Instructional Routines as a Tool for Student (and Teacher) Growth

Jillian Mendoza

Best Practices Expert

When I was in the classroom I didn’t know that some of my teaching techniques had names, and that they were studied by university researchers and proven to be effective teaching practices. Now that I’ve spent time writing curriculum and doing research on how math is taught, I understand the importance of naming the instructional routines we use with students.

For teachers looking to grow in their practice, a great first step is to begin implementing a research-based instructional routine. Think of it as the equivalent of developing a new habit. You start small and begin doing it every day-- like flossing or meditating before bed-- until the routine becomes second nature. Once it’s second nature, you’ll find yourself using the routine to help you through other situations that arise in your life.

I recently spoke to Cecilio Dimas, Executive Director of Silicon Valley Math Initiative, and we talked about the power of introducing daily Number Talks into math lessons. Cecilio has coached thousands of teachers over the years, and says if you can begin with Number Talks, you will start to see more student discourse in other areas of your lessons.

What is a Number Talk?

“Number talks were developed for classroom teachers to engage students in “mental math” through grappling with interesting mathematics problems. Educators can use number talks regularly as introductions to the day’s mathematical practice, as “warm ups” for other lessons, or as stand-alone extended engagements with mathematical concepts. The teachers in these videos are from schools participating in the Silicon Valley Mathematics Initiative.” (Inside Mathematics)

Number talks are warm-ups that are designed to get students talking. The beautiful thing about Number Talks is that, when implemented frequently, students begin talking more and applying the practices of Number Talks to other problems they are tasked with during class.

At Magma Math, we support our teachers to implement Number talks (also known as Math Talks) using the platform as the tool which students use to problem solve. During our professional development sessions, we help teachers to set reasonable and achievable goals for increasing mathematical discourse in their lessons.

A snapshot of our Magma Math K-5 Best Practices Guide for Teachers

Other Instructional Routines?

Perhaps you already implement Number Talks and have students engaging in rich mathematical discourse every day, but are looking to get more two-way conversations happening amongst students. A popular routine for increasing discourse is Think Pair Share. Think Pair Share allows students individual think time, followed by a conversation with a partner to verbalize their ideas, followed by a share-out to the whole class. If you are finding students freezing when called on, or you have a lack of volunteers willing to present, this routine helps students to build confidence in their ideas before speaking about them in front of the group.

A snapshot of how Magma Math supports Think Pair Share for students with disabilities

How to Start?

If you feel like you’re losing sight of your classroom goals for the year, sit down and pick one instructional routine that you can commit to using daily, for at least 3-4 weeks in a row. Know that it could be rocky for a couple of weeks, but consistency will be key in training your students on a new way of working. Plan for your routine to take somewhere between 6-10 minutes of class, so even when it doesn’t go as planned you still have the rest of the lesson to recover from it. I love what Cecilio mentioned to me too, which is that if it’s going really well you might tend to take too long on the routine, so remember to bookmark those discussions for the next day!

You can also join one of our weekly webinars, where we share how to organically integrate best instructional practices with our math platform.

Further Reading:

Math Instructional Routines from Achieve the Core

Illustrative Math Instructional Routines

Stanislaus COE Number Talks


About the Author

Jillian Mendoza is an international math and computer science educator. She is passionate about math equity and loves thinking about unsolved math problems. Connect with her on LinkedIn.


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