How To Take The Headache Out of Mini-Lessons in Math Workshop

The mini-lessons in math workshop can be met with frustration when you feel you have to teach everything students need to know in such a limited time. How is it even possible? As part of this teaching math workshop successfully series, I’m going to help you take the headache out of the mini-lessons and feel energized about teaching it!

Teaching mini-lessons in math workshop can sometimes be a challenge, but it doesn't have to be. This post helps you remove the headache of mini-lessons and makes whole group teaching easier!

So far we have discussed what math workshop is and its benefits, the structure of math workshop and how you can be flexible with it, and the variety of options when it comes to the opening. In this post, we will focus on the whole group component where a skill or strategy is explicitly taught in the form of a mini-lesson.

What is math workshop and how can you get started? How is it different from guided math? There are lots of questions surrounding this math model! This blog post series helps you get started and provides you with everything you need to know to run it successfully in your classroom! Save this pin and click through now!

What is the Whole Group Component of Math Workshop?

Before we can discuss removing the headache of the time constraints teachers often feel with mini-lessons, we should first discuss this component. Sometimes having a complete understanding of its make-up can help.

In the math workshop model, the whole group component is about 30% of the math block, or depending on the amount of time, approximately 10-20 minutes. This is often how teachers instantly feel stressed because they have such little time to teach a skill or strategy for students to “master.”

What we need to remember is this:

  • A mini-lesson is explicitly taught. If you aren’t familiar with explicit teaching, you can read my post, Using Explicit Teaching.
  • In a mini-lesson, there is ONE focused teaching point (main idea of the math concept) that most kids need. This means that you can’t bring up multiple skills, strategies, vocabulary, etc.
  • Teachers can address specific needs and go more in-depth during the guided math component of the math workshop model. This is meant more as an “introduction.”
  • The mini-lesson is not limited to just introducing a skill, strategy or concept. It can be used to assess students, model a math standard, explain or practice an activity, etc.
  • Typically there is not time for students to ask questions or talk extensively during this period. This is saved for the guided math portion.

Options for Mini-Lessons in Math Workshop

As I mentioned once before, the math workshop model is very flexible! When you’re planning your mini-lessons, you have two options. It does not always have to be the same each day. Knowing that you don’t always have to focus on a skill, strategy, or concept can help eliminate some headaches right away!

Whole Group New: Small Group Follow-Up

This method allows you to introduce a complex, harder skill in the whole group and then reinforce it during the small groups. You may need multiple mini-lessons and continued reinforcement in small groups with this method though. This allows you to work more one-on-one with students and meet their needs better. It also allows for the gradual release model. This is typically how mini-lessons are set up.

Whole Group Review: Small Group New

This mini-lesson math workshop method allows you to review skills in the whole group and then introduce the new skills in the small groups. However, the new skills that are taught in small groups should be simple daily objects that can be taught in a few minutes. I’ll discuss that a bit more in the guided math blog post.

Some ideas for the whole group review include:

  • Model something many students struggle with
  • Model a new strategy by the teacher or student for the same skill
  • Model a game
  • Model an error made and how to correct it
  • Create an anchor chart
  • Summarize a strategy or lesson recently taught
  • Read related literature

The Architecture of Mini-Lessons in Math Workshop

The mini-lesson is broken up into four parts – the connection, the teaching point, active engagement, and the link. Each part is brief and is similar to the I do, we do, you do method. (The “you do” method, independent work, is later in the workshop model.)

The architecture of mini-lessons in math workshop is very important to help you eliminate headaches and going over time. This image helps you stick to those parts and keep it explicit!

1.) Connection: In this piece, teachers connect to what students have learned in earlier lessons or students’ real-life experiences. (This is tapping into prior knowledge.) This can be something as simple as connecting to the previous lesson, an ongoing work of study, a student’s work, or an experience. This is generally a minute long or less.

2.) Teaching Point: This is the meat of the mini-lessons in math workshop. The teacher shows, models, thinks aloud the strategies or concepts that he or she wants the students to learn. This explicitly done. The teacher may use starter sentences:

  • “Notice how I…”
  • “Please pay attention to…”

3.) Active Engagement. Students are given the opportunity to try it out in a. brief guided practice. This shouldn’t take large amounts of time and should help the teacher determine how well students understand the teaching point. The teacher may have students try out the skill or strategy, plan their work out loud, restate the steps or lesson, or simply turn and talk for a quick minute.

4.) Link: This is the “closing” of the mini-lesson. The teacher preps the students to apply the teaching point in their independent work. This is usually only one sentence and a minute or less.

Below is an example of a mini-lesson from my math workshop unit plans. Note the highlighted “sentence starters” for each component.

This is an example of a mini-lesson demonstrating all the components in it.

Tips for an Effective Mini-Lesson

  1. Limit student talk.
  2. Avoid asking questions. Instead remind students of what they previously learned. This can be done quickly with a KWL, Anticipation Guides, or Word Splashes.
  3. Avoid over-explaining the teaching point. Instead, repeat it often during the mini-lesson.
  4. Show, model, and use think-alouds to help students understand the teaching point.
  5. Use a familiar context for problem-solving.
  6. Match the active engagement to the teaching point.

Ultimately to avoid headaches when planning and teaching mini-lessons in math workshop, you need to make sure you have followed everything above. You are really limiting your content to one teaching point, keeping student talk down to practically nothing, and spending a larger portion of your teaching time during the guided math component so that your students can gain more one-to-one attention.

If you’re looking for math workshop resources, 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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