3 Super Easy Alternatives to Math Centers

I have been walking you through everything you need to know about math workshop to be successful. Last time, I talked about using centers as an option during guided math. Today, I want to talk about some alternatives to math centers and in the end, there are some free templates described in this post.

If you're looking for some alternatives to math centers during your guided math time, check out these three ideas that are simple but quick! They will engage your students and help you differentiate! It's perfect for math workshop! Save this pin and click through to read more.

We may not have a problem with math centers in particular, but just prefer not to use them. Other teachers just struggle to make centers work. There are three options that I like to alternate between just to mix things up a little. There are the “Must-Do, Can-Do” List, Math Menus, and Think-Tac-Toe.

Alternatives to Math Centers

Must-Do, Can-Do List

The first one on my list of alternatives is the “Must-Do, Can-Do” list. With this option, you complete a 2-column chart template that provides students with a list of math activities that they must complete throughout the week. After they have completed the work in the “Must-Do” column, then they can complete any activity in the “Can-Do” column. It’s at the teacher’s discretion if the students work on these activities independently or with a partner throughout the week.

Some teachers do not want to have math centers during guided math. Check out these alternatives to math centers to help you during math workshop!

Math Menus

I’m sure we have all heard of and seen many different variations of math menus. This alternative math center is a fabulous way to differentiate the math content for your students and to provide them with choice.

Provide your students with a list of activities to choose from to complete a “menu” of activities in the “appetizer” category, “entree” category, “side dish” category, and “dessert” category. What’s really great about this option is that you can assign math types to each menu category. For instance, the “appetizer” category could be a spiral review activity. The “entree” category could be the main topic you are focused on that week, while the “side dish” could be fact fluency or a skill your student needs remediation in. The “dessert” could be a fun game.

When you provide your students with Math Menus, they work on it the entire week. Again, like the “Must-Do, Can-Do” list, you would decide if you want your students to complete it independently or with a partner.

This math menu is a great alternative to math centers. Your guided math time during math workshop can be differentiated and engaging! Save this pin and click through!


Think-Tac-Toe is a 3×3 grid of activities that can be completed throughout the week (or that day, depending on the activities) either independently or with a partner. Just like regular tic-tac-toe, students would need to complete three in a row, whether diagonally, vertically, or horizontally.

The teacher provides a list of activities related to the content in the boxes, but as they are placed, careful consideration needs to be taken in account as to what the student is likely to select. For example, the middle row both vertically and horizontally may need to have the higher level thinking, while the surrounding ones can be mid-level.

Another option with Think-Tac-Toe is that you could choose to have students complete three in a row and then after complete any as extra or a bonus for fun. Another option would be to try to “black out” the card (similar to bingo!) by the end of the week.

Think-Tac-Toe is a great alternative to math centers that any teacher can use in their math workshop during guided math. Check out the other options by clicking through here.

Sometimes math centers are a little more stressful or take more time than we want to deal with. That’s where these alternatives to math centers come in. They are quick to type in a few activities in a quick template and then make copies. They can be used week after week and students find them engaging. They help you differentiate and provide students with the skills they need.

Activities to Put in the Cards

So now you may be wondering what activities do you place in these slots of the cards. These activities can be anything. They can be:

  • Worksheets
  • Games
  • Task Cards
  • Journaling
  • Fact Fluency
  • Find the Error
  • Problem Solving Tasks
  • Hands-On Activities
  • Vocabulary/Word-Wall Activities
  • Estimation Station
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Technology

There are lots of different options for you to place in these slots and just like with math centers, you could pick options that can be evergreen and repeated week after week. If you pick open-ended activities, you’d only have to replace a few each week rather than every single one. Additionally, while these ideas are for math centers, they can be applied here.

Grab Your Freebie!

To grab these free templates that are described above, click here.

Want to read more about Math Workshop? Check out these additional “Everything You Need to Know to Run Math Workshop Successfully” Posts:

  1. Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Run Math Workshop (Intro to what math workshop is and it’s benefits)
  2. Why Your Math Workshop Model is Not Flexible (and How to Fix It!) (The math workshop structure and your options to being flexible)
  3. How to Teach Your Math Opening Like a Pro (All about the math openings of math workshop)
  4. How to Take the Headache Out of Mini-Lessons in Math Workshop (All about the whole group component of math workshop)
  5. Make the Most Out of Guided Math (All about the guided math component of math workshop)
  6. Are Guided Math Centers Really That Hard? (About the choices in guided math centers)
  7. 3 Super Easy Alternatives to Math Centers (About alternatives to math centers during guided math)
  8. The Importance of Meeting with Students During Math Workshop (All about one-to-one conferring and guided math groups)
  9. Lesson Closures for Math Workshop (Ideas for how to close your math workshop)
  10. How to Rock Your Math Workshop for Ultimate Student Growth (Tips for increasing student growth in math workshop)


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