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Do you often wonder how to organize your elementary math block in the best way? How often do you ‘tweak’ your math schedule? If you answered frequently to either question, you are definitely not alone!

Over the years, I have experimented with a number of different math schedules, trying to find the most effective math instruction. It changes a little based on my unique group of students each year but there are a few elements that are always present.

I don’t believe that designing a math program (or any subject for that matter) is one-size-fits-all for every teacher and student. I vary my math program each year to best fit my unique group of students as well as making sure it works for me.

However, I do feel strongly that there are a few necessary components for all math programs to run smoothly and ensure all students have the best chance of success.

Screenshots of teacher guides for a full year math program with text "Check out our complete math programs".

This post gives you all the information you need to develop your own amazing math program that engages your students while teaching them. We want to help you be the best teacher you can, while managing to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

However, if you are looking for a ready-made, high quality math curriculum that is already tested and teacher approved, we have full year math bundles available in our TPT store.

Everything in this post is included in all our math units with teacher notes and answer keys! We have poured literally hundreds of hours into creating these huge bundles so we KNOW you will be saving a huge amount of time and stress!

PLANNING YOUR ELEMENTARY MATH BLOCK

This post is specifically geared toward a junior math classroom as that is the bulk of my teaching experience. However, it could easily be used in primary or intermediate grades. You may make small changes to the timing based on student attention spans but not much else would need to change.

Warm-Up

Transitions are invariably a source of stress, noise and loss of focus. I always begin with a bellwork or warm-up activity. This is something simple that reviews previously taught concepts.

This is a routine that is instilled from the beginning of the school year. Students know exactly what to start working on as soon as they have settled. It isn’t a big deal if some students don’t complete, or even start, this activity.

This is a perfect time to review and reinforce Number Sense concepts throughout the year!

You want to follow this with a ‘Minds On’ task. This is a quick activity designed to get your students’ brains engaged in the current topic. It might be an open-ended question, quick game, video, review of the previous lesson… there are many options.

Google Slides presentation slides for a 3 part math lesson.

Action / Experimentation

Students need a chance to collaborate and discuss with classmates. The days of spoonfeeding students the algorithms (or steps) to complete a math operation for them to memorize are long gone!

Students should be presented with a problem then allowed to work in partners or small groups to develop their own strategies and overcome the challenges they face in doing so. This is how students develop a deeper understanding of the content being taught.

The Ontario Math Curriculum includes Mathematical Processes and Socio-Emotional Learning as Mathematics Strand on its own now as these areas have been proven to be crucial to student development and success.

The challenge as the teacher is to allow your students to struggle. We all want them to do well and be happy, but the struggle is where the learning happens! Guide them with thoughtful questions, lead them a little if they are getting too frustrated but don’t just tell them what to do or how to do it. I cannot stress this enough.

This isn’t a test. Wrong answers and mistakes do not equal failure. I am a stuck record with my students that asking questions and making mistakes is what successful students do – it’s how we learn. So many kids arrive in the junior grades with the idea that these are signs of not being smart or failing.

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Direct Instruction

At some point, you are likely to want to just ‘teach’ something to your students. Wherever possible, I like to leave this until after my students have had a chance to experiment with their own understanding of the concept at hand and collaborate to construct their own strategies.

Occasionally, particularly if the topic is brand new, I may give the direct instruction right after the Minds On activity, however.

Consolidation

This is, I find, the hardest part to do well as the teacher but is the most important element of your math block. Consolidation usually happens in the form of a whole class discussion. Students share their strategies in solving the problem, challenges they faced and how they overcame them.

The teacher’s role is to facilitate this with meaningful guiding questions. This is also the spot where you get to actually show students how to complete problems, rather than letting them explore.

Centres / Independent Practice

Balanced math centres or stations are an important part of any elementary math program. Giving students a chance to practise and master skills is crucial as one lesson is rarely enough to fully cement any concept yet we all know there aren’t enough days in the school year to dwell for too long on any topic.

Centres are also a great opportunity to incorporate math review from earlier units as well as include spiral math strategies. Students love when it is time for math centres.

Student completing a math practice worksheet on a desk.

Math stations should include opportunities for students to work independently as well as practise cooperation, communication and problem-solving skills. I like to include some fun games at at least a couple of centres as well as drier practice work at some others.

As much as possible, keep centre tasks open-ended with options for early finishers so you are not bombarded with questions of what to do next!

Guided / Small groups / Individual support

Well organized math centres will allow you to run small guided math groups or even individual intervention during class. This is the best time to work with students in need of a little extra practise, help with a challenging concept or students with IEPs (Individual Education Plans).

We all know that small groups are far more effective for teaching than whole groups yet they can be so hard to manage. My balanced math centres allow me to work with 1 or 2 small groups or individuals during each round of centres without interruption and have truly become the most effective part of my math programming.

Images of balanced math centre instruction task cards.

SCHEDULING YOUR ELEMENTARY MATH BLOCK

Now you’ve figured out the components of your math block, how will you fit all the pieces into your schedule? I will give you a few options depending on how much time you have each day for your mathematics program.

100 Minute Math Block – Lesson and Centres Every Day

This is my ideal schedule. It allows for a full 3-part lesson and centres with small groups every day.

  • 0-5 min: Bellwork
  • 5-10 min: Minds On activity
  • 10-30 min: Action
  • 30-50 min: Consolidation
  • 50-60 min: Formative Assessment
  • 60-100 min: One or two rounds of centres depending on time (each with a teacher-led, small guided math group)
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100 Minute Math Block – Longer Lessons

Despite my best efforts, I struggle to complete the 3-part lesson in 60 minutes. Depending on my students that year, it may be downright impossible. If you are like me, this schedule is probably more realistic.

Monday to Thursday

  • 0-10 min: Bellwork
  • 10-20 min: Minds On activity
  • 20-40 min: Action
  • 40-60 min: Consolidation
  • 60-80 min: Formative assessment
  • *The remainder 20 minutes can be used for catch-up, practice questions, or often simply gets lost in transitions!

Friday

  • 0-10 min: Bellwork
  • 10-30 min: Centre rotation 1
  • 30-50 min: Centre rotation 2
  • 50-70 min: Centre rotation 3
  • 70-90 min: Centre rotation 4
  • 90-100 min: Clean up

60 Minute Math Block

Not all schedules allow for 100 minutes of math every day. This option fits in all the important elements of an elementary math block in just 60 minutes a day.

Monday to Thursday

  • 0-10 min: Warm Up / Minds On
  • 10-30 min: Action
  • 30-50 min: Consolidation
  • 50-60 min: Formative Assessment

Friday

  • 0-10 min: Warm Up / Minds On
  • 10-35 min: Centre Rotation 1
  • 35-60 min: Centre Rotation 2
Teaching notes and playing cards for a fractions matching card game.

As you can see, there isn’t just one specific correct way to teach math. However, I strongly believe that the 6 components listed above are essential for developing strong mathematical thinking in students.

If it is feeling overwhelming to schedule all the components into your math block, don’t panic! We’ve got ready-to-teach math programs available for grades 4-8. Each bundle include all the elements discussed in this post AND MORE. We’ve personally used these in our own classrooms so we know you can achieve great results too.

How do you schedule your math block? What do you consider the most important elements of a math lesson? Comment below to share your ideas with others!

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Screenshots of teacher guide from Past the Potholes full year of math program with text: "The 6 parts of the perfect math block".


Categories: Teaching Math

Claire

I'm Claire, a teacher who loves to travel! Together with my husband, we have a combined 40 years of teaching experience and 5 years living and travelling overseas! We're here to help with teaching tips and resources focused on Language Arts, Math and Assessment AND share our best travel ideas with useful itineraries and destination information. Do you teach, travel or both?

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