 to 5, how well do they understand what they just learned. Side note: make sure to explain how the scale works (1 = no clue and 5 = you could teach the class).
**I have found that most students are great at evaluating their needs.**If a student has no idea what is going on, they will tell you 1. More formally, you can have students start a problem on their own, and watch to see where or if they begin to make a mistake. And on a rare occasion, be amazed that they can do it all by themselves, give yourself a pat on the back because you are the BEST teacher ever, and send them back to work on their own.

##### Keep It Simple

- You have enough to do as a teacher. You do not have to create different material for your small group. Students can work on what the rest of the class is completing. If you need to make the material more accessible, ask yourself ‘what skill are we practicing?’ If the objective is to calculate volume, perhaps you can change the classwork to include only whole numbers while the rest of the class is finding volume with decimals and fractions. Sometimes, different material is appropriate, but remember to not bite off more than you can chew.
**When you are first starting, keep it simple.**

##### Whiteboards Are Your Friend

- Students love to write on whiteboards!
**Whiteboards keep students engaged, and as the teacher, allow you to easily see what the students are doing.**This will enable you to correct misconceptions on the spot and provide immediate feedback. Plus, they are just so much more fun than paper and pencil. Personally, I used these whiteboard clipboards.

## After SMALL GROUP INSTRUCTION

##### Watch ‘Em Work

- Provide a problem for students to complete independently. Watch them as they work. Don’t ask any questions and just allow them to show you what they have learned in your small group. If there are still misunderstandings after the student has finished, give another student from your small group who did it correctly an opportunity to explain what they did to the struggling student. Sometimes, students explain better than us teachers. 😉

##### Determine Next Steps

Remember, **one small group pull out will not fix every math misconception**, and some students need more time and more attention. Baby steps are still steps after all, and your students are lucky to have a teacher that cares so much. If you are looking for a way to track their progress, you can check out these forms I use here. Stay positive and make sure these students know that you, as their teacher, believe in them!

For more ideas and specifics on math small group instruction check out *Guided Math Instruction*. It is aimed towards elementary students, but has some great tips that transfer to middle school. Teachers, what other tips do you have?

For even more tips on organizing data and small group instruction, check out this follow up post.

##### Click to find out more about Maneuvering Math™.

Mrs. Brack is a sixth grade math teacher in Texas and my sister. She is super creative, yet practical and loves her students so well. She will be periodically posting on the blog this summer because she is the best sister and because she has great ideas that I know you will love. 😉

Brenda says

I need the most help with small groups, so thank you for this one. I am used to small groups like in 1st grade, i had more than 51 minutes to do it. I will be keeping an eye on your blog and sharing with some fellow colleagues. Thank you so much. I am teaching 6th grade math.

Noelle Pickering says

Oh yay! I love sixth graders! I think your experience in 1st is going to be so helpful because you know what to do and are comfortable with it. The trick will be getting it all done before the bell rings. 🙂

Lisa Stubblebine says

So this is my first year to try small groups in my math class. Reading your blog has inspired me, and I believe it is something that was missing in my classroom. I have started using some of your ideas as I get my classroom set up and ready for this year. I am a little nervous, yet there is some excitement as well. I will be watching your blog for more ideas. Thanks for your positivity! (I teach middle school math – 6th year)

Noelle Pickering says

Lisa, thank you for your kind words! I am so glad you are willing to give it a try, it will only get easier. Hope you have a great year!

Katie says

I know I need to pull small groups and your advice makes a lot of sense. My biggest dilemma is HOW to pull small groups when I don’t have a horseshoe table and my room is packed full of 34 desks! I don’t have an area where I can put additional desks either. My students are arranged around those students needing preferential seating accommodations. My largest class with 34 students is also the class with the highest need for me to pull them. I do have an inclusion aide but she doesn’t know math very well. Having her pull them from the room defeats the inclusion part and she can’t teach them. I’m frustrated with my space limitations! Can you offer any suggestions on how to pull students without having to move others around each time I do?

Noelle Pickering says

34 desks can cause a bit of a challenge, but don’t be scared. 🙂 When I did this with my largest class, I would have a place in the room where four students would turn their desks together to create a “table” and I would pull up a chair. I usually did this near the door, in the back of the class, so my back wasn’t facing any students and I could keep an eye on everyone. If those four students are not the ones you need, just ask them to switch. It might take a bit of time training students, but it is doable. Best of luck!!!

kirsten kirk says

Great ideas for managing small groups! I especially like the tips for making sure the rest of the class understands expectations!

Susan says

I know this is an older post, but really need insight with pulling small groups. I teach 6th grade and whenever I try to pull small groups there are tears, students who put their head down and refuse to move, and students who try to argue with me and constant begging to go back to their seats. Most of the students really do not want to be pulled for a small group. We had a class discussion and what I gathered was that a handful feel very embarrassed about it and a couple just don’t like working with other people because they think it slows them down. My administrator says to just make them do it and send them to the office if they refuse. My co-worker, who also teaches this group, says to work on the mindset in the classroom, so that it isn’t seen as a negative thing to need extra help.

Any ideas or insight would be very helpful!

Tyne Brack says

Hi, Susan! Since you will have a fresh start this year, here is what I would do. Start the year pulling small groups with all levels of students. Pull a group of high students, a group with medium students, a group of low students, a group of them all mixed up. Explain that small groups are just a chance for students to get more one-on-one time with you. Small group time should be fun- so give individual students in small groups points or sticker or have your different small groups compete against each other for a prize. Let them work on white boards. I let students use expo markers directly on the horseshoe table. You will find that students will request to be pulled for a small group in no time. And your coworker is totally right! Mindset is the most important thing! I wrote a post on growth mindset here. Hope that helps! Best of luck!

Dr. C says

Great INCLUSIVE response!!

Greg Harlston says

Hello Susan! I just finished my second year of teaching 7th and 8th grade math. About half way through the year, I realized that I needed to do small group instruction, but I didn’t feel comfortable implementing it mid year. I tried a few things with mixed success. So this summer I am doing research on incorporating small group instruction so that in the fall I can “seamlessly” implement it. I just discovered your blog today, but I can already tell that it will be a huge asset for me. Thanks for sharing your great ideas.

Enrique Brown says

This was very helpful! Thank you!

Amanda says

I love doing small group instruction and used it during the 6 years I taught intervention. I ran Monday -Thursday, with 4 centers. Every center lasted 23 minutes (1/2 a class) and a student went to each center twice a week. Center 1 was a math fact/ math vocab practice using xtramath and quizket. Center 2 was paper and pencil, I used a box SRA lab. Center 3 was an online program. I have tried it several, mobymax, freckle and khan academy. Each had its’ upside and downside. The teacher group was the 4th center. Also if you have access to a few iPads, use Classflow. Its a free online program that allows you to send out free response polls, turning each iPad into a digital whiteboard but you can save all of your students’ work to review after class. I use this data to rearrange groups as needed. It also was a lifesaver while I was doing my national boards. Friday was a free math choice day as long as they completed the centers during the week. If not, natural consequences, you did your center work.