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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Math

Teaching Kids How to Work with a Math Partner
Sarah Picard

Many of the curriculum guides and textbooks in our classroom ask kids to use a math partner to help them solve problems. Partnership work is also crucial when the kids get involved in math games. But partnering students involves more than just choosing two students and asking them solve problems and play math games. The kids need coaching about how to physically work with a partner, and how to use math strategies with a partner. Here are some practical tips that work with young students, especially English Language Learners and students working in inclusion classrooms.

First, set students up for success by teaching them how to sit, listen, and take turns with a math partner. Each of the following directions is meant to be practiced over and over at the beginning of the year. It works best if children are set up with a partner that they will keep for at least a month or a unit of study.

  • Give each partnership a partner A and a partner B. You can then rotate the order of which partner will go first on days when you play math games.
  • When the students are working together to solve a problem, have them sit side to side with the work in between them. In my classroom we called this “side to side.”
  • If you are playing a game, sit facing each other with the game in front of each partner. We called this “face to face.”

As these concepts were introduced we practiced sitting each way. It took just a few minutes of practice and the kids got used to use calling out “side to side” and “face to face.” The English Language Learners in the class were able to follow directions because we were clear and consistent each time we used our partners.

Second, teach basic communication skills through modeling. It is important for the children to talk to their partners and disagree with each other. It is also important to teach some basic negotiation skills to young children. Here are a few things we practiced:

Look at your partner when you are talking to him or her

Use your partner’s name when you are talking to him or her

Control the volume of your voice so that your partner can hear, but the other partnership nearby cannot hear.

Ask your partner to talk louder if you do not understand. Ask, “Can you talk louder please?”

Ask your partner to say something again if you do not understand. Ask, “Can you say that again. I don’t understand.”

If you disagree with your partner, let her finish her thinking. Then explain to her your thinking. You may have to use words like, “Wait. I have another idea.”

If your partner is having trouble understanding your idea, show him your thinking in another way. Get a tool like the 100 chart or cubes to show what you are thinking. Mathematicians get smarter by sharing their ideas with other people.

Partnering students has many benefits, provided you teach the students how to work with a partner. I hope this articles has given you some strategies on that front.

 

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