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Differentiating Math Centers Easily

During guided math, my students went to 3 math rotations a day. Teacher table, independent work, and math centers. I love, love, LOVE using math centers in the classroom! I loved meeting with my small groups during meet with the teacher because I could work with each small group at an appropriate level. After, students would leave complete differentiated independent work.

There was just one problem staring me right in the face. My third rotation: Math centers. Differentiating math centers was not happening in my classroom.

Differentiating Math Centers

I never wanted my students to know that some groups had “harder” or “easier” work than another group. So here’s what I came up with: I created math centers that came in TWO levels.

For example, if we’re working on telling time, some students will practice time to the quarter-hour, while others will practice to the nearest five minutes.

The best part: the differentiation is inconspicuous! The centers are almost identical! In this December-themed set of differentiated centers below, there are two levels: one for 3-digit place value and another for 2-digit place value.

You can find tons of differentiated centers for 1st & 2nd grade here!

Organizing Math Centers

When you use differentiated centers in your classroom, it’s important that you come up with a plan for how you’ll organize these centers. There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

If you’ve read my post on differentiating independent work, you know that I have three math groups. Each of my math groups has its own colored folder. I love color coding! You can easily color-code your math centers by labeling them with colored dot stickers and colored folders.

Transparent colored folders used for holding math centers
These folders from Oriental Trading can be found here!

I usually had two of my three groups (usually the on-level and above-level groups) completing the SAME center. Then, my third group (usually the lowest level), would complete a lower level center.

This will be different for each classroom and unique group of students. Test out different bins, labels, etc., and see what works best. I’ll be honest, at one time, one group chose which level math center they wanted to complete. And you know what, IT ACTUALLY WORKED! I said to them, “If you think you’re ready to complete the 3-digit addition center, choose that one! If you think you’d still like more practice with 2-digit addition, choose that one!” I was AMAZED at how well they did with that.

Free Differentiated Math Resources

I know it can be so hard and time-consuming to find resources that are differentiated. That’s why I put together this FREE Differentiated Resource Toolkit filled with math centers, printables, and activities that come in multiple levels to make differentiation a breeze!

Want more help with guided math? These posts can help you:

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