An Easy Way to Level Students for Math Groups

Teaching math in small groups allows me to really meet students where they are and help identify and bridge gaps in their math understanding. What I have found is that students’ understanding in math will vary based on the mathematical concept being taught. Some students are really strong in place value but struggle with fractions. Some students understand multiplication and division but struggle with measurement. To be able to meet students where they are, I like to do this one simple practice that allows me to gain a deeper understanding of student levels.

Preparing for Math Groups

Before I teach a new concept, I give my students a pre-assessment that includes three different leveled questions. The first question is the most simple while the third question is the most difficult. The first question requires a basic and surface-level understanding of the concept. The second question builds upon the concept a bit more. The third question requires application of the concept. These three tiered questions are labeled with shapes so that the levels are discrete. Here’s a breakdown in a bit more detail:

Math Groups Diagnostic Assessment
Diagnostic Math Assessments Bundles for Grades 1-5

What do the shapes mean?

Circle – Question #1 on the pre-assessment is marked with a circle, meaning it is the most concrete. These are questions that require students to demonstrate a basic understanding of the mathematical concept. Often times, these questions include visuals or can be solved with pictorial representations.

Square – Question #2 on the pre-assessment is marked with a square, meaning it is slightly more challenging. The students who answer this correctly will have a basic understanding of the concept, but will require support to move to a higher level of application.

Triangle – Question #3 on the pre-assessment is marked with a triangle, meaning it is the most challenging. Students at this level will have a solid understanding of the skill, can demonstrate a use of strategy, and will be able to apply it to challenging problems with little or no support.

Diagnostic Math Tests

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    Using the Data to Create Math Groups

    Using shapes keeps everything nice and organized, and it keeps kids away from the stigma of being placed in the “low” group. The shapes also give me insight and data for creating my groups. I like to sort students into three main math groups based on how they scored on their pre-assessments. Some teachers may prefer to have more math groups with fewer students in each one. With students groups and pre-assessment data at my fingertips, I can then differentiate instruction for each group as we move through the standard.

    Of course a three-question assessment won’t cover the entire concept or standard, but it can give you a good starting point. Limiting it to three questions makes it quick to look over and grade, allowing you to put students into math groups quicker. Once they are in their groups, you can start teaching them in a closer setting. You may even determine that some students can move to a different group after working with them for a little bit.

    At the end of the unit, I like to administer the SAME assessment. Assigning those same three questions allows me to track each student’s growth.

    Questions or ideas to share? Please leave a comment on this blog post!


    Hi! I’m Toluca from Markers and Minions, where I help teachers feel more effective and confident with high-quality resources and an awesome teacher community!

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