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Ideas for Mental Math

Mental math practice should be an important part of your daily math instruction.

Below you will find some mental math practice ideas you can quickly incorporate into your classroom.

These activities require only materials you most likely already have in your classroom.

This is another collection of ideas for teachers and homeschool families from The Curriculum Corner.

Mental math practice should be an important part of your daily math instruction.

This mental math collection is designed to help strengthen students’ ability to solve simple math problems quickly without the use of pencil and paper.

Why should you teach mental math?

We believe mental math is very important and should take place daily in classrooms.

Three key parts of mental math instruction are:

  • it strengthens math fact recall
  • engages students of all levels
  • sharpens student minds

How can you help students improve their mental math skills?

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.

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.

When sharing mental math problems, be sure to include a range of difficulty. You want all of your students to have problems where they can feel success.

Morning Mental Math Jar

Another idea is to place a small dry erase board on a table near a jar. 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.

Mental Math Pyramid Game | The Curriculum Corner

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 used as a small group guided activity or math center.

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.

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