Choosing the Best Math Strategy

It's not enough to teach kids how to use a math strategy, they also need to know WHEN to use it

Matching Strategies to Equations

Problem: I’ve taught my students lots of math fact strategies but how do I get them to put those strategies to use?!?

Solution: Learning HOW to carry out a strategy is one skill but it’s not helpful unless a student knows WHEN to use that strategy.  It’s useful to devote some instruction time to teaching your students how to match up a strategy with a problem.  Here’s an anchor chart to help you get started:
Choosing the Best Math Strategy - Teaching students how to use addition strategies is just the first step, they also need to know WHEN to use each strategySign up HERE for a printable version of this chart.

The “in-betweens” strategy is one I’ve just learned recently.  If you haven’t heard of it, see the full explanation HERE.
To work in brief practice when you have a few minutes or as a “ticket out the door,” use flash cards, but instead of having your students tell you the answer to the fact, have them tell you the strategy that should be used to solve the fact.

Sometimes instead of asking, “What’s the answer?” ask, “What strategy would you use for this kind of fact?”

Center Activities

Work strategy identification into a fun center!  Here is a math fact “parking lot.”  Students park the cars in the correct spaces based on the strategy needed.  Paper cars could be used if you don’t have enough toy cars.

Math Center Activity - Students learn to math strategies with facts in this parking lot activity

Ready to practice this skill with your students? Sign up HERE for a free pig pen cut and glue activity.


Kids cut out the math fact pigs and glue them into the correct strategy pen.  A detailed explanation of each strategy is included if you’re unfamiliar with any, as well as an answer key.

Math Fact Running Record

How about assessing the math fact strategies your students are using?  We closely monitor reading fluency, sight word recognition and other literacy skills but how about in math?  Having data on the fundamental strategies each student is and is not able to use is highly useful.  With this information you can create small groups, you can track growth (possibly useful for RTI), and you can share the information with parents to let them know how they can best help their child.

The only trick is that when a student writes the answer to a math fact (within 20) it’s very difficult to know how they got the answer unless you watch them closely and/or ask them how they did it.  An interview-style assessment called a math fact running record can help you get the information you need.  Much like a reading running record, you closely watch a student solve math facts and record exactly what they do.  When it isn’t obvious how they solved the fact, you ask them.

More information about math running records HERE.

Full assessment materials for math fact running record (4 different tests, student pages, recording sheets, assessment protocol, and class summary sheet) are available HERE.

Math Fact Running Record

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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.