Top Tips for Teaching Elementary Students Math

As an elementary teacher, it can be challenging to teach your students math.

elementary student learning math

As an elementary teacher, it can be challenging to teach your students math.

All of your students enter your classroom at different levels. Some of them have already mastered many math standards while others are working below grade level.

For some students, math is their favorite subject, and others hate it. These tips will help you teach all of your elementary students math and meet all of their needs.

"Pretests can be a very helpful way to see what your students have already mastered…"

Tip #1 - Use pretests to assess what your students already know

Pretests can be a very helpful way to see what your students have already mastered and what they need to practice more. You can collect a lot of data from a math pretest. Give one at the beginning of each unit so you know which students will need enrichment and which students will need extra support.

If your math program doesn’t have pretests built-in, just take a problem or two from each lesson and create your own pretest. It doesn’t have to be long, but the information you’ll gain from it will be very valuable as you’re trying to differentiate your lessons.

You can also check out the pre-assessments on the TeacherVision website for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Tip #2 - Try guided math

Guided math is a great way to differentiate your math lessons. After you give your pretest, use the results to put your students into three groups.

The students who only missed a few questions will be in your above-level group. The students who answered about half of the questions correctly will be in your on-level groups, and students who only answered a few correctly will be in your below-level group.

Once you’ve formed your groups, you can plan differentiated activities for your students. My guided math centers include a technology center, a meet with the teacher center, and a problem solving center. My students rotate to each center every day and complete an activity that is at their level. Meeting with my students in small groups really helps me get to know their individual strengths.

Learn more about setting up guided math in your classroom.

"Hands-on activities will help them [kinesthetic learners] understand new concepts more easily."

Tip #3 - Try to use a lot of manipulatives

You are going to have a lot of kinesthetic learners in your classroom. Hands-on activities will help them understand new concepts more easily. Using math manipulatives is a great way to make your lessons more interactive.

In my classroom, I have a whole cabinet filled with rulers, base-10 blocks, geometry templates, dice, fractions strips, and many other types of math tools. I try to always put an appropriate manipulative at the problem solving center to make it more hands-on. My students also know that they can go into the cabinet to get another manipulative whenever they need it.

Quick Tip: Make sure you take time at the beginning of the year to teach your students the purpose of each type of manipulative. You should also go over your expectations for how to use the math tools. Otherwise, you might end up with lots of rulers spinning on pencils and base-10 blocks flying through the air.

Tip #4 - Focus more on the process than the product

My first 3 tips will all help you differentiate your lessons and meet the needs of your diverse math learners. This next tip will help you start to change any negative views of math that students had when they entered your classroom. As your students are solving math problems, try to focus more on the process than the product.

Of course, you want your students to get the right answer, but it’s even more important for them to understand how to solve the problem. Encourage your students to always show their math work. That way, if they didn’t get the correct answer, you can see if they started the problem correctly and praise them for their effort. Then, work together to figure out where they made a mistake. This helps to build their math confidence and develop a more positive attitude towards math.

Another way to focus more on the process is to allow your students to share their thinking and the strategies they used. This will help all the students realize that there’s not only one right way to get the answer.

Tip #5 - Work on growth mindset and the “power of yet” with your students

Some of your students will enter your classroom thinking they aren’t good at math and can’t solve certain types of problems. Teaching them about growth mindset will help them overcome this fixed mindset.

Help your students rephrase their negative thoughts into more positive ones. I always have them add the word “yet” to the end of their sentences.

For example, “I can’t solve this math problem yet.” Then we work on it together. When they’re able to solve the problem independently, I point out the progress they made, and we celebrate their success. Try this growth mindset writing activity to help your students change some common fixed mindset sayings into growth mindset statements.

"Problem solving is a great way to bring real-world experiences into your math lessons."

Tip #6 - Integrate real-world problem solving into your math lessons

It’s important for us to make math meaningful for our students. They need to know why it’s important to learn the different math concepts. Show them how the math skills will be used in their daily lives.

Problem solving is a great way to bring real-world experiences into your math lessons. If you’re working on money, design a project where your students get to “buy” things from a store. They can practice adding and subtracting money. These problem-solving activities also integrate many different math concepts.

For tested grades, this is very important since the students will be asked to use multiple operations to answer questions. If they only learn each concept in isolation, they won’t be able to apply them to solve multi-step problems.

Tip #7 - Find ways to make your math lessons fun and engaging

One of the main reasons students have a negative view of math is because they don’t think it’s fun. Finding ways to add excitement to your math lessons will help your students develop a more positive attitude toward math. There are many ways you can make your math lessons more engaging.

Show a quick introduction video at the beginning of your lesson. Play games, like Kahoot or Jeopardy, to review math concepts. Write word problems with your students’ names in them. Allow students to practice math concepts on engaging websites, like Prodigy.

If you find it challenging to teach your elementary students math, try a few of these tips. Add one at a time to see if there are positive results. Then, try another one.

As you make changes to your math instruction, you should see your students develop a more positive attitude toward math. Plus, you’ll feel more confident when you’re able to meet the needs of all your students.


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