Planning student-centered math activities takes work! There is the actual planning and creating that takes time, but then there is also the actual classroom time to squeeze the activities into.
I have five favorite activities that are fun and engaging, but also help scaffold the learning. I think that is why I love math so much; it can be broken down into smaller components. The key is being able to practice the different steps and skills with student-centered math activities.
student-centered math activities
As a note, I have utilized these activities in various levels of classes. At one point, I taught all three levels of 8th grade math- intervention, on-level, and advanced- within the same year. While the content of the activities may change, the activities in and of themselves are still perfect for any level.
Cut and Pastes
Students Practice Breaking Down the Process
Why I Love Them: While a little messy, cut and pastes keep students using their hands and doing math at the same time. They work well independently, in partners, or while working with a small group. Some teachers have even mentioned using cut and pastes for creative homework assignments. I like providing multiple incorrect answers, as well. This keeps kids thinking and is a way to incorporate mathematical practices through error analysis.
When to Use Them: Cut and pastes are great for anything that requires a step-by-step process from solving equations to adding and subtracting integers. This is perfect for advanced kiddos who want to go straight to the answer or intervention students who need to focus on one step at a time.
Students Practice Differentiating Similarities and Differences
Why I Love Them: Card sorts are an excellent way to quickly assess a student’s understanding of the concept. They require higher order thinking skills, as students are required to analyze the given information and make a categorization. Although they take a bit of time upfront (cutting and laminating), they can be used over and over again. I have used card sorts for the real number system, proportional relationships, word problems, statistical and nonstatistical questions, properties of geometric figures, etc.
When to Use Them: I love having various sets of card sorts. They are fabulous as a classroom activity with pairs, an activity for early finishers, or an activity to keep skills fresh and improve fluency. In an advanced class, you could give the cards without the headers and ask students to sort them in any way possible. You would be surprised at what observations they are able to make. In an intervention setting, the headers will provide structure. At the end you can question for the similarities and differences, along with key understandings of the concept.
SOLVE AND COLORS
Students Practice Basic Math Skills
Why I Love Them: Solve and colors are really perfect because kids get to color. Something about colored pencils in math, makes the lesson more successful.
When to Use Them: My favorite use for solve and colors is as a practice of basic math skills, whether that be adding and subtracting rational numbers or multiplying and dividing decimals. They are easy to leave for substitutes, to use after testing, or as fun homework assignments.
Students Practice Recognizing Multiple Representations
Why I Love Them: Matching cards require the same about of time upfront as a card sort, so get yourself some parent volunteers. I have found great success in using matching cards to show multiple relationships. This can be depicted with ratio tables and graphs, proportional relationships, fraction, decimal, percents, and linear relationships.
When to Use Them: Again, these are perfect for sponge activities, review activities, or quick and easy lessons on Fridays. I personally loved using these over and over again with my intervention students. We would use matching cards to build number fluency with fractions, decimals, and percent representations, as well as many other necessary skills.
Students Practice Individual Skills within a Small Group
Why I Love Them: Students can be working on the same concept with different types of problems. They are super flexible! Lots of teachers use them for scoot or various games, but my favorite is small groups. You can incorporate them into stations, use them for formative assessments, etc. Task cards are easy to prep and can be utilized multiple times throughout the year.
When to Use Them: When I pull small groups, I love using task cards, hands down. I used them to have a small group of students working on various problems that were all around a similar topic. I could easily scaffold the students within my small group based on the card, starting with the most basic problems and then moving on to multi-step word problems.
If you haven’t used these student-centered math activities in class, I would encourage you to try them out. You can make them as simple as writing on a notecard, or you can pick up ready to go activities in my shop. For those of you looking for an entire year’s worth of activities, guided notes, study guides, quizzes, and tests all organized in an easy-to-use format, be sure to check out my 6th, 7th, and 8th grade curriculum.
If you are interested in more tips for working with small groups, be sure to pick up my Starter Guide to Math Intervention.