How I use math stations in my classroom

I am fanatic for stations and small groups in my classroom. Whole group, although it can be really great, 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 easy differentiation for students, and allows students to work in a setting with similar abilities and learning styles.

I was blessed with 21 STUDENTS THIS YEAR (compared to 28 in the past, so fantastic), I think stations will be even smoother than in years past. Last year I did BUILD so that I had five groups. It would get a little tedious, because it was so many stations that I had to come up with daily. Switching stations five times also gets a little draining for the kids.

This year I modeled my math stations off a great post I saw on 3rd-Grade Thoughts (she is fantastic, definitely check out her blog!!!).  Some of my wording will sound similar (such as Lesson Work), so please note that I gave her full credit for her fantastic post that originally inspired my math stations!

My new stations:

  • Lesson work
  • Centers
  • IXL
  • 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 problem solving


Before we start doing rotations, the students and I have a discussion about how the routine will work. We create this chart together for each of the centers. As you can see, 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, PLUS 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.

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. 

Setting up stations
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. 

Changing stations
 My classroom assistant (which changes weekly) is in charge of the magnets. This is a routine that needs to be practiced so that they understand which way to move the magnets. 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.

The components

Math centers
For my math centers, I always have something that is hands-on, uses a math manipulative, or a game. For example, for place value this week I found a fantastic resource from Teachers Pay Teachers called Roll it! Make it! Expand it! All the kids need are dice and a dry-erase marker. They had a lot of fun with it today, and got to practice their place value skills.

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 math in moderation. Combined with centers and IXL, 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 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!


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.

I have two computer monitors who make sure that the computers look as great as they did before school. As you can see above, I try my best to hide my computers in tall, wicker baskets so that you cannot see the wires unless you're standing directly above them. Wires are my enemy.

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. Usually we do something with mini whiteboards where I write questions up on the whiteboard and they answer it. It is also a chance that we can do remediation and enrichment, depending on the group!

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


  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 :-)