Communicating in the Math Classroom, Part 4

This blog is a repost of a four-part series I wrote for NCTM’s Blogarithm in 2016. Read the original post here.

For me, the hardest part of implementing any new routine is finding quality resources that are rigorous without being boring or overwhelming. In my last post of this series, I want to share my favorite resources with you to help you get started.

The first group is what I like to call “conversation starters.” These activities can take anywhere from five to fifteen minutes and can ease students into discussion. I like to start with WODB, or Which One Doesn’t Belong? This website has a collection of puzzles that asks students to justify which object does not fit with the others. No answers are provided; students must use their mathematical knowledge to justify their choices. This activity can be modified by asking students to get into groups based on their choices and make compelling arguments to convince other students to join their group.

Another resource I use frequently is Estimation 180. Students build number sense by examining a picture and making educated guesses using guided questions provided on the website. Students can also have conversations about reasonable answers and estimation techniques.

The next group of resources includes my “rainy day” activities. These are perfect for field trip, testing, or early dismissal days—those days in which there is too little time to complete a regular lesson but too much time to waste the day. I try to find activities that are just out of my students’ comfort zones. The best activities can be accessed by students of any ability level. My favorite website for this is Illustrative Mathematics. (2021 update – Although they now have a published curriculum, you can still access math tasks that are organized by grade level and within the Common Core’s Content Standards for Mathematics.) My favorite activity involves calculating the cost of a stained glass window. Students start by working as far as they can individually, then coming together and comparing strategies. 

The last category contains activities that take one or more class periods to complete. My journey into discussion-based mathematics began with the activities developed by the Mathematics Assessment Project. The Classroom Challenges are designed to replace a midunit assessment and are also aligned with the Content Standards for Mathematics. Each challenge has a preassessment and postassessment, PowerPoint slides for sparking class discussion, an activity for students to complete while they work in small groups, and a guide for teachers to walk students through the process. Although the lessons are complete, they are not of the form to print out and leave with a substitute teacher. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the amazing lightbulb moments that your students will encounter while working through these problems.

My final and favorite resource is . . . other teachers! Many great ideas can be sparked by conversations with our own peers. For starters, you can always reach out to the teachers in your school or district. But don’t limit yourself to other math teachers. Some of my favorite ideas for classroom activities have come from social studies teachers. For more variety, there is an entire education renaissance taking place on Twitter. Teachers from all over the country can collaborate in unprecedented ways, thanks to the Internet and the Common Core State Standards.

If you would like support in your journey to building a Stronger Math classroom, feel free to e-mail me at!

Communicating in the Math Classroom


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