Differentiation instruction is one of those buzz words every teacher knows. It means creating opportunities for all students to learn in the classroom through different learning experiences. Each student has different math needs and with these simple tips it is easy to differentiate during math centers!

I strongly believe that math centers are important because it allows students to practice different math skills and it helps you differentiate their learning. I set up my math centers similar to the daily five reading centers. However, typically I only do math centers twice or so a week after they have learned a specific skill or two. Still, throughout the entire week I differentiate and meet daily with my students.

The Centers:

1.     Meet with the teacher [Differentiated]

2.     Task cards with small group [Differentiated]

3.     Math game or another small group activity

4.     Independent work [Differentiated]

5.     iPad [Differentiated]

I use this set up because it allows students to work with many different people and work on their own too, which I use for the assessment.

Center #1 Meet with the teacher

At this center we practice multiple skills throughout the year and it is all based on what they need to be successful. For example, some students are working on addition and subtraction with regrouping, while others are working on multi-step story problems, and another group might work on open-ended math questions to really get them thinking! At this center I do not use worksheets. Instead I use dry erase boards and will sometimes print out story problems/questions. This way we can learn and discuss specific skills they need to be successful.  The most important thing that occurs when students’ work with me is the discussion part; this allows students to learn from one another and they sometimes learn a new way of thinking about math. Letting them learn from peers makes things click.

Sometimes working with me is a time for me to reteach and practice skills that they struggled with on the previous assessment. I rather build them up on necessary skills rather than move on until I believe they have an understanding of the material. During this time of meeting with me I will go back and revisit past material that groups of students have struggled with. I love this small group meeting because it gives me the flexibility to help students where they are at and bond with them too.

I start out each math rotation time with my students who struggle the most in math. This way I know they have plenty of time with me, and it gets them refreshed and ready for the rest of their centers.

Center #2:  Task cards with a small group [Differentiated]

I love love love task cards! My task card groups are intermixed with different levels of students. This way they can help each other, learn from each other, and be in a group with different friends.

I make several for my students and differentiate them by color-coding the cards. If everyone is working on the same new skill/concept I just use one set of task cards that are differentiated. However, when my students are practicing different skills, I pull task cards that are still their color but from different sets I have created for different skills. I keep track of these with a checklist, so I know what each student has completed.

 Each task card set for each group is color-coded. My students know what color they are and complete those task cards.  Each student has 12 task cards at their own level and they practice the specific skill I worked with them on that day. My groups often go from working with me to this center. However, my highest students will start here because they are able to complete this on their own.

By allowing my students to complete task cards on the skills they need after my mini lesson with their small group they are continuing to learn the skill by working with a team and solving problems together. This allows them to learn from each other and they continue to grow in the specific skill they need help with.

If you would like to check out any pre-made differentiated task cards please click the links below! I have created several different task cards with specific skills and use these all the time!

Senden’s Sources Differentiated Task Cards Complete Listings

4 Levels of Multiplication Task Cards

4 Levels for Adding and Subtracting

Center #3 Math game or another small group activity

When I set up my math centers, I tell my students who is in my group and then other than that they are on their own to rotate between the groups. This allows them to work with different friends each day!

My math games vary each week. I have bought a ton of math games or I set up math card games to play! I will be sharing math games that I use in a future post. The math games focus on the specific math skill that we are working on in class. Students will play these games with a variety of students from other math levels and can learn from others.

Center #4 Independent Work 

My independent work center is very important. This is a differentiated center and is typically a worksheet designed for each students needs. For example, whatever skill I worked with them on in small groups is on the front and the back is the skill we are working on as a class in our math unit. This works great for an assessment to see how well the small group session went and how well they understand the math concept we are working on in class.

Again, the best way for me to differentiate is by color! When students go to this center they find there colored folder (which is the same color as their task card color) grab one paper and complete it individually. I allow this group to spread out so they are not working with others, I really want to see what they have learned and by giving them some space it allows them to complete it individually without the temptation to work together.

Center #5 Technology Center

My last center is a technology center, which depending on the apps I use that particular day is also a differentiated center. To differentiate this center students have a login to their own accounts to practice skills that are at their level. For example, sometimes students play Mouse facts, which is great practice for students to memorize all of the math facts from addition to division. Other times students login to their Scootpad account and practice skills/concepts that are assigned to them by me. Or sometimes they work as a team and practice grade level standards in pairs. When working as pairs this allows students to work with each other, learn from each other, and stretches them to work together with a classmate (which can be very difficult at times). The pair partners always change based on who picked the iPad center at that time.

I love using this set up for math centers because I can differentiate the centers 80% – 100% of the time. This means all students are learning what they need in order to be successful in their math career.

The best thing about color-coding and this set up is how easy it is for students to change groups! When a student who was struggling is now on grade level, they just get a new color, and if a student who was on grade level begins to struggle they just switch to a different color too. Color-coding makes it easy to rearrange groups!

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20 Comments on How to Differentiate Math Centers

    • Thank you so much! Providing students with different learning opportunities worked so well in my room. Students all have a different learning style and I wanted to incorporate them into these centers along with differentiation to meet the needs of everyone.

  1. These are amazing center ideas. As a special education teacher, it is so important for me to see other teachers advocating for differentiated learning – even in centers! Since we expect students to complete these activities alone, it only makes sense to put out various levels to meet everyone’s needs. I can’t wait to check out your differentiated task cards!

    • Thanks Laura! I agree it is so important to have learning opportunities for all of the students in a class. It’s unrealistic to give each kid the same task/requirements. However, I know it can be a difficult task for teachers and time consuming at that. These tips helped me stay organized and didn’t take a lot of extra time to make sure I was meeting the needs of all my students.

  2. Wow, what a helpful post! Differentiation is SO important for our students, but it can be hard to come up with ways to implement effective differentiation in all areas of the classroom. I love these ideas for math centers and I’m so glad I found this post!

  3. Differentiation is so important, especially in math class. Great ideas for implementing this method. I especially like how you are using the one station to assess how the small group instruction went.

    • Thank you Steve! Differentiation is something all teachers have to do to meet the needs of our students. I am so glad these ideas can be useful and helpful for teachers! They certainly helped me!

    • Thank you Jenn! I hardly had any classroom management issues with this system. We took the first two weeks of school and the first week after winter break to practice what this looks like and discuss the expectations for each station. By just taking our time and focusing on these expectations we were able to accomplish a lot during the school year.

  4. Color coding is a great idea! So easy to keep track of what level each child is at! I love your schedule, too! The student has several different areas that can be differentiated to fit their specific level and work with adults or by themselves! Such a great set-up, totally using this!

    • Thanks Casie it worked well for us! I had a class of 33 one year and color coding and a great structure set us up for a successful school year!

    • Thank you Casie! One year I had 33 students so all of these tips really helped all of my students learn and set us up for a successful year.

  5. I love all the technology and task card recommendations you have in this blog post! I’m looking forward to implementing some of those in my room.

  6. Task cards are one of my favorite math station to use in the classroom. In my case, I love that the kids get up, get moving, and are so engaged! Task cards do not always have to include movement tasks, but it sure is fun when they do!

  7. The way you have your centers organized is great! I always had trouble keeping a steady flow when I used to teach Spanish, but a system like this is very organized and intentional.

  8. I love using math centers! I could never go back to teaching whole group math again. I love the idea of using task cards for a center. I’m going to try that for my problem solving center next week.

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