Monday, December 26, 2016

5 Best Ways to Spiral



Spiraling math concepts throughout the year is, without a doubt, one of the main strategies which led to my success as a teacher and now as a private tutor. This approach keeps skills fresh and at the forefront of my students’ minds. I vividly remember learning a new topic as an elementary student and then being expected to remember it long after without any practice or review. I felt very discouraged and dumb. I vowed to do the best I could to never allow my students to experience those feelings.

Studies have shown that, when implemented effectively, spiraling leads to enhanced long-term mastery and application of math skills. You may be thinking, “You have me sold on the importance, but how do I implement this into my already busy schedule!?!” Trust me, it’s easier than you think! I have found 5 effective ways to integrate spiraling into my school day. The key is to make every moment a teachable moment.

     1. Morning Work / Warm – Ups: At the start of each class I placed 3-5 problems on the projector for my students to practice. I carefully and intentionally chose questions that I noticed many of them were still struggling with.

     2. Ticket out the Door: This is a common closure activity that most teachers are familiar with. However, most of them use this as a reflection exercise which covers the material they just presented. I, instead, use it to spiral a previously taught concept. Again this allows me to review old material without trying to squeeze in some extra review time into my already hectic day.

     3. Flash Cards: I’m not talking about your traditional flash cards with multiplication & division facts on them. No siree! These unique flash cards offer a variety of questions over a span of topics which can be solved easily using basic mental math skills. They are called, ‘Grab& Go’ flash cards and what I love most is that they are super versatile! Read below to see the many ways in which I incorporated them into my everyday schedule.


Bathroom breaks – I realized one day how much time is wasted during restroom breaks. Students enter the bathroom a few at a time to prevent behavior issues while the rest of the kiddos sit in the hallway and stare at the tile on the floor. My ‘Grab & Go’ flash cards came in handy during these breaks. I had the students review each other in pairs until it was their turn to use the restroom or after they returned. Worked like a charm!

Recess – I wasn’t too keen on giving up my time to chat with my teammates to help my strugglers get some extra review in, but I knew my students’ success was more important than my social life. I quickly snatched my ‘Grab & Go’ flash cards and had them in my pocket to quiz my struggling students with a few quick cards before they ran off to the playground. They usually tried their best to answer correctly, because their incentive was to go play with their friends.

Small Groups – Because my ‘Grab & Go’ flashcards are divided by topic it was very easy for me to look at my data sheet and decide which topic to pull out and use for our review time. There were problems readily available for me to use rather than spending extra time printing off applicable questions.

Peer Review – During math centers or with early finishers, ‘Grab & Go” flash cards are very useful with pairs of students who could take turns asking the questions. Since the questions and answers are printed on the back of each flash card, I felt comfortable that answers were given or checked accurately. The kids love it!

Field Trips, Bus Duty and Car Rider Line – Similar to restroom breaks, time is often wasted during dismissal. ‘Grab & Go” flash cards are so convenient to take with you and use during bus rides to a field trip or while waiting in line for their bus or parents to pick them up.

[Grab& Go flash cards can also be used under a projector for morning work or as a ticket out the door. No need to find and print resources anymore!]

     4. Games? Um, yes please! My students L-O-V-E it when we get to play while           learning. The 4 most popular games that my students beg to play all the time are:

Math Who?: Similar to Guess Who? except students use math vocabulary terms in the form of a yes/no question to guess a mystery number instead of a mystery person. So. Much. FUN.



Math Phrase: Similar to Catch Phrase except students attempt to get their team to say a set of math terms (in under a minute) by describing the words. You’ll be surprised at how competitive they will get to try and get the most points!

Mental Math Mondays Trashketball – Students usually dread Mondays because they’re coming back from a fun weekend. To spice things up and give them something to look forward to, we play Mental Math Monday Trashketball (hence no pencil/paper required). I use the ‘Grab & Go’ flash cards with this game. I break them up into 2-4 teams. Students take turns answering a question on the flashcard for a chance to earn a point. If answered correctly, the students have an opportunity to earn additional points by throwing a ball into the trashcan. My student’s requested a 1 point AND 2 point line to make it more of a challenge.

Math Kickball – My kiddos got a “kick” out of this game! (Ha, see what I did there?) On a pretty day, usually before a big holiday break when my students are getting antsy, I would take my students out to the gym or the field near our playground and we would play Math Kickball. They divided into two teams and each student guarding a base would have a set of ‘Grab & Go’ flashcards with different skills. Once a student from the other team landed on the base they had to answer correctly to stay there and be ‘safe’. They really enjoyed this game a lot.

     5. Homework: This is another simple way to spiral math concepts on a regular basis. I send home about 5-10 problems that students can practice independently. Important to note: Homework is only effective if you grade their work, because this allows you to observe which areas need to be revisited. (These are the problems that you will choose for morning work/warm-ups.) I have heard from so many students, “I don’t need to try my best on my homework, because my teacher just looks to see if we did it.” Pointless, if you ask me!

I hope you will find these spiraling methods useful and be able to pick a few (if not all) that you can easily begin using with your class. We would love to hear how you spiral concepts in your classroom! Please leave us a comment below.

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