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Math Warmups: Ten Minutes that Pack a Punch

In many classrooms, the math instructional period starts with a warmup. What you do with that math warmup sets the tone for the rest of your math instruction, so let’s make the most of it!

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In many classrooms, the math warmup consists of a spiraling review-type worksheet. Let’s examine that approach. First, is this type of warmup really inviting students to think mathematically? Is it engaging? Does it pique their curiosity? The answer to those questions is probably no. More importantly, these math warmups are usually purchased resources, so what are the chances that the skills follow your scope and sequence? Slim to none. I’ve been in too many classrooms where the “review” questions were skills the students hadn’t yet been taught! Not only is that not an effective use of time, but consider the impact it has on the students. Would you like to start the day being asked to work problems that you had not been taught? Would that make you feel confident and known? Doubtful. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need for distributive practice. Students absolutely need to revisit skills throughout the year to cement their understanding. Consider instead incorporating that skills review into your math workstations.

So let’s take a look at some easy warmup activities that pack a punch and get your students thinking mathematically.


Which One Doesn’t Belong

Which One Doesn’t Belong problems challenge students to look at four different items and find a reason why each one doesn’t belong with the others. Take a look at the image below. Think of a reason why each one doesn’t belong with the others before you scroll down.

Here are some possible solutions: 8 + 6 is the only expression with two even addends; 7 + 7 is the only double; 8 + 7 is the only one with a sum other than 14; and 5 + 9 is the only one where the first addend is less than the second addend. I’m sure you probably thought of others.

The images on the website are free to download. I’d suggest copying the images into a PowerPoint file with one image on each slide. Display the slide, give the students quiet think time, and then let students share out. You’ll notice that the more students work on these puzzles, the better they get at them.

Number Talks

The phrase number talk means different things to different people. For me, it means Sherry Parrish’s book Number Talks: Whole Number Computation. Number talks, as described in this particular book, are short, 10-15 minute, warm-up activities focusing on mental math strategies. The book includes a great section describing what number talks are and how to use them in the classroom, and then the rest of the book is organized by grade levels—explaining what number talks look like at each grade level and providing pages with problem sets that can be used to promote certain strategies. There are even videos so you can see and hear number talks in actual classrooms. Here’s a peek inside the book.

You might notice this is not a book to read—it’s a book to use, and it’s one of the most impactful books I ever used in my classroom. You might think your students won’t have the strategies that the kids in the video use. Let me tell you, they will surprise you! I have never seen students more engaged and excited about math than during number talks. And the speed of the results is shocking! In just a couple of weeks’ time, students become much more confident in their strategies and grow in their ability to explain their mathematical thinking. A teacher in one of the video clips states that she has walked through a door, and she will never go back. I can guarantee that you will feel that way, too!

Number-of-the-Day Routines

A good number-of-the-day routine is a goldmine of mathematical thinking, and there are number-of-the-day routines for every grade level, starting with this one I saw in a 1st-Grade classroom. This routine utilizes the number of days in school, which are counted using ten frames, as the number of the day. A student is selected to add a dot each day. Next, students can manipulate the ten frames (they have magnets on the back), moving them around to show different ways to decompose the number. In the first picture, you see 50 + 33, which the teacher has recorded as 33 + 50 on the small whiteboard. Finally, the class gives it a try with three addends.

math warmups ten frames

Here’s another number-of-the-day routine that was written for 3rd Grade, but it can be adapted for different grades. Download your copy here.

math warmups

Number-of-the-day routines don’t need to be anything fancy. Here are a few examples that are super low prep, but still pack a big punch!


number of the day math warmups

Putting It All Together

Now think about how you could work these warmups into a weekly schedule. How about a Which One Doesn’t Belong on Monday to get the week started with a challenging puzzle? Number talks are most effective when done regularly, so let’s schedule them on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Then, we could do a number of the day on Friday. Of course, you could come up with a totally different schedule. Depending on how long your math instructional time is, you might even be able to work two of the options into your schedule each day.

So think outside of the spiraling review box when it comes to math warmups. Set the tone for the day with activities that engage, challenge, and inspire!

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  1. I’m so glad I read this! I was getting ready to purchase and print a morning work packet for math. Your ideas make so much more sense. I have already put the Number Talks book in my Amazon Cart. Thanks again!

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