whole group math

How to Teach a Whole Group Math Lesson in 15 Minutes or Less

When I first started teaching my math block, I have to say that most of my block was whole group with a bit of time for my students to practice at the end of the block. We would practice the same skill over and over and over. There wasn’t a lot of time to enrich students or remediate either. 

Then I moved to the Math Workshop Model and had problems keeping my focus lesson short to get to my math stations. It was a hot mess!

Then I started focusing on my time and how I could reduce my whole group lesson to just 15 minutes. It took a lot of time to figure out, but I can now keep my lessons to about 15 minutes. 

So in this post, I will share how to get your whole group lesson down to 15 minutes or less.

Now, before I get into the nitty-gritty of establishing a Math Workshop community, if you are looking for a guide to set up your own Math Workshop, I have a guide for you sent directly to your inbox! Just a teacher helping out another teacher! Click here to make your math workshop more engaging and fun!

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Introduce the Math Skill

The first thing you need to do when you start your whole group lesson is present the problem to the class. This can be used for any skill; however, for this post, I will use this word problem:

“There were 6 kids in the pool. 3 more kids got into the pool. How many students are in the pool now?”

After presenting the problem, you want to ask the students to make a connection with the problem. So ask the following questions:

  • What do you know about the problem?
  • What connections can you make to the problem?
  • Have you solved a problem similar to this before?
  • How did you solve that problem?

With this problem, I would even ask if they have ever been to a pool before or if they have ever tried to find out how many people were in the pool. 

The point of these questions is to get students thinking and activate their schema. Many students want to hop to the answer right away and not think through the problem. This makes it challenging when the problem changes and they have to solve a missing addend question. Students need to slow down, think about the whole problem, and plan how to solve it. 

Engage Students in the Math Skill

This is where teachers might step in and solve the problem for students or walk them through the solution. Resist that urge. Students will learn better when they work on it. They need to learn how to solve a problem and find a way that works best for them.

Once the problem is presented, you must ensure that the students have time to work with the problem. Students can work together in pairs or small groups to solve the problem if you want them to.

As the teacher, you are walking around the classroom and asking questions to the students. You might ask:

  • What strategies did you use?
  • How did you decide to solve the problem?
  • Is there another way to solve the problem?
  • I noticed that _____. 
  • Can you explain what you have done so far?
  • How did you choose to organize your work?

Students can share their thinking with you, and you can determine if they understand the problem and the task at hand. You can also help students if they need to be guided to solve a problem. 

Debrief the Math Skill

Once the class has had time to solve the problem, you can bring them back to the whole group and have a debrief of the problem. Here, students share with the class how they solved the problem. You can do this as an entire group or put students into pairs to share the strategies they used. 

This allows students to hear other strategies and think about how they solved their problem. It might even give students a new approach to try when they solve the following problem similar to the one they just tried. 

Here are some questions that you can ask:

  • How did _____ solve the problem?
  • Was a strategy you used in the past that helped you solve this problem?
  • Tell us how your strategy is different than ______.
  • Find a classmate who used a different strategy than yours. Can you explain their strategy to the class?

Whole Group Math Lessons

Whole group math lessons should take no more than 15 minutes to do. Students shouldn’t be solving numerous problems with the same skill as the entire class. If you want to enrich or remediate with students, that is what small group lessons are for. 

You only need one problem to work on with your students. First, make sure that you introduce the math skill by having students make connections to the problem. Then you send them off to solve the problem independently or with a buddy. While they are doing this, you are walking around the classroom, facilitating learning by asking clarifying questions. Finally, you bring your student back to the whole group and have them share their ideas and discuss the similarities and differences in how students solved the problem.

Whole group math lesson time is for a quick introduction of a skill that will be continued in a small group where students can be enriched or where you can remediate. Remember whole group should take no longer than 15 minutes. Getting the timing right can be tricky in the beginning, so give yourself some grace. You will eventually have it down to a well-oiled machine! 

Related Articles:

Establish a Math Workshop Community in 3 Easy Steps

Easily Solve Word Problems in Math with Numberless Problems

How to Set up Your Math Workshop Like a Pro

Free Math Workshop Workbook

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Hi, I'm Meg!

I have ben teaching in the classroom for over 15 years! I love teaching math and finding new and engaging ways to teach my students.

When I am not teaching you can find me at Target, at a baseball game (GO Nats!), binge watching fun shows, or snuggling with my cats!

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