Getting It Started Saturday: Math Rotations {Part 1}

With the start of the school year around the corner, I wanted to go a bit more in-depth with some of the systems I use in class and give you some additional details for how I get them started (sometimes the hardest part, right?!). I'm calling this mini-series Getting It Started Saturday!

Math Rotations {Part 1}

I am beyond in love with Math Rotations, but it took me a while to take the first step and actually start them up in my class. Starting Daily 5 gave me some confidence, but what worried me the most was the management, grouping, and time crunch that math presents each day (we have a 60-minute math block). 

If you haven't read my Math Rotations posts, I recommend reading them to get some general background knowledge about each of the pieces and parts. The four parts are:
Every student goes through each of the first three centers every day and, if they are early finishers on Lesson Work, they have the opportunity to do Fact Practice.

Each day begins with kids going straight to their first rotation. I begin with Teacher Time with my lowest group, then switch after ~18 minutes to meet with my medium group, then after ~18 minutes, meet with my high group. After leaving Teacher Time, the kids then go to Lesson Work and then Math Centers. I typically do these rotations Monday-Thursday

On Friday, my high kids come in and start with Lesson Work (from the day before's Teacher Time), my middle kids work on Math Centers, and my low kids, who usually meet with me first for Teacher Time, will often do Fact Practice while I work on reteaching some of my strugglers. After ~18 minutes, we stop and use the last ~40 minutes of class to do a game like Monster Math, Scoot, Bingo, etc. Fun times on Friday :)

Getting It Started:
Anchor Charts

I *always* make the anchor chart of expectations with my class. It always allows me to get their thinking (as well as my own!) recorded and we look back on them often throughout the set-up stages so we can check in and see how well they are doing with the expectations. Making anchor charts is such an important management piece, but be sure to start slow and don't feel rushed to complete all four sections in one time.

Here's how mine looked last year:

Click HERE to get these chevron signs in my TpT Store
We worked on one section per day, so this took us about a week to introduce. I know you know, but I have found over the years that the more time you spend on setting something up, the more payoff you get throughout the course of the year. Because of this, I didn't feel guilty not getting to the "meat and potatoes" of teaching that first week. 

The first section that I always introduce is Math Centers. These are the most independent part of Math Rotations and I want to make sure my students know and understand the stamina and responsibility required to be successful during this rotation. We model in the meeting are with some student volunteers bad behavior first (within reason- it's a riot!) and then get new volunteers to show us proper behavior. We chart what we noticed and also model the correct ways to take out materials, put them away, what to do if you have a question about something, what voice level to use, where good spots to work are, and so on. It sounds like a lot, but it's worth it, I promise. If kids don't know how something is supposed to run, it can be frustrating for both them and you.

I then do a "fishbowl" of sorts. I split the class into two groups. The first group will do Math Centers for 5-8 minutes and the second group will observe them and look for what they did right. Many kids will be dying to point out who did something wrong, but that is far from helpful ;) They take notes, like researchers or teachers, and they eat it up!

After those few minutes, I signal it's time to come back to the meeting area and the observers/teachers tell all about who was doing what right- yay! We add to the anchor chart if we noticed we missed something important and the observers/teachers then become the students and vice-versa. We end that day having discussed some clear expectations and having done some solid practice about what is expected, so it's a huge success in getting Math Rotations launched.

The next day we introduce Fact Practice and go about setting it up the same way. We do not do the "fishbowl" activity, however, I will instead have the kids split into the two groups and one will practice Math Centers while the other practices Fact Practice. I will also extend the time of each rotation a bit more, building stamina. My goal is to get to 18 minutes, but I don't want to rush it.

The day after we start with Lesson Work and I will have the students split into two groups and start Math Centers or Lesson Work (which is a fun worksheet that doesn't require "Teacher Time" to explain) and if they get done with Lesson Work, they can hop into Fact Practice. Then, we switch.

The final piece is Teacher Time, since that is the easiest for me to manage. I will typically start that only after I feel the other three rotations (Math Centers, especially) are running smoothly enough. They *don't* have to be perfect, just good enough! Math Rotations get better with time and practice, I promise :)

I use any extra time at the end of class to review our anchor chart and talk about all of the good things I saw and encourage students to do the same. If I notice certain kids are not getting into the flow, I ask myself a few questions:
  • Am I moving too fast? (bad habit of mine and usually the answer is yes so the solution is sloooooow dowwwwn!)
  • Is the work too challenging? (especially at the beginning of the year, something I consider "easy" may not be for a student, so I'll need to adjust)
  • Am I being a role model for positive behavior? (if I am running all around and criticizing the talkers in a loud voice, that is not helping!!)
  • Is it good enough? (ugh, death by perfectionism-- remember, it will get better, it just has to be good enough for now so you can then start teaching the content)

What you will find is that if you are comfortable with "good enough", the management will get easier when you get into the actual math work, since the rigor and learning will pick up and it won't just be set-up anymore.

I will be back for Part 2 next week that will include how I create my learning groups and some planning forms for your Math Rotations journey this year. If you are interested in picking up the chevron Math Rotation signs, you can find them in my TpT Store HERE

I hope this helps and leave any questions in the comment section below- I would love to help!


  1. I'm loving your blog and posts about math rotations! I am excited to get mine up and running this year.

    My question is, do you have some students who finish math facts before the rotation is over? What do they go to if they have done the center or lesson work, then fact practice and still have time?

    1. Hi Ann,

      Thanks for your question. Fact Practice is very open-ended, involves some technology (computers, iPads, etc.) and some partner work, so I have never run into kids finishing both Lesson Work and Fact Practice, since there isn't a specific "end" in Fact Practice and the rotation is only about 18 minutes. Hope that helps and be sure to check back next week for some grouping and planning strategies :) Thanks!

  2. Stephanie- Your post is so timely! I am switching from 2nd to 3rd grade this year and wanted to do Math Rotations. I've read different ideas online this summer and look forward to reading more from you. Thanks for sharing!

    Sheryl B.

    1. Thanks, Sheryl! So glad this can help :) :)

    2. I am also moving from 2nd to 3rd this year. Loving reading your blog!! Great ideas!!!

  3. Sheryl I am doing the same! This is perfect timing as I prepare my new classroom routines!

  4. I am very interested in doing this in my classroom. My question is if my low group would start with me and my middle group would start with Math Centers. Where does the other group (my high)start.

  5. I love this idea! I haven't done Math rotations in about 6 years--since I had an aide in my classroom for Math. I've been scared to attempt it on my own. Just a few questions--(If you have answered these somewhere else, just direct me to where to look...) :)
    1. Lesson work: Do you collect this? Is it graded? Could it be a page from a workbook from a previously taught lesson?

    2. Teacher time: obviously differentiated--on my grade level, we have a very strict pacing guide, so we are all teaching the same lesson each night, as this corresponds to the homework that we give. Is this where you are teaching the specific lesson pages from your "series" with supplementation for specific learners?

    3. Math Centers: Are these things you have made? or come with your series? or a combination of both?


  6. This was such a good read! So informative and helpful! Can't wait for part two! Thanks!

  7. I have been dying to properly launch math rotations. I tried last year and wasn't happy with the results. Thank you so much for this mini series!! I'll be checking back next week :)

  8. I have taught 3rd grade for many years (too many to put down in writing because it makes me feel old!). :)

    I have always taught whole group, but I really think the kids will get more out of working with me in a small group. I have read several things about math rotations and centers this summer, trying to get geared up. I think this post was the most helpful. Great information! I will be blessed with a small class of only 10 3rd graders next year, so I am thinking this will be the year to start! Management should be no problem. Thanks for all the great information. I am off to read your previous posts on the specifics about each rotation. Looking forward to Part 2 next week!

  9. Hi Stephanie! I found this VERY helpful! Thanks so much for sharing how you set up your math rotations.
    Grade 4 Buzz

  10. Wow Stephanie-thanks for sharing! Thanks for all the info on how you do Math Centers-this really helped!!

  11. I love this post! I do math rotations in m classroom too...and truthfully, I take weeks teaching my kiddos our literacy centers, but I just jump into my math rotations...why aren't I taking the time t really teach those expectations, too? I am going to do it...and I pinned your math expectations poster t help me remember to do this! Thanks!

    Bitty Bilinguals

  12. Awesome! I do something very similar and I love it!
    3 Teacher Chicks

  13. Thanks for this great post. I do math rotations in my classroom too and one thing I have found helpful is scheduling my struggling learners group rotation to include their time with our math tutor. So they would meet with me for 20 mins., go to centers for 20 mins. but then when it is their seatwork time, they are out with the tutor. Since they are not with the tutor 5 days a week, they still get a couple days of independent seatwork time, but not enough to frustrate them.

  14. Stephanie, help me understand something. (I've not done math rotation in the past, so I'm trying to visualize!) You start math time with your low kids in teacher time. What are your high and medium kids doing at that time? Are both groups doing centers since you haven't met with either group yet to assign lesson work? Also, just to be clear, you're teaching your whole group lesson 3 times in the small group format? Thanks! I'm excited to try this in my class this year!

  15. Hi Stephanie. I have been trying to figure out how to have Daily Math/Guided Math/Math Workshop this summer and all of your posts have really helped. I especially like this one, laying out the launch for me. It will work perfectly for my second graders. I sometimes introduce a concept through literature and was wondering if you do that, how do you incorporate that into groups? Do you read the text to the entire class together or read it during each group? Thanks for all the detailed information. I can't wait until next week.


  16. Hi Stephanie! I love your blog by the way!! Very helpful for new teachers like me!! This is my second year teaching (both in 3rd grade). I am very excited about starting the Daily 5 during my reading time and have spent all summer prepping for it. I still have questions on that though! I really like the way you do Math Centers. My concern is when do your high students complete their lesson work? Do they begin their "center time" doing yesterday's work so it's done before they come to you?? If you've explained this already, I apologize! Just let me know where it is!!

    I'd love to discuss more about your reading and math centers! My email is
    Thanks for all your help!

  17. Thank you for this. I'm trying to differentiate and not finding much help from our curriculum so this strategy is a huge help. I wanted to do this last year.