How These Easy Strategies for Differentiation Will Triple Your Math Results

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These easy strategies for differentiation will provide great results in math!

Brilliant math strategies for differentiating instruction to step up your students’ results

How can we as teachers truly see each of these students individually while teaching them everything they need to learn? There just aren’t enough hours in the day! The answer…strategies for differentiating instruction.

A study published by Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences found that students’ learning outcomes significantly improve when teachers use differentiated content that responds to a student’s learning preferences. Students are also more likely to focus and be engaged in the learning process when teachers differentiate their instructional strategies. As you provide opportunities for students to explore content based on their strengths, they’re more likely to flourish in your class. (

So now you may be asking yourself, or me, what differentiation in the math classroom looks like. ASCD outlines it perfectly. Differentiation of instruction is:

  1. Proactive
  2. Qualitative
  3. Assessment-based
  4. Dynamic
  5. Student-centered

How to be proactive with these ultimate games for elementary data

Games are the perfect way to pre-assess! You can use games for elementary data in many different ways, but we focus on these two:

First, use them as a formative assessment to casually explore what your students already know or don’t know. Take notes in a notebook.

The second way is to use games as a more formal assessment. When you play Scoot, students fill in a recording sheet and BOOM, instant assessment!

Embrace the idea of floating and observing, and recognize that assessments don’t always have to be a formal test or project. Our simple data sheet makes it a no-brainer for you to wander around and observe your students individually, while the whole class is learning at the same time.

So, once you have covered the proactive piece of differentiation and the assessment-based piece, next comes what to do with all the wonderful information you collect. Let’s talk about math learning centers!

Transform your classroom with these strategies for independent learning

The best way to achieve qualitative, student-based, dynamic instruction is through the use of math learning centers in your classroom. These strategies for independent learning provide countless benefits for you and your students. (Department for Children, Schools, and Families Research Report).

  • Independent learners do better in school
  • Independent learners have more confidence
  • Independent learners are more self-aware and goal-oriented
  • Independent learning frees the teacher to focus on student needs
  • Independent learning provides a safe social environment for all students

I want my students to be able to work independently, so they will be involved in purposeful learning for themselves and with one another. Last week’s post was about how we discovered math learning centers are easy strategies for differentiation. If you missed it, then read it HERE.

Before I begin math learning centers, I discuss them with my students in our class meeting. I use the language that I taught my students the first couple of weeks of school. Check out these posts, starting with Day 1, to explore how I use my classroom culture to ensure success for my students.

I remind my students that I expect them to be quality students in their centers and encourage them to work as a team, trying to be kind and understanding. I explain how they will learn in these math learning centers. This is the vocabulary that I teach at the beginning of school, so my students know what these words mean and how I expect them to apply these behaviors in their centers. We review this every day before we even get into our math centers.

After I have prepared my students , and sent home a parent letter about centers, then we begin simple math learning centers.  The letter is just to inform parents about centers, and to ask for items that we can use, such as buttons and bottle tops for sorting or creating patterns.

Ideas for simple math learning centers

  • Sorting
  • Doing puzzles
  • Working with pattern blocks

I choose centers that use strategies for independent learning, so that I can observe my students. I send 5 or 6 students to each center and explain that they will stay there until I tell them it is time to change. You can use music, a timer, a chant or you can just tell them it is time. Students will clean up their centers and stand. They wait until I tell them to rotate. We practice each step until students know what to do.

How a mix of groups is the secret to success for differentiation in the math classroom

My independent math centers are made up of heterogenous groups. I like this because students can help each other, and it has limited the “poking the teacher” every time there is a question scenario.

Forming mixed-ability groups of pupils gives high achievers a platform to vocalise their ideas, and lower ability students a way of collaborating with and learning from their peers.(ResourcED) 

My guided math centers are made up of homogeneous groups. I like this because I can focus on the abilities of each student level and more closely monitor each individual’s progress.

Why math games that are fun are the perfect staple for math learning centers

I try to have various centers like this one for place value that covers the math skill we are working on as well as other centers that include previous math skills.

place value math center
These place value math games also make great math centers with the manipulatives.

Word problems are often a challenge for young students and are ideal for your centers. You can create word problems to go with your science or social studies units, or have students create word problems to solve. These task cards for addition with word problems work well for my centers because they have the fish manipulatives to help students solve the problems. All of our Scoot games have cards and manipulatives as well as recording sheets and answer keys, so they are also helpful math centers.

CLICK HERE to see word problem task cards.

addition with word problems
This addition with word problems is a fun math center.

I also like to keep spiral math review task cards as a go to math center. These cards cover several math skills.

spiral math review
This spiral math review center is a great way to keep math skills sharp.

I also like to have a money center throughout the year. See more ideas for math centers HERE.

Students also enjoy it when we include seasonal centers, such as activities for St. Patrick’s Day. I even created these chick task cards for when we were hatching chicks in the room.

We have a lot of seasonal math games which also make great centers with the manipulatives that are included. Email us at if you need something for a specific math center.

Try guided math groups to step up your goals in the classroom

After my students have rotated through their math centers, then we meet back on the carpet and have a class meeting about our center time. We discuss what went well and what we need to work on. We follow this routine every day for about 2 weeks. Then my students are ready to go to their independent math stations and I can begin my guided math groups.

Guided math is when teachers pre-assess their students, and group them according to their instructional levels. This way they can meet with smaller groups of children that are working on the same levels, or on the same math skills.

In Guided Math: A framework for mathematics instruction, Lanney Sammons lists these components for a guided math class.

  1. A classroom environment of numeracy
  2. Morning math warm-ups
  3. Whole-class instruction
  4. Small groups of students working with the teacher on guided math
  5. Math workshop or math centers
  6. Individual conferences
  7. Ongoing assessment

This book is a great resource to help get you started with guided math groups. Ms. Sammons gives you easy steps on how to set up your groups and how you need to be flexible with the groups. She also shares ideas for math stations.

I set up my guided math groups just like I set up reading groups. I call kids with the same instructional levels, which I determine from my assessments, and I work with each group for about 20 minutes. I love these math groups because they allow me to really see my students individual strengths and growth opportunities. It is just too easy to miss what a child truly needs when you teach them as a whole class.

Another book you should check out that I found very helpful was Number Talks by Nancy Hughes. I have the one for K-2 grades. I believe she has them for other grades as well. I really like this book because it has interactive activities that come with questions that you can ask students to get them to solve math problems. She also includes word problems that I found very helpful.

Guided math groups provide easy strategies for differentiation. I can use the same basic framework, but altered for each group level.

For example, when I am teaching addition:

Level 1 students need to have manipulatives to help them see how 2 numbers are joined together.

Level 2 students don’t need manipulatives

Level 3 students are ready to add 2 digit numbers.

So I may use the same resource for Level 1 and Level 2 with a few adjustments, then a more challenging resource for Level 3. I might also take the same equations my Level 1 and 2s are working on and make 1+2 into 10+2.

Math learning centers are a fantastic way to get everything you want out of your instruction. Students explore strategies for independent learning, you can focus on individual needs, and everyone has a richer classroom experience. I tried whole group teaching and I missed out on so much with my kids. Math learning centers provided me with deeper relationships with my students personally and academically. As a result, my students’ progress tripled and I finally felt like I was making the impact I always wanted.

Have a great weekend and get centered!

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