How I use math stations in my classroom

For elementary teachers who want to use math stations and centers in guided math
Do you like teaching math? I used to struggle with teaching math until I began doing stations in my classroom. I find whole-group math frustrating for all learners- high and low! I am fanatic for stations and small groups in my classroom. Whole group, although it definitely has its place in the classroom, tends to result in my highest ability students being bored and antsy, while my lower students struggle to keep up and feel uncomfortable. Stations and small groups allows for easy differentiation for students, and allows students to work in a setting with similar abilities and learning styles.

For elementary teachers who want to use math stations and centers in guided math
Now, please note that this is how I like to do math stations. Is this the only way? Nope! Is this the best way? Oh my goodness, no! All of us strive for our kids to be the best mathematicians that they can be, but this happens in a variety of ways and teaching styles. There are as many variations of math stations as fish in the sea (well.... maybe not that many). I'm sharing with you how I like to teach math. I hope that you find some value or interest in this post, but you may find that none of it works for you- and that is okay!

My math stations were originally inspired by 3rd-Grade Thoughts, so some of my wording will sound similar (such as Lesson Work for independent work).

I discuss each station in depth below. However, my math stations consist of four total:
  • Lesson work
  • Centers
  • IXL (or technology)
  • Teacher time

For example, we start place value this week. Here is what each station looks like:
  • Lesson work: A double-sided worksheet on place value that is review from third-grade
  • Centers: Roll-a-dice place value game in a wipe-off sheet from Lakeshore
  • IXL: 3rd grade standard B.2
  • Teacher time: Place value to the hundred thousands

You know what I love about math stations the most? I find that it requires way less prep than my previous math lessons. I now can easily plug in different activities each day. 

For elementary teachers who want to use math stations and centers in guided math The most important thing before starting anything in the classroom is to discuss procedures and expectations. Before we start doing rotations, the students and I have a discussion about how the routine will work. We create this chart together as a group for each of the centers.

As you can see in the anchor chart to the right, we discuss voice level, and what to do if they have questions or finish early. This anchor chart is a great place for them to keep coming back to if they are unsure what is expected of them, I love how I can quickly see it and remember to say things like "Hearts, you're on IXL but your voice level is at a 2." It makes it easy for a common ground and expectation. Visuals make all the difference with students, and having a place to reference what is expected of each of us is key. 

I flexibly group my students. Each group is named after a card suite (hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds... but make sure to explain what a club and spade is! The kids are never quite sure!). Each card suite symbol is a magnet. My groups constantly change based on ongoing, informal assessments, as well as exit tickets. During teacher time, I make quick notes on my notepad if a student is struggling and is lagging behind in the group, or if a student seems to be flying through the material and is getting bored in a group. I use a PowerPoint projected onto the board each day to show the groups so that kids don't get confused which group that they are in!
I do math first thing in the morning after morning meeting, so I set stations up before school. I put up my large signs and card suite magnets, and I also put up the card descriptions at the top of the board. I write what each math center, IXL standard, and lesson work that needs to be done. This gives a place for kids to look at if they are confused what to do. 

HOW DO STUDENTS CHANGE STATIONS?For elementary teachers who want to use math stations and centers in guided math
 My classroom assistant (which changes weekly) is in charge of the magnets. This is a routine that needs to be practiced so that students understand which way to move the magnets when they hear the chime. Every time that I ring the chime, the classroom assistant quickly changes the magnets. Math is over when I have met with each group, or each group has made a full rotation.


Math centers
For elementary teachers who want to use math stations and centers in guided math
For elementary teachers who want to use math stations and centers in guided math
For my math centers, I always have something that is hands-on, whether an activity that uses a math manipulative or a game. For example, for place value I found a fantastic resource from Teachers Pay Teachers called Roll it! Make it! Expand it! Before stations, we go over what materials that students will need when they are doing math centers. All the kids need are dice and a dry-erase marker. When it is their turn to do a math station, they walk to the rug, grab a dry-erase marker, sock eraser, pair of dice, and get to work!

If you're interested, I offer a growing third-grade math center bundle in my TPT store!

Lesson work
Lesson work is the concrete component of a math worksheet or handout. I know worksheets are used less often nowadays in the classroom, but I firmly believe that they are an important piece of a math period in moderation. Combined with hands-on math centers and technology, they are definitely a helpful way to ensure that students understand a concept.

Lesson work is usually review of what we were doing the day before, or a spiral from something we learned earlier in the year. I do not like to give out new topics for lesson work, because my students sometimes really struggle with a new topic. Since I do not want to be disturbed when working with a small group, I do not want them sitting around doing nothing and being confused. Spiraling back allows them to reinforce and strengthen older concepts that they previously learned.

I leave the lesson work next to my projector in the front of the room. When students get on this station, they pick up a handout and get to work. Their voice level is a 0. If they need help, they can whisper to a group member for help. When finished, they highlight their name and put into the Inbox!


For technology, I either assign an IXL standard or assign a few pages from one of my Google Drive math resources.

My school pays for IXL, a wonderful math website that gives each student a username and password. There is accountability for their work, since teachers can log on and see each student's progress, strengths, and weaknesses. Students also LOVE it since it lets them get a chance to get onto the laptops and iPad! I leave a list of usernames and passwords in the basket in case kids forget what theirs are. I usually select standards from IXL that we are currently studying, although closer to testing in the spring I spiral back with topics that are more difficult for the kiddos. If your school has PTA money, I strongly suggest purchasing IXL. Students can use it at home, and it has made a tremendous impact on the mathematically ability of my students.

Teacher time

Teacher time means that students get to come and meet with me at my table! Students come over quickly and quietly. I already have pencils for the kids. Sometimes I ask them to bring over their math interactive notebook if we are going to work on them. This station is the most important one to me, because I get to work with students in very small groups. I can quickly assess them, and differentiate their learning. I always do a quick mini-lesson with each group. The reason I like to do it with each group instead of the whole class is that it helps students focus, and is a more encouraging environment for students to ask questions. A small group also gives me the ability to offer enrichment, remediation, and quickly assess students on their learning.

How does math look in your classroom? Do you use stations or small groups?

For elementary teachers who want to use math stations and centers in guided math


  1. Oooh! I love that you are a Responsive Classroom teacher too! :) I noticed your CARES in the background while I was checking out math stuff!

    1. YES! I love Responsive Classroom, glad to meet another RC teacher :-)