• Caroline Farkas

5 Ways To Encourage Your Students To Show Their Thinking

Updated: Apr 13


Do you have trouble getting your upper elementary students to show math work? Here are 5 ways that I have found that encourage students to show work on math problems in 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade!


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1. Allow students to show thinking on unusual surfaces


Students are always more willing to show their thinking when they get to write on fun surfaces! One of my favorite places is on my half-circle table. I used this whiteboard paper to cover the entire surface so students could easily write directly on the table. Students have also enjoyed using whiteboard markers to write on the windows and their desks. Want students to show their thinking at home? Have them use a whiteboard marker on a shower wall or glass door!






Various writing materials to show math work in elementary classroom

2. Have students choose a fun writing tool of choice


While there are benefits to having students show math work in pencil, having students choose another writing tool can be a fun change of pace. My students love using crayons, colored pencils, markers, gel pens, and even paint to show their thinking! A benefit of using a non-erasable tool is that students can visibly see where they made a mistake, and fix it. When they erase their mistake- they often forget what mistake they made or are unsure how to change their work for the next time. Different colors can also be used to show different steps of their math solution.





Math Clipart being printed out and used as a printable math manipulative for fraction problems

3. Have students show their thinking with objects, manipulatives, or math clipart


Some students may be more hesitant to write out all of their thinking but are very willing to show the steps they took to solve a math problem when using math manipulatives. Students can use math manipulatives and classroom objects to show the process they took to solve a problem. Want something that they can reflect on later? Have them show their thinking with math clipart and glue it on their learning resource or in a math journal. This combines using a manipulative with something that you (and they) can visually see later on! Need math clipart? Check out all of my clipart in my TPT shop!





Sticky notes on a notebook showing math work for elementary

4. Give students sticky notes to stick to their resources

Sticky notes are a great tool to use when students are using other learning resources or workbooks. Not all learning resources give students enough space to fully show their thinking and sticky notes are a great way for students to attach their work directly to the problem they are solving.












5. Always have scrap paper on hand

A great way to encourage your upper elementary students to show their thinking is to always have scrap paper easily available to them. I always have students bring in notebook paper at the beginning of the year so we have plenty of it! I keep it in a labeled drawer that students are always allowed to go get. You can also try different types of scrap paper to encourage students to use it. My students like colored paper, comic book pages, or computer paper.


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5 Ways to encourage your upper elementary students to show their thinking and show math work

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