Implementing the Math Workshop Model

by Erika Gilbert & Cynthia Ciesla, Guest Contributors
January 11th, 2019

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A math workshop framework can provide the rigor and relevance necessary for skills that students will need in the future. The math workshop framework often starts with a number sense routine, a short, 5- to 10-minute period of time when students talk about numbers. They may look for patterns, talk about attributes of a number, or explore various ways to solve a problem. That is then followed by a combination of the following based on instructional needs:


  • A focus lesson: Whole-group instruction to introduce a new topic
  • Guided math group: A small group of students working with the teacher to address specific needs
  • Learning stations: Activities that students work on independently or collaboratively to practice new topics or review past topics, often taking place while the teacher is working with a guided math group
  • Student reflection: Students think and share about their learning. This can be done in a variety of ways including math journals, exit tickets, or turn-and-talk.

The nice thing about this framework is that the components can be changed per class based on the needs of instruction for that particular unit of study. For example, when introducing a new topic, the teacher might start with a number sense routine, followed by a focus lesson, then allow students to practice with learning stations and conclude with a reflection. The following day will also start with a number sense routine, but then some students will be in teacher-led guided math groups based on prior assessments while others work in learning stations. Class will end in student reflection.

To learn more about the math workshop framework, we would recommend the Math Solutions book Math Workshop: Five Steps to Implementing Guided Math, Learning Stations, and More by Jennifer Lempp. We found the book user-friendly because it does not need to be read sequentially. There are lessons guides and embedded videos that model each specific routine.

This framework allows students to really investigate mathematical concepts and develop a deeper conceptual understanding, problem solve, and learn with their peers. It provides choice and allows students to be creative in their thinking as they develop their math knowledge.

Teachers spend more of their time facilitating the learning, asking questions that guide the students’ thinking, and having them working in small groups on specific skills. Several teachers use the math workshop model in our school. According to one fifth-grade teacher, Tia Guidetti, once the model is up and running, the students are able to maneuver independently through the learning stations. Getting there is the hardest part and requires a lot of modeling and teaching of expectations. Her advice: “Don’t overthink; just jump in!”


Note: This post is excerpted from Shift From the Traditional Classroom to a Math Workshop Structure on our HMH Shaped blog. Read Erika and Cynthia’s full post on Shaped.


Erika Gilbert started her teaching career in 2002 as a Math AIS teacher in the North Syracuse School District. She has always been passionate about teaching middle schoolers and loves working with math learners in grades 5-7.  Erika received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, a 7-9 Math Extension, and a master’s in special education from SUNY Oswego.

 For the past five years, she has supported her students using MATH 180 and has nominated 25 students for the 180 Awards. These nominations have resulted in 10 finalists and three national winners. Erika is very proud of her students for the hard work and effort they put into learning math.


Cynthia Ciesla has been a middle school AIS teacher for the past 14 years. She holds an associate degree from OCC to practice dental hygiene.

She also holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s degree in literacy, both from SUNY Oswego. Using such programs as MATH 180, System 44, and READ 180Universal, she believes all students have the ability to thrive and grow. Cynthia is a member of her school’s Building Planning Team, Instructional Support Team, and Math Study Committee, and serves as AIS Department Chair.


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