The Benefits of Spiraling Math Instruction..and a few tips on how to do it!

One thing that always bothered me with many math textbooks and curriculum maps was the idea that math instruction is best done in "blocks"--3 weeks of geometry.  2 weeks of addition.  4 weeks of fractions.  You know as well as I do that students need far more repetitions of math concepts that this arrangement allows.  That being said--I have no problem with intense units on different math concepts.  Heck, my fraction unit is pretty involved and intense!

That being said, I make sure I deliberately plan to keep weaving other concepts into my instruction no matter how involved we are with our current units.  The simple truth is, if we don't continue to review and reinforce and reteach skills, our students simply don't solidify those synapses to make that learning permanent. can we work this into an already packed math class?

I have a few ideas for you!

1.  Math warm ups

Whether you throw a problem under a document camera or print problems off for students to glue into their math notebooks, warming up with problems from previous units is a great way to keep them fresh.  Not only does it help students understand that topics aren't learned and forgotten (think weekly spelling lists!), but it can really help us as teachers see who is continuing to struggle.  In fact, I often will throw an "entrance slip" in as a warm up--and it's rarely on the content we are currently studying (unless I am trying to judge how instruction is going) but is often revisiting a skill from a previous unit to see if it "stuck"--and who might need more review.

2.  Practice activities during math workshop

If you teach in a "math workshop" or guided math format, students' independent work time is a great way to spiral past instruction.  Whether you have some review sheets that you didn't get to, workbook pages you skipped for whatever reason, games or other activities related to past units, or other practice activities--providing students with opportunities to use those skills on a regular basis is so important.  I often have students work in partners to do this kind of work to serve as a sort of  "checks and balances"...they can refresh each other's memory along the way.  I love to use resources like THIS and THIS that are a little more open ended so all students have the chance to practice skills at a "just right" level.

3.  Intervention groups

As I move from topic to topic, I keep a list of students who need continued work.  I don't know about you, but I feel there is a constant battle in my mind of "Should I move on because MOST students get it?" or "Do I need to spend another few days on this concept?"  Know what I mean?  The best solution I have found is to be constantly on top of which students are the "getters" and which are the "needers"--and I move on with the class and focus the "needers" in small group work.  After all, if they aren't getting it with whole class instruction, another few days of it probably won't help either--they need more targeted help.  I use formative assessment resources for this constantly so I always know where my students stand.  Here is an example of how I keep track of this...
This is from my Area/Perimeter Formative Assessment Toolbox...
4.  Games!

If you have followed me at all you know that I am a firm believer in using games as a way to review skills.  I have games in circulation at all times that help reinforce a variety of skills...and I work very hard to help students recognize the different value of playing games and how to choose the best games to build fluency and accuracy. Check out THIS POST for more details! I was doing my planning over the last month or so and wanted to do some really focused review work.  State testing was coming up and I wanted to at least give a cursory glance to a few topics we hadn't studied in a while.  As I started creating some task cards to use during math workshop, an idea came to me.   What if I created cards that addressed ALL the fourth grade standards?  What if the first set was at a more basic level (like to help transition from 3rd grade), and each set got progressively  more rigorous?  I could use them all year to build in this spiral review--and it would be a TOTALLY flexible resource that I could use for any of the above purposes--I could use them under the projector (or photocopy some) to use as warm ups.  I could use them in stations.  I could use them with partners.  I started working on them--and this resource was born!  Right now I have the first three sets made...and if it looks like they will be helpful for others, I will keep going!

So often task cards are based on skill--which is GREAT if you are in the middle of an in-depth unit...but I wanted MIXED cards to deal with everything from place value to fractions to computation to geometry.
 I also didn't just want "fill in the blank" work...I wanted students to have to explain their thinking at times...write equations at time...find rules...critique reasoning...look for patterns...I needed cards that addressed the math standards at a deeper level.
 I also wanted to make sure that I had plenty of rigor--but also a way to push those students who could handle it, even on the easier first sets.
And I wanted a chance for students to practice some of those all-important standards for mathematical practice...explaining thinking, using proper labels, working precisely, and so on.  I wanted to be able to print them in color and black and white (this set is printed in black and white on orange cardstock).  Each color set has a different background color to keep them organized.

So...these have been working great for my class and hope you find them an easy way to keep the spiral going in YOUR room.  Whether you try them for warm ups, math stations, or with intervention students, I am just happy to have them all ready to use!  I'd love to know what you think...and your thoughts about proceeding with the next three sets!  Interested in checking them out?  Just click below to see them!  I have the first three sets finished and figured I'd bundle three at a time for those interested in digging in!

Also...congratulations to Holly M and Heidi S for winning the two $25 Teachers Pay Teachers gift certificates in my giveaway!  Check your mailboxes, ladies!


  1. These are already in my cart! They'll go great into my "Making Meaning" stations for math. Thanks so much for all you share! It really helps me to hear and see what works for others so that I can continue to grow with my teaching in fourth grade!
    Mrs. Samuelson's Swamp Frogs

    1. You are too sweet, Heidi! Hope you and your frogs are doing well!

  2. I completely agree about the importance of spiraling back to math concepts. Thank you for providing some awesome suggestions and resources on how to do it!

    Elementary Engagement

  3. I know it is a lot to ask....but make one for 3rd Grade!!!!

  4. Robin--that's the plan!!! :) Third and fifth.

  5. AMEN sista! I've learned so much from you this year!