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Home » Blog » Math » Flexible Grouping in Math
Written by: Katie Palmer

Flexible grouping is a great way to set up for math centers. What this means is that once a student has been placed in a group, this does not determine their ability level in math for the rest of the year. In fact, as teachers look at data, students will move around regularly based on the skill being studied.

What are Flexible Groups?

Flexible groups happen when the teacher groups their students in a flexible way that doesn't lock them into a specific group for an extended period of time. Flexible groups are always changing and based upon a specific skill and the students' performance with that skill.

When do you use Flexible Groups?

My math block is a time when I use flexible groups. My math block consists of three core components:

  • Whole Group
  • Independent Practice
  • Small Group

When students finish their independent practice task, they are free to go to their designated small group activity for the day. Typically, there are a few students who need help finishing their independent practice task. They will go to the teacher table to receive the extra support.

How to Determine Who Goes to the Teacher Table

During whole group instruction and independent practice, the teacher walks around and jots down their observations. Students are grouped together based on their performance on a specific skill. These notes are then used to determine who goes to the teacher table.

Click here to download these free student observation forms.

Flexible Grouping for Math Centers

Math center groups in my classroom are not grouped by ability levels. The math centers that I have in each tub are purposely chosen so that there are a variety of levels of complexity.  Students are taught to choose “just right” activities from their center basket.  If I have six students in a group, there may be 2 below level, 2 at level, and 2 above level in each group.

A way to easily provide just right station work is with our Spiral Math Review! Check out all three levels (each with on level, below level and on level practice!)

no prep daily math review sheets

Math Center Rules

Students are allowed to complete a center with partners.  If a student has a question about their center activity, they are taught to “Ask 3 Before Me”.  An advantage of flexible grouping is that with mixed levels in each group, chances are good that a student in the group can help!

ask 3 before me math center rule poster

Download Poster HERE

Math Center Activities

Check out our Math Center Options. These engaging centers are available in 1st and 2nd grade as well as monthly themed options.

themed math centers for all year in 1st and 2nd grade

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Read EVERYTHING math centers in these Math Centers Blog Posts:

One practice I follow is that whatever students miss during center time does not have to be made up. Disclaimer:  Students who don't finish their independent activity come back to my teacher table first and then I meet with my small group for a lesson.

I also like to have enrichment activities ready to go for early finishers and kids who benefit from a challenge. A GREAT example of an enrichment activity is TOOTHY! Check out all previous Toothy Blog Posts or check out all things Toothy below!

2 Ways to Get These Resources

Join All Access to download everything we've ever made.

toothy task kits

Or... Purchase a bundle in our shop.

toothy task kits

Check out the video below to see Toothy in action. Kids have so much fun they won't even realize they are practicing math skills!

Math Center Groups

The math center grouping cards that you see below are editable, so at any time I can assign a student a different card if needed.  This file is also available in a digital format for those teachers who prefer to display this on their smartboard.  

You will also notice from the chart below that “Meet with Teacher” is not a center.  The reason for this is because I choose to pull students of my choice during center time.  For example, students with a red oval may be above grade level so during center time, I may say, “All students with a red oval come back to the teacher table” and then at that time I provide an enrichment lesson.  

editable math center grouping cards

This option is nice for quick editing.  I don't find there to be a ton of movement from shape to shape but there is some.  I determine these levels from district adopted pre-assessments that are given at the beginning of every math unit.  However, the groups that the students are in for each math center do get changed.  I change my groups about once a month or as needed.  If I am noticing that the mix of students I have in a center isn't working well together, I will switch them for the following week.

Get this on All Access

toothy task kits

Join All Access to download everything we've ever made.

How to Rotate

When it is time for the next day's center rotation, I simply move the name of the centers down one space and the bottom card goes to the top.  This process is simple and quick- it takes 10 seconds and has become one of my end of the day tasks before I go home.

Using “Must-Do, May Do” Cards

You’ve planned all these great centers and your students are working away at them.  It’s time to transition, now what?  Are you tired of wasting 5 minutes every time you need to gather your class and transition to the next activity?  Do you ever hear, “I’m done, now what?”  This Must-Do, May-Do chart is a great option!  Read more about how this can be used in the classroom for both math and literacy small group time in this post.

Read more about math centers and the activities that can be used in those small groups here.

Download the Free Editable Must-Do, May-Do Digital Chart {HERE}

More Info on Getting Your Centers Up and Running

Everything You Need to Know About Math Centers

Second Grade Classroom Set Up

2nd Grade Schedule

How to Set Up Centers

2nd Grade Centers: Launching & Management

Math Center Activities

Center FAQs & Answer

flexible grouping in math


  1. Susan B


  2. shana

    Hi, Thanks so much for your information. I am a bit unsure about the groups. You have taught a concept to the whole class and now the students go to their groups. Must all the groups have games/work that relate to what you have taught in your whole-group lesson? So each group also includes different levels but the same skill?


    • Bailey Jordan

      ​Hi Shana! We would love to help you with this question, please email us at and we will do our best to answer it for you! Thanks so much!

      Bailey J.
      Lucky Little Learners


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