Using The Workshop Model in Math

As a Math Coach working in a district where a “workshop model” is used in both Reading and Writing, I am often asked what a “workshop” might look like in Math.  I recently read a wonderful book titled From Reading to Math: How Best Practices in Literacy Can Make You a Better Math Teacher (Grades K-5) by Maggie Siena. Siena draws upon the assumption that math can be considered another type of literacy in which decoding, fluency, and vocabulary are vitally important. Elementary teachers, more often than not, consider themselves to be much better teachers of reading and writing than of math. What Siena helps to do is draw the parallels between the way we teach reading and writing and the way we teach math, and allow teachers to see how their strengths can carry over from one subject to another.

In order to help the teachers I work with see the relationship without being overwhelmed by reading the entire book (which, by the way, I highly suggest!), I broke the basics out into the chart below. This is obviously just an introduction, but it may be helpful when trying to explain the similarities of a reading/writing workshop and a math workshop to teachers.


The Workshop Model – How it Looks in Literacy and Math

adapted from the book

From Reading to Math: How Best Practices in Literacy Can Make You a Better Math Teacher by Maggie Siena

Components of the Workshop Model

Literacy Math

  • Brief (15-20 minutes)
  • Direct instruction in reading or writing strategies useful for that day

  • Brief (5-25 minutes)
  • Direct instruction to introduce or review concepts, model skills, and give instructions

  • 15-45 minutes depending on grade level
  • Students read books or write on topics largely of their own choosing
  • Strong emphasis on work that “makes sense” – reading books at student’s independent level, using invented spelling along with conventional spelling

  • Developmentally appropriate amount of time on task
  • Elements of student choice
  • Math is at a “just-right” (independent) level for students
  • May include partner or small-group activities, problems, games and assignments for students to work on individually
  • Extensions provided for after completion of independent (math games, explorations of manipulatives, fact practice, etc.)

  • Teachers sit alongside students as they work
  • Teachers research and understand what students are working on through conversations
  • Conferences inform instruction

  • Teachers sit alongside students as they work
  • Ask questions to find out how a student is thinking about the math he/she is doing
  • Conferences inform instruction
  • Probe thinking to find out where there are misconceptions, gaps in understanding, deficient skills

  • Teachers work with small, fluid groups organized around a similar reading level or shared strategy need



  • Guided math is work with small groups of students at a similar level and support them as they do math at the slightly challenging end of the “just-right” range
  • Strategy groups may be pulled together based on mutual need for help with a certain strategy, reinforce or reiterate a minilesson that several students didn’t get, or challenge a small group ready to move ahead

  • Students work on spelling patterns, word recognition, vocabulary, phonics

  • Students work on exploring and studying patterns, basic facts, and computational strategies (algorithms)

  • Centers (usually for younger students) and book clubs (usually older students) provide partner or small-group experiences in reading
  • These structured activities engage students in reading and talking about books together

  • Centers can provide opportunities for exploration
  • Structured activities provide opportunities for students to share thinking and strategies
  • Can be partner work or small-group work
  • Should be accountable talk
  • Each member is responsible for his/her own work
  • Each member has to help others who ask
  • Groups can ask the teacher for help only when all members have the same question
  • All group members should be prepared to share the group’s work

  • Workshops conclude by highlighting learning done by students during independent reading and writing
  • Share is more than an opportunity for students to be proud of what they have done – also teaching/learning opportunity
  • Repeats the teaching point and gives students another chance to make sense of the day’s lesson

  • Moves learning forward by examining how students made use of it
  • Gives students opportunity to get feedback from peers
  • Helps to reinforce bonds of learning community
  • Student voices should dominate
  • May include strategy shares, examples of the day’s work
  • Responses welcome including requests for clarification, restating of what was said, an opinion, or an extension.

Questions to Think About…

  1. How could you transition to using a math workshop approach?
  2. What other components of your literacy workshop might be transferable to a math workshop?
  3. What rules and expectations would you need to have in place in order to have an effective math workshop?
  4. How can you maintain a good balance of independent and collaborative work in math class?
  5. How might you conduct math shares in your class?

About gpsmathcoach

I am an Elementary Math Coach for the Greenwich Public Schools in Greenwich, Connecticut. I serve 11 elementary schools and approximately 240 teachers.
This entry was posted in Best Practices, Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Using The Workshop Model in Math

  1. Robyn Holder says:

    I have accepted a position as a math coach for my school (American Embassy School) in New Delhi next year and I am LOVING looking through your blog. Thank you!

    • gpsmathcoach says:

      Hi Robyn,
      I wish you the best of luck in your new position! If I can be of any help to you, please feel free to e-mail me ( or look me up on Twitter (gpsmathcoach)!

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