Math Workstations and Differentiation,

I have a classroom of gifted kids. I have from age 6 to age 8 in my class. I have students who can do division and know mostly all of their multiplication facts, and I have some kids who still don’t know their addition facts.

We do a Weekly Graph in a pocket chart on a variety of topics. Then they all sit down and  take
a turn telling me something about the graph using “math words”. 

So I have to group kids in math like I group them in reading.  IT IS NOT EASY!  Let me repeat, doing any kind of differentiation is NOT EASY.  I rarely have time to come up with individual lessons for my high kids because I’m helping my low kids get the basic lesson.  But I can do it once a week. Any teacher can with some preparation time on Friday afternoon.

CHECK OUT PINTEREST FOR THE PAGE ON MATH GAMES. THE LINK IS HERE! Many of them can be purchased cheaply or made at home.

Here are a few things that help me differentiate in Math

1. Having Flexible Math Groupings
2. Having multiple and changing learning stations and centers for math
3. Doing timed tests in math facts as far as the kids can go at their own level.
4. I do every page of the student workbook and finish it by year’s end. I don’t skip concepts.
5. We do a writing project in math probably 6 times a year.
6. I have many purchased games and math manipulatives to use with games to make math more fun!

 HERE at Printable Math Worksheets are charts and worksheets for learning math facts.  This also needs to be a part of any good math program.  The kids need timed tests to master and drill their facts into memory. We could spend 5 minutes three times a week taking and correcting timed tests and have the whole class mastering math facts all year.

Learning Centers are up every day, all day, and they are really the favorites of my students. I  have 2 centers out at each table all day; one center is a language arts station, and the other is a math station.  The kids are told in the mornings, when they are done with their writing work, that they go to the L.A. center, and in the afternoons, when they are done with their independent work, they can choose a math center.

Inching Along Measurement Game
A fun game to teach inches and measuring. 
I copied this free printable to go on the upper inside flap of each page from Enchanted Learning.

 I have 5 centers of each at 5 areas
1. The rug. Math puzzles, matching games, flip overs, etc.
2. The round game table. (a small shelf next to it has board games, Bingo games, file folder games)
3. The long, mom-helper table (RUBBER STAMPS) It  has rubber stamp clocks, money, base 10 etc. so kids can make their own problems up and answer their own rubber stamped problems.
4. The filing cabinets (MAGNET CENTER) I’ve made lots of games magnetic and I also have magnetic ABCs and Numbers so it is always a popular one.
5. Listening Post/Weekly Graph. I always have a math book on tape as well as a weekly graphing assignment to do. The kids get their graphing done by Friday.

These are good games for a math center. They are played independently and kids love the  MATCH UPS!

Some are just purchased games such as SUM SWAMP. IT IS ALWAYS A FAVORITE math game. It includes addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. The kids choose which operation to play.

Sum Swamp Addition and Subtraction Game
This game is in my STORE in the BUTTON ABOVE.  Please  go  take a look! 

 Most of the kids loved my math games and centers, and it would be a motivation to get their work done so they could go play a math game afterwards.  Morning fast finishers do the Language Arts activity at one of the 5 centers.. Afternoons they would do the math activity at the same center.  I don’t change centers very often, maybe every 2 weeks or so. I am lazy. And with 5 centers, most kids would only go twice to each center in a 2 week period.  😀

The MATH CENTER in the background is a math game in a pocket chart. It is like Jeopardy  in that it has catergories of math and amounts for difficulty of question. Kids play it with a few partners. 


I find that on Mondays, I don’t have any specials (P.E. Library or Computer), so I have an extra half hour of the day that isn’t really integrated with anything else.  And I’m usually starting on a new topic in Social Studies, Science and sometimes Math.  So it’s a good time to start something new.  So that was the day I decided to plan and prepare for a special lesson in math for those high kids in my class.  We named them “THE MATHEMATICALS”. They LOVE being called that.

 I call them over as soon as I’m done with my math lesson for the day, knowing they will complete the independent work quickly and can be ready for something much more challenging. I found stuff in the next grade up and further that was simple to teach, yet would be new information; such as multiplying double digits, or simple division, quadruple addition or subtraction, brain teasers etc.

I have a bingo game on almost every topic I teach. I think it is a good use of  money. The kids love them, they teach each other how to run the games, and they learn as they play at centers. Some years I have had to assign a “game caller” to run the game. It would be a high student who could help others play the game. Kids love to be in charge!! 

The Mathematicals group would meet with me on Monday after the regular math lesson.  They each have a folder and I will give them a page with higher level work on it with the same theme or math strand if possible. If not they got a brain teaser or word problems or simple multiplication. You’d be surprised how many kids can do it even in first grade. I got the worksheets online or from the above grade level old series of math…. so I wasn’t copying anything current that they would do the next year.  They would usually finish the worksheet by the end of the week doing a little bit each day on their own. Then they still had time to go to centers.

Here are my “foam feet” I use to teach inches, feet and yards. Check out ordering a set from my estore in the button above. 

The week we were doing measurement for differentiation I had them do a “yardstick” by tracing my 1 foot “foam feet” in sets of 3, making the inch increments and totalling the 36 inches. You can see the final product hanging from the ceiling. They then had to measure 3 things in the room in feet using tools such as rulers and measuring tape. They loved it! And some of the other fast finishers did it too.

 They had to list inches, centimeters, and feet for totals measured. It was fun and challenging for my first graders that year. And everybody learned the vocabulary for inches, feet and yards.this way, by actually doing a silly art project!!! They would also have done some paper and pencil measurement pages that were higher level that week.

Sometimes it would be a page on 2 step word problems with triple digits or quantities of money or 2 step operations in telling elapsed time. Other times it would be writing out in words numbers in the 100 thousands. Stuff like that. It wasn’t too far developmentally that they couldn’t do it, and they thought it was fun.

Here a group doing differentiated math using “foam feet”….it would be some project above and beyond the regular assignment for the day.


My low kids would get me every day at the kidney shaped table, after the whole group lesson is done and nobody else has questions. At this time all are working on their independent work. The high group, The mathematicals, would have had their weekly meeting with me already.

 I  meet almost daily with the low group to help them understand and do the regular daily work. I send them back to their desk individually when they had more than half the work done. The other kids in the class are finishing at their own pace and then going to one of the 5 centers.

I have a few store bought games on each math strand. Some I have made up myself, some I use games I have made in file folders and put inside a baggie.

The faces would change at the kidney table (low math group), depending on the strand of math. Some kids would volunteer to come back to me. Some I would call back because of what errors I’d seen on yesterday’s corrected work. That always told me who didn’t “get it” yet.

 Some were low in money counting. Some were low in understanding word problems, some were low in fractions, etc. The math hour would be complete when everybody got that day’s work done and had a little time for center games/workstations.

Extra activity we do every day for 10 minutes…ADD MATH…..I like the “word problem” a day and the math facts practice.

My measurement unit has a lot of hands on activities. The kids really learn the different vocabulary by using the tools of measurement. (inches, feet, yards, yardstick, meter stick, centimeters, etc.)

  I HATE to hear teachers say, “well we don’t have to teach that, because it’s not in our core!” It just makes me cringe!!! 

Why not do some higher level stuff? Or stuff in the math book that is not required at your grade? What does it hurt? You will be addressing those high kids in your class that WANT and NEED more challenge!! That is a way to differentiate. Let those who are easily bored do a different project once in awhile, even if you only challenge yourself to do a differentiation project once a month, you are helping high level kids learn something they are ready for.

 It’s kinda my mantra. My kids were often bored in elementary school. And everybody has kids in their class like that. So address it. Give it some of your planning time. If you only make up one extra activity a month this year and add another one next year (per month) you will soon have something once a week for the entire year for high level kids. 

And then won’t you be proud of yourself.  

Yes, you will! I PROMISE! 

Finding Ways to Differentiate in Math

 I’ve found that a cool way to differentiate in all subjects is to give open ended assignments or ones where they do a project. Those who are at a higher level will most often want to do a little more, add creative embellishments to it, or else go deeper into a subject.  Those with less ability will write less, do smaller projects, and go into a little less depth. These are natural diffentiating assignments. I will give examples of what I mean.

You can buy this math menu at a great center for money adding that is naturally very differentiated…high kids will choose challenging amounts….low kids will add up easy combinations…

 I give lots of choices  in my classroom. They get their choice of from several  options depending on if it is spelling menu of 21 options to do at night, 6 reading centers to choose from all week, writing prompts, book reports, or math games.  So they always have some sort of choice, and there is always a harder and an easier option. That is the key to differentiate without having to make 3 separate lessons for everything you do.  Game choice is easy. If you teach a new game a week in math that is a good start. By the end of a unit they have learned 2 or 3 games on that topic. And they can choose which one to play. I keep the adding and subtracting games out all year and just add to the pile using gallon baggies layered easy (in front) to hard (in back).

And don’t forget about your classroom computers as differentiation tools. They are a cool center for kids to use. There are many online and cd games kids can play in math.

You can get this book of Math projects and games at Scholastic

These handpanited lima bean counters idea is from Little a fabulous website for ideas!!!

Now a few years back when I was getting my gifted and talented endorsement to be able to teach gifted kids, I met up with a few teachers who all wanted to learn how to better differentiate math. I think we came up with a really good and easy way to do it.  We take a strand of math such as measurement. We do a short, quick and dirty 12 question assessment sheet and score them and then place them in 3 groups; high medium and low ability. Then for that particular unit they are taught differently, but these groups are never set in stone and are always fluid.

Then we teach the regular lesson to everyone. Those who were in The high group do the regular seatwork assignment and I meet with them first, in a small group, to give them either a more challenging optional assignment or some challenge games to do with partners or in groups. I meet with this group once a week after the regular math directed lesson. And hopefully the math challenge assignments and games will last the week in interest level. Very occasionally I gave them a higher grade level “packet”.  This was not the norm though, but sometimes I stooped to a packet.

The medium group does the regular math seatwork after lessons and then goes to math centers. All the math centers can have differentiation in them built right in. Some medium kids will learn the games from the high kids and play their games too. An example of centers in measurement might be rulers and a tote tray full of measure worms, and some paper with 1 to 12 listed for answers. Kids could measure in centimeters and inches or choose one or the other.  Another center could be using tape measures to measure each others elbows to fingers, head circumference, feet and body length. The cut outs could be gingerbread men they write the answers on the body part they measured.

The  low group I meet with daily right after the regular lesson and kids have started independent seatwork. They meet at a table with me in groups of 3. As soon as we see they are doing it well on their own they go back to do work independently. Then we have a little time to call a few of the medium kids a day to work and reteach if necessary to be sure each is “getting it”. 

This way you are covering your low kids on a math topic every day, your medium as you can manage meets, and your high you are challenging even if it is only once a week in a meet and with the extra games, problem solvings, or more challenging seatwork. You’ve met with all 3 groups independently over the course of a week or two.  The challenge is being prepared for those high kids with an extra activity once a week. That takes more organization on the teacher’s part. But it is highly doable. Sometimes it would be a problem solving from a brain teaser book. Sometimes things like Sodoku, magic squares, a game from the math series I quickly teach that is too high for the mainstream class or a few word problem ideas for them to write and share with the class. Sometimes it would be a file folder game brand new to the class, or I used cards, dominos and dice a lot.

I have several of these fraction circles I’ve purchased for centers.  They are fun and easy!

Sometimes I would just peruse the monthly teacher IDEA books like the one to the left. They would have art projects and cute writing paper and I’d come up with a math prompt or word problem and cute art and writing to go with it.  That helped me to really flesh out my strands of math too. And the kids love to mesh art and math. And it would take multiple days to finish. This June book has frogs, turtles, whales and goldfish pages. The kids could do a “Whale of a Word Problem” or a “Goldfish cracker subtraction set of 4 problems” they write themselves, maybe even double digit. I always had the kids put a yellow sticky paper over the answers and we would pick a few a week to read the problems to each other aloud and do them on our individual white boards. The first 3 kids with the correct answers got a gummy bear. And you can have some “authentic assessment” in seeing who can’t do word problems, am I right?

Graphing mats to use with all kinds of manipulatives is a great cooperative learning center

Every other Friday I give tests and then  finishers have math games and centers when they are done, so even some of your low kids will get to go have free choice if they didn’t have it during the week.  That is the goal anyway.  Then a few weeks later when you change math topics….BE SURE…to give a new pretest to see who is high medium and low on this strand or topic. (Don’t lock kids into the same 3 groups all year) And it begins again.

A great website for math is called FUNBRAIN. The link is
I struggle with preparation most weeks. So in a pinch I’ll have my high kids work together on computer games in pairs on my classroom computers.  Some weeks I’m more prepared with cool games and activities and writing prompts for math or math journal problem solvings and it’s all smooth sailing. Some weeks I feel like I’m dragging the whole class along, you know how it is.  I’ll post more tomorrow on some of my games.