One question I get all the time is, "How do you work your thinker tasks into your daily instruction?".  Today I thought I'd share a little more about how I use these project-based learning experiences!
Problem solving is such a critical part of third grade math and fourth grade math and finding rigorous, real-world math tasks can be hard.  These differentiated math tasks help students with the standards for mathematical practice, math discourse, problem solving, and more.  #projectbasedlearning #problemsolving #PBL #mathtasks #fourthgrademath #thirdgrademath

First of all, if you haven't seen my "Thinker Task" collection, this video might give you a better sense of what they are and what they involve.  I hope you'll see the benefits of getting students doing "real-world" problem solving and how much math discourse and critical thinking they can evoke.

Ready to see more?


How do I use Thinker Tasks?

I think what I really love about these tasks is how many different uses they have.  I thought I'd list a bunch of different teaching suggestions for you--but I bet you can get even more creative!


  • Sometimes I use Thinker Tasks with my whole class.  I introduce them to everyone and then students can work alone or collaboratively at their own pace.
  • At other times, I use this as a "fast finisher" activity.  Everyone has a copy, but some students get far more time to work on it because they need less "me" time for instruction on other things.
  • Perfect to use as a station in math workshop or guided math.  Once students know what to do, they can be totally independent.
  • These tasks are great to help explicitly teach students about the Standards for Mathematical Practice where students can work to justify their thinking, model with math, make sense of problems, persevere, work with precision, and more!
  • Two words:  Math discourse!  These tasks instantly get students talking about math, critiquing each other's reasoning, defending their thinking and more.  They also have multiple opportunities to WRITE about math, something missing in most math series.
  • Perfect for special education in middle school.  Teachers have raved that the tasks don't look "baby-ish" but work hard to get students both solving problems AND working on critical computation skills.
  • Enrichment groups for grades 2-4.  Students love the challenges and teachers love that they can do meaningful work while they work with the rest of the class.  The fact that the task itself is challenging is great--but the page of additional extensions means that with very minimal planning, this task can provide meaningful math work for weeks.
  • Sometimes I take a few days in a row and we do the complete task.  Other times I introduce the task and then students work on it after they finish their other work.  In other words, it can be a replacement activity or an extention activity.  Perfect to introduce before having a sub--because students are so engaged.
  • Wonderful to use to model great math thinking for observation lessons.  Administrators love to see students involved with such meaningful math!
Problem solving is such a critical part of third grade math and fourth grade math and finding rigorous, real-world math tasks can be hard.  These differentiated math tasks help students with the standards for mathematical practice, math discourse, problem solving, and more.  #projectbasedlearning #problemsolving #PBL #mathtasks #fourthgrademath #thirdgrademath

What Thinker Tasks are available?


I have very few resources that are "holiday" based because I like the flexibility of using different lessons and ideas when they are the best fit throughout the school year.  That being said, sometimes those seasonal times of the year are the trickiest times to keep students engaged in their learning!

For my Thinker Tasks, I have created some of each.  I have versions available that can tie to seasons (back to school shopping, a Thanksgiving feast, holiday cookie baking, or Valentine's Day), but others that can be used at ANY time...students can enjoy working on a sleepover task, an amusement part problem, or an animal rescue problem any time!

Problem solving is such a critical part of third grade math and fourth grade math and finding rigorous, real-world math tasks can be hard.  These differentiated math tasks help students with the standards for mathematical practice, math discourse, problem solving, and more.  #projectbasedlearning #problemsolving #PBL #mathtasks #fourthgrademath #thirdgrademath

How do I differentiate these math tasks?


Another question teachers often have relates to differentiation with Thinker Tasks.  Fortunately, there are a ton of options for teachers wanting to use them with students at different levels.  Check out these ideas!


  • Most of the tasks come with two "Math by the Numbers" sheets with the numbers at different levels.  For example, in the Valentine task, one version uses only whole numbers like "$5" while the other uses decimals with amounts like "$4.95".  This, of course, makes the task more rigorous.
  • The tasks can be differentiated by providing different amounts of scaffolding.  By giving students the chance to be completely independent, they need to "make sense" of the problem on their own and dig in with no guidance.  By working with explicit directions and, perhaps, working with students step by step, the task becomes more manageable and easier to tackle.
  • Providing students with tools like calculators and manipulatives can make a challenging task more accessible.  A child who cannot subtract with regrouping CAN use a calculator to solve a task involving subtraction.
  • Working in partners or small groups is an instant way to give students support and still have access to rigorous, quality math.
  • Working in differentiated teams allows you to tailor these tasks to small groups with different needs.
I hope this helps answer some of the questions YOU might have had about Thinker Tasks and how I use them throughout my school year.  Each is available separately, or you can buy the bundle and save.  Just click the image below to see the bundle.  Each individual resource can be accessed from that link.  Enjoy!

Problem solving is such a critical part of third grade math and fourth grade math and finding rigorous, real-world math tasks can be hard.  These differentiated math tasks help students with the standards for mathematical practice, math discourse, problem solving, and more.  #projectbasedlearning #problemsolving #PBL #mathtasks #fourthgrademath #thirdgrademath

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Problem solving is such a critical part of third grade math and fourth grade math and finding rigorous, real-world math tasks can be hard.  These differentiated math tasks help students with the standards for mathematical practice, math discourse, problem solving, and more.  #projectbasedlearning #problemsolving #PBL #mathtasks #fourthgrademath #thirdgrademath






Fish in a Tree is a great novel study for realistic fiction or narrative reading and writing.  This blog post gives narrative lesson ideas and activities to try with any novel.  Fish in a Tree, narrative unit, teaching narratives, narrative printables, response to reading, mentor texts, fourth grade reading, fifth grade reading

Today is my day to blog over at Upper Elementary Snapshots, and I hope you'll stop over to check out some of the lesson ideas I am sharing to use with whatever read aloud YOU are using right now!  Just CLICK HERE or the image above to take you there!
Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable.  This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more.  Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading

As you know, the purpose of a graphic organizer is to help students (or adults!) make sense of information and organize it into a visible, usable fashion. Sometimes using an organizer is all we need from students—a way for them to represent the information we are asking for. Sometimes, however, we want students to organize information for other reasons…like to do a piece of writing. I wanted a way for my students to be able to track their thinking about the texts they read, but also for them to be able to use those notes to complete a short piece of writing to show me their thinking and depth of understanding about a text.

All year long I share novels, picture books...students read during independent reading, book clubs--you get the drill. There is never enough time to confer with everyone and get as much information as needed to see how deeply students are thinking so, part of the time, I do rely on some written work to check for that depth of understanding.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to be able to be able to quickly consider what skill or learning target I wanted to focus on, and then have a low ink (or digital) way to get students thinking—and then writing about texts.

I have books and books of graphic organizers, but could I find what I was looking for?

Nope!

There are countless resources out there filled with different graphic organizers--none of which were going to do what I needed them to do. I decided to create my own for a number of reasons.

Graphic Organizers That Help Teach Reading

Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable.  This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more.  Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading
•The organizers have teaching tips/mini lessons worked right into them! (see the image above!)
•This resource has the print AND digital versions of these organizers so you can use them either way.
Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable. This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more. Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading, google classroom, digital activities

•This set also has a written component so students can use the organizer to jot down their thinking—but then can “write long’ about them to deepen their thinking and work on their writing skills in a meaningful way.
Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable.  This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more.  Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading

•These organizers are meant to dig deeply into rigorous standards and get students really thinking deeply about texts, not just fill in the blanks.

Assessing Student Thinking with Graphic Organizers

Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable.  This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more.  Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading

When I ask students to write about texts, I am looking for a few things:

•Are they able to find examples in the text?
•Can they explain clearly?
•Can they write coherently?
•What is their “depth” of understanding?
•How reflective are they as they read?
•How much scaffolding or “coaching” do they need to make sense of the text?
•Does their written work seem to match their reading level?
•What instruction needs to happen to support them as readers and writers?
•Do the texts they are reading seem to be a good fit for them?

When Do I Use Graphic Organizers?


The sky is the limit—but here are some ideas for you!
Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable.  This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more.  Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading

•Use these to model your own thinking about texts you share with the class…read aloud novels or picture books. Show how you track your thinking on the organizer AND how you take that information and turn it into a piece of writing.

•Use this as “ready to go” work for book clubs where students can read, reflect, write, and then discuss!

•Use this as an assessment…either have students use these organizers to show their thinking about a book you have shared with them or their own reading.

•Have students work in partners to get them talking about books and finding those essential ideas and text evidence.

•Work to fill out the organizer as a class (or as a part of a small group) and then have students work independently to do the reflective writing.

•Use this as a way to get more writing instruction into your day. Teach about paragraphing. Show them how to use transition words to connect ideas. Show them how to write topic sentences and supporting details. Show them how to cite evidence from the text.

So if you think you might be interested in trying something like this...just click the link here to see my fiction graphic organizers or click the image below.
Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable.  This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more.  Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading

Rather pin this for later?
Using graphic organizers to help teach fiction reading and writing is so valuable.  This blog post has teaching tips for using graphic organizers to get students ready for written responses to reading and more.  Graphic organizer printables, graphic organizer worksheets, fourth grade reading, third grade reading, fifth grade reading, common core reading


Well, here we are...our final day of the summer math challenge!  I hope you have enjoyed the series and have made some plans to try some new things this year!
Math workshop is a big buzz word right now, but this post is geared toward helping you make smart math choices when it comes to planning your instruction.  Math workshop, guided math, math centers, math rotations, grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math activities
Today's final challenge involves asking you to do some reflecting on how you actually organize your math instruction.  I am constantly getting teachers asking me what my math block "looks like"--and it's just not that easy of a question to answer!  Mine looks different every day...because the math looks different every day.

There has been a lot of push to do "math workshop" or math "centers" in recent years.  Sadly, this has resulted in some unfortunate results.  I'm going to redefine some things the way I like to keep them in my mind...and I hope some of what I have to say resonates with you.

Here goes.

In my mind, I like to think of math workshop as being "ways to give as many students as possible JUST RIGHT instruction for as many minutes per day as possible".  Does that work for you?

If so, then we have to be mindful of how we do that. right?  Some of our best intentions often go south, so today I'm going to share with you 5 ways that you can plan your instruction to try to get students in that "math zone" as often as possible.  You will notice--each strategy has pros and cons.  We need to make professional decisions based on the math content, our students' knowledge, and countless other factors.  Let's see what you think.

By the way...if you want a freebie that has all the images from this post to help you with your own planning, here you go!


Whole Class Math Instruction

First of all, I want to give the disclaimer that "whole class" instruction is NOT the whole class instruction I had growing up!  There are no podiums or lectures involved!  Instead, students are given some meaningful instruction and then are immersed in a task or set of problems/activities.  The teacher then circulates and coaches.  Students may be working alone, in pairs, or some other collaborative combination.  In order to be successful, the task has to be within reach of all students or small groups--whether that be through the instruction, differentiation, tools (like calculators), or through intervention on the teacher's part.

This can also be an extremely effective strategy when presenting content that is new for all students...a new concept that students need to be immersed in as an introductory lesson or meant to trigger discussion.  A perfect example of an activity that is perfect whole class instruction is my math concept sorts.  My goal as a teacher is that I WANT to be the observer and coach so I can see what my students know and what misconceptions they have.

Math workshop is a big buzz word right now, but this post is geared toward helping you make smart math choices when it comes to planning your instruction.  Math workshop, guided math, math centers, math rotations, grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math activities

Splitting the Class in Half

There are times when trying to keep the attention of 24 students is simply impossible.  Splitting the class in half and teaching the lesson twice might be just the ticket!  The beauty of this is the flexibility.  You can teach the exact same lesson twice and just have a smaller, more focused group OR you can teach the lesson at two different levels so students are challenged at just the right level and just the right pace.

Remember, when doing two groups, there is no rule that says each "half" needs to get the same amount of time.  I frequently teach the lesson to my more capable learners in about half the time I spend with the other group.  You can also bring out different tools or scaffolds for the group who needs it--so a win/win for all.  Be mindful of what you have the students who are NOT with you do...we don't want to fill their time with busywork or off-level work.  It's a perfect time for collaborative problem solving, computation fluency work, or other "just right" practice.
Math workshop is a big buzz word right now, but this post is geared toward helping you make smart math choices when it comes to planning your instruction. Math workshop, guided math, math centers, math rotations, grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math activities

Math Centers and Stations

Well, here we go.  "Centers".  "Stations".  "Math workshop".  This instructional strategy involves grouping students (either by ability or not) to rotate through a number of different activities--one with instruction from the teacher.  Ideally, this instruction is tailored to the needs of the small group--or there really is no value in the rotations, right?

Here's the deal.  Whether we set up 3, 4, or 5 stations, the simple truth is that students are under direct supervision of the teacher for only a small percentage of the math block.  That means students need to be doing MEANINGFUL, on-task work for a large percentage of their math class.  This requires a great deal of planning.  We know we have many, many different ability levels in our classes, and creating meaningful "just right" centers for all of them is a challenge, indeed.

So if we can create meaningful work at these stations, we also do need to make sure that student behavior creates an atmosphere conducive to quality work.  Since students are only getting direct instruction for one rotation, the teacher must be completely free of managing those other groups.  This takes a great deal of time up front to make sure the groups function well, know expectations, and can manage them without teacher assistance.   When they work well--this can be a great way for teachers to really tailor instruction...but we must be mindful that students aren't wasting 75% of their math time doing centers that aren't "just right" or where behavior interferes with productivity.
Math workshop is a big buzz word right now, but this post is geared toward helping you make smart math choices when it comes to planning your instruction. Math workshop, guided math, math centers, math rotations, grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math activities

Math Minilessons and Focus Groups

This organizational strategy is a nice combination strategy...it allows the teacher to teach a focused minilesson to the class and then tailor the instruction AFTER that to different groups of students.  Here's an example...let's say I wanted to explicitly teach the strategy "draw a picture".  I could do some modeling with the entire class...show my thinking...maybe even have students work in partners to try a similar problem.

After that, I could pull small groups to work on that very skill--but at different levels.  Again, like with the "half and half" strategy...there is no rule that says that these focus groups need to be equal lengths of time.  For some of my better problem solvers, I might start with a challenge problem to watch them work, listen to strategies, coach on organization and precision issues, and then send them off to try some more on their own or in partners.

For a group of students needing more, I could use much simpler problems, walk through them more slowly, model in different ways, and keep the students much longer for extra practice and coaching.  Like with all the other structures, we just need to make sure the students NOT with us are doing meaningful, independent work!
Math workshop is a big buzz word right now, but this post is geared toward helping you make smart math choices when it comes to planning your instruction. Math workshop, guided math, math centers, math rotations, grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math activities

Math Menus and Checklists

When the instruction you really need to do is one on one or small group work...using a menu or checklist can be an amazing strategy to really free you up for an entire math block.  I especially like to use this toward the end of a unit when students are working toward fluency with the different skills and maybe even have some longer term projects underway like Project Based Learning Thinker Tasks which can be a meaningful way to spend some work time.  Sometimes I'll even have the students working on some of my alternative assessment options to keep them really doing meaningful work.  I can then circulate and coach...pull intervention groups...reteach...or whatever else I need to do to make sure all my students are getting what they need.
Math workshop is a big buzz word right now, but this post is geared toward helping you make smart math choices when it comes to planning your instruction. Math workshop, guided math, math centers, math rotations, grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math activities
So there you have it!  Although this certainly doesn't cover what my math block looks like EVERY day, it gives you a little glimpse into some of the deliberate structures I use to really maximize the time students spend working on meaningful math--and to make sure I feel as effective as possible with all the different needs in my class.

So....that's it!  Seven posts that I hope have given you some food for thought this summer as you move into your school year.  

Have you missed the other posts in this series?

Click HERE for the introductory post.
Click HERE for Challenge 1 (yearly planning)
Click HERE for Challenge 2 (math talk and mindset)
Click HERE for Challenge 3 (word problems and problem solving)
Click HERE for Challenge 4 (math organization)
Click HERE for Challenge 5 (math assessment)
Click HERE for Challenge 6 (meaningful problem solving)

Did you miss signing up for the FB group?  CLICK HERE
(And make sure to answer the screener questions!)

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Math workshop is a big buzz word right now, but this post is geared toward helping you make smart math choices when it comes to planning your instruction. Math workshop, guided math, math centers, math rotations, grade 3 math activities, grade 4 math activities








A few challenges ago, I talked pretty extensively about problem solving as it related to word problems with tips and suggestions and food for thought. Today I want to talk about problem solving "experiences" that are NOT word problems so that we can adjust our thinking and plan for meaningful math instruction.  So here we go...some ideas to get you thinking about problem solving!
Finding quality math problem solving experiences can be challenging.  We want students to have a growth mindset, be able to do activities and worksheets with rigor and deep thinking.  We want students to be able to solve real-world problems that get them making connections between math concepts.  Third grade math, fourth grade math, fifth grade math, problem solving, algebraic thinking, fast finishers, math challenge, math workshop, guided math