This mental math collection is designed to help strengthen students’ ability to solve simple math problems quickly without the use of pencil and paper.
We believe mental math is very important and can take place daily in classrooms to varying degrees. It strengthens math fact recall, engages many students and sharpens their minds. Here we have compiled a list & description of simple ideas and resources that you can use in your classroom to help build mental math into your daily or weekly math routine. Check out our ideas for mental math below and share your own in the comments! Click the links underneath each description to download the FREE resources described (if applicable).
Lining Up & Transitions – One quick and easy idea for daily mental math is to simply begin calling out a problem as the class is lining up or transitioning from one thing to another. Leave a bit of time between each value and operation for students to do the mental calculations. (For example: Think of the number that is half of 20. (Pause) Now add six to that number. (Pause) Now subtract 9. (Pause) Now double your answer.) Then students raise their hands if they were able to keep up and have an answer in mind to share. For a fun acknowledgment for the one who was able to give a correct answer, have your students come up with their own personalized class response to a correct mental math answer – such as shouting “Yee-ha!” or “Ya-hoo!” The more creative they are the more fun it will be!
Morning Mental Math Jar – Another easy idea is to place a small dry erase board on a table near a jar, and put some small strips of paper and a few pencils nearby. Each morning write a quick mental math problem on the board (similar to the one listed above for transitions). As students enter the classroom in the morning, part of their routine can be to do the mental math problem and write their name & answer on one of the slips of paper to put in the jar. Begin your math workshop by quickly doing the problem aloud with the class and then choosing a name out of the jar. If the student wrote their name on the paper and had the correct answer they could become the math helper for the day or choose a small treat.
I have…Who has? – This is a game many are familiar with and is a great way for students to practice mental math skills. We have provided five versions here, plus a template for you (or your students) to create your own. (Our students had lots of fun creating some of these if they finished something early in class!) NOTE: Each version contains two sets of the same game. The last half of the slides in each version contain a white background in case you prefer not to use as much ink to print. Simply print the pages that suit your needs.
To play this game pass out one or two strips of paper to each student (depending on the number of students in your class – some may get one strip and some may get two). The student who has the strip marked with the word “start” begins by reading the words on their strip of paper. The student with the strip that has the answer reads that answer as well as the next mental math problem. Play continues until the person with the strip marked “finish” has read their answer. You can use these a few times by mixing them up and passing them out again.
Game Templates (PDF contains two templates – one with sentence starters and one without. Print as many pages as needed per the number of students in your class.)
10/100 More & Less Math Center – This is an easy center to set up for your math workshop time when you are working with a small guided math group or as a morning center. Place the number cards face down in a pile. (You choose the level that students are working on. Cards start with tens and go up to thousands.) Students choose a card and write it on their recording sheet inside the dotted line box. Then they just need to think of 10 more, 10 less, 100 more and 100 less than that number. Be sure to explain to your students that if the number is very small, they may not be able to come up with a number that is 10 or 100 less than the number they picked. In that case they can put an X in the box. (Or for advanced math minds – have them figure out the negative number!)
Clip Cards – This set of 25 clip cards is also great for a math center. Simply print & cut out the cards, and then place stickers on the backs of the cards directly behind the correct answers. Next laminate the cards and place them at a center with some clothes pins. Students pick up a card, mentally do the math problem, mark their answer with the clothes pin and then turn the card over to see if they got the correct answer.
Deck of Cards Math Pyramids – For this activity students use a deck of cards and do mental math operations on the numbers they turn up. This can be done in a whole group setting as you walk around to check answers or can also be use as a small group guided activity or math center (where students check each others’ work). Be sure to either take out the face cards or let students know that they are all assigned a value of ten. Aces are valued at one. Students take the deck, turn up four or five cards and place them in a row in front of them. Next they take a dry-erase marker and begin to mentally add cards that are next to each other, writing the answers directly above and between the two cards they are performing the operation on. They continue across the row of cards until they have added up each pair of cards. They then move up the pyramid and add the answers they have just determined. This goes on for each row in the same manner until students have a final answer at the tops of their pyramids. (The picture below may provide some clarification.) This can also be used with subtraction, but you will need to be sure to tell students they obviously have to subtract the smaller numbers from the bigger ones in each set.