PLANNING YOUR MATH LESSONS: The POWER of Questioning

I don’t use a textbook during math. I create lessons with engaging activities and intentional questioning. Every question that I ask my students has the potential to ignite deep thinking and rigor, so I plan my questioning carefully. I use the acronym P.O.W.E.R when I select activities and prompts for each lesson. P.O.W.E.R stands for purposeful opportunities with engagement and rigor. I have also developed a few key principles that I reference when planning my math lessons. Here is an outline to follow when planning your math lessons.

The power of math lies in conceptual understanding. Your students need to understand the meaning of an algorithm or why there is a certain step to solving an equation. Teachers tend to push the memorization of procedural steps, but the true magic of understanding math is found in conceptual understanding. We are failing our students if we don’t push them towards conceptual understanding by asking them to rationalize their steps and explain their reasoning.

Students that learn math procedurally rely on algorithms and struggle to make mathematical connections. Procedural learning is important for elementary students, but should not be the only way math is taught in classrooms.

Here is an example of a question that procedurally assesses a math skill and a second question that conceptually assesses the same skill.

In this example students are simply asked to round to a particular place value. Often when teachers are introducing the concept of rounding to their students they teach chants and poems to help students “memorize” the steps to rounding. Rounding is as simple as asking yourself “Is 28,764 closer to 28,000 or 29,000 when rounding to the nearest thousand?” Teach your students number sense and problem solving versus chants and cutesy sayings.

This question requires more conceptual understanding from students. They are asked to work backwards and provide a range of numbers that would round to 3,000. Encourage your students to come up with the entire range of numbers rather than just one example. Some students will default to the more obvious answers such as 2,999, but ask your students to dig deeper. The range of numbers that become 3,000 when rounded to the nearest thousand is 2,500 to 3,499. You’re covering the best of both worlds with this question, procedural and conceptual understanding.

Here are some more examples of questions that assess both procedural and conceptual understanding.

You don’t need 40+ questions to provide quality instruction and practice for your students. Today I ask fewer, but more powerful questions. They take longer to complete. I always start my math lesson with a complex question that I know my students will struggle with. I use that question as the foundation of my whole group instruction which lasts about 20 minutes.

I use multi-step questions, word problems, and prompts that require conceptual understanding. You need procedural questions to ensure students understand the steps needed to master a skill, but 80% of your questions should be conceptual based.


I used to think that I needed my students to complete 30+ questions to practice a new skill. I found that the more quality questioning I included the more time it took for us to work through a problem. The conversation was so rich and student directed. Scale back on the number of questions you ask, so your students have time for math exploration. There is nothing wrong with one question taking 20 minutes to solve and discuss. Students benefit from extra processing and discussion time and the understanding begins to soak in on its own. Guide discussion with probing questions or statements. You are the facilitator of your classroom, but don’t give up too much information too early in the process.

The questioning you provide your students will dictate the quality of instruction you give. Are you providing POWERful math questioning? Check out our POWER Math Line for classroom and homework resources that align to conceptual understanding! GRAB A SAMPLE OF POWER MATH PROBLEMS NOW!

For tips on how to get your students to LOVE math check out this blog post.

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