Why We Must Teach Benchmark Numbers

Heeey you!
Aaaah!!! There is no point in apologizing for not blogging for a while. I have been taking a short break from this little blog simply because I cannot do it all.
We are very close to moving into our new home and life has been nothing but busy. Good busy that is. So,  my apologies my dear teacher friend.

During the last couple of months I have been focusing on creating  math BUILD stations for 2nd grade and enhancing my social media a bit. {And little boys, and a husband, and other things of course!} Creating a new set of math stations has me learning a whole lot about foundational math. I have been reading  this book:

Image result for teaching student centered mathematics

My district has "hands-down!" the best lead math teacher in the whole state. She recommended this resource, and as always it is a winner. If you are ever thinking about enriching your knowledge of kick-____ math, then this is the book that you want. No more looking. This is it.

Anyways, one of the things that I have been doing with my 2nd graders this year has to do with identifying, using, and making benchmark numbers. Have you ever heard about them before?

A benchmark number is any multiple of 10, 100, and sometimes multiples of 25. To make it kid friendly, especially for the minds of 2nd graders, I show them how all  the benchmark numbers come from tens, and then we build up to  a more complex understanding as we go.  We also call them "friendly" numbers.
I have written before about the gradual release of responsibility model. {Did that bring you back to your college years?}  Well let me tell ya... your professors were right.
We start the concept by learning how to identify benchmark numbers and knowing what they are in a whole group lesson. I refer to the term "benchmark" numbers as much as possible. I introduce this concept  in the best  way I know: With an interactive anchor chart.

When we are in small groups during guided math, I try to maximize our time together like you would not believe. My teacher soul is at peace when I "kill" my small groups in  literacy and math each day.
One of the ways, in which I maximize our instructional during small groups is by making {and using} mini-anchor charts.
I refer to this mini-anchor chart during guided math groups as needed.

 Our exit ticket for the identification of benchmark numbers is pretty fun and hands-on!

Oh boy! That is a big question. And there are many reasons.  {There are so many that I may only mention a few}

So, these are the ones that I think are winner, winner, chicken dinner.

1. I take the time to teach my students about benchmark numbers because they need to understand how other numbers relate to these "friendly" numbers. This alone is a HUGE step toward number sense and place value development. For example, one of the activities that we do is on a number line. Showing my students benchmark or friendly numbers on a number line shows them  a beginning step towards estimation. Yes, that is right. Estimation y'all!
Think like this: say you have an open number line that goes from 60 to 70. This is a hands-on visual that shows my students  which numbers are closer to 60, which ones are closer to 70, AND which ones are in the middle.

This is the mini-anchor chart that we use during guided math:

We talk and do different demonstrations using white boards. After we have practiced enough and I can tell that my students are showing a super-duper understanding, I give them an exit ticket:

2.  Benchmark numbers are the bomb when it comes to  making addition and subtraction strategies easier.  In order for my students to be able to truly use benchmark numbers in  computations efficiently, they need to be able to subitize and understand parts of a whole first. I used this mini-anchor chart during guided math when I taught 1st grade.

When our students understand the combinations in ONES that make a ten, then it will be SO much easier for them to understand what makes a hundred and what makes a thousand. I use the following mini-anchor charts during guided math and  I display around the classroom for the children's  reference:

Doesn't this make so much sense now? Look at the next one:

I hope you are loving the mini-anchor charts. I keep them in a binder and I use them during small groups. I usually place them over at our math area and the kiddos use them as reference when they are working independently.

3.  Another reason why benchmark numbers are so awesome, is related to property of operations.
 For example, when I teach addition of four two-digit numbers, I must  model and show my students  the associative property of addition.
 My students need a clear understanding of the benefits of "benchmarks," because they need to "look" to pair numbers that when grouped together can be made into a ten.
Look at this example of a mini-anchor chart that I use with my 2nd graders:

I have learned that when I take the time to constantly refer to benchmark numbers and the combinations that make a 10 (which we call compatible numbers), my students get it.  They get it because they know that once you make a 10 or a benchmark, adding and subtracting will certainly be easier. This visual and color coding,  allow my students to see the power of 10.
This is such an important concept, we practice it quite a bit.

We use mats to group our compatible number and solve.

We also use cut up pipe cleaners and make little parentheses with them. We use the little parentheses to explain, understand, and apply the associative property of addition. This activity comes from my math BUILD Stations  for January.

This is our exit ticket:

Truly I can go on and on about benchmark numbers. I will be writing about benchmark numbers and compensating next time.
 Oh, I almost forgot! YOu may download all these mini-anchor charts and exit tickets HERE!!
Until then, let me wish you a happy, relaxing, and awesome winter break.

Word Problems: It's All About the Relationships {and great FREEBIES!}

Heeey you  awesome teacher friend!
I have told you a million times: I am NOT a math person.
Not at all.
I  am an avid reader.
And learner above all.
Oh and I want the best for my students.

Year after year, I look ...
I read...
I find ways...
I reflect.
About word problems.
I know you do too.

Do you feel that when you think you have done a good job teaching word problems, then your students start guessing the heck out of the answers?
Lord have mercy on my soul.
I know you can relate.
It almost seems like my efforts have been in vain.

In NC we have a document  released by the state in which the clear distinctions among the problems are made. You can find this document HERE!
There are also clear distinctions between the kind of of problems that  our students need to master by the end of Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.

My students struggle every year with word problems. And every year I make an effort to go out of my way to teach them (and make sure that they have learned) different ways to solve them.
I am a firm BELIEVER in the gradual release of responsibility model.
Do you remember your professors in college talking about it? They were not kidding.
Well here's a picture, just in case you are a visual learner like me.

It all begins with showing the kids how "I do it."
Well, if I want to show the kids how "I do it," might as well know the how and why. Right?
I mentioned before that there are different kinds of distinctions among the word problem types.

Wait. What?
Problem types.

They are called CGI word problems. The research behind the problem types is clearly outlined on
Children's Mathematics ~ Cognitively Guided Instruction (or CGI)

Yes, I know. What a geek.
#Notageek #IjustlovewhatIdo
As I am reading this book, there were 4 guiding principles that TRULY made me aware and reflect about the way I teach word problems.

Yes. Obviously. Duuuh. Four different types of word problems.

Was I teaching my students to identify the relationships and actions in word problems?
Are you?
How to go about it?

Classifying. Relationships. Actions. Described in problems.
Drop mic.

And how come I am able to teach text structure in reading, and I was neglecting text structure in math?
Huge light bulb moment teacher friends.

So let's go back to the gradual release model.
These are  some of the anchor charts that I  have used  this year to introduce different types of word problems in whole group lessons during our math workshop time.

I color code to show my students the relationships in number bonds, bar models, number sentences, and actual sentences. Labeling everything, plays a VERY important part in conceptual understanding.  I make sure to teach my students that the number sentence comes with  understanding. We must understand before we actually figure out a "plus" or a "minus."

Bar Models

So what are the type of  word problems and what kind of strategies can we teach our students?
I really believe that there is not right  or wrong way. Our students come to us already with a great deal of experiences.
Or not.
 I do believe, however, that there are ways that make my students' understanding deeper, like bar models or number bonds.

I made this set of posters for my classroom, but more importantly for my students. These posters give us a visual, a point of reference, and a starting point to learn how to identify (and see) RELATIONSHIPS.

You can grab them for FREE by clicking HERE!! {There are 11 posters in 

So, why are word problems so hard for kids to solve?
We have to help them change the mindset of looking for the answer first. These are the set of steps that we follow in order to avoid looking for the answer  first:

1.Read the problem
2. Identify the who and the what (We label and color here)
3. Draw unit bars with the help of manipulatives (Connecting cubes win by a landslide)
4. Reread problem, double check for information, adjust the bars. (This is why connecting cubes are better)
5.  Decide on the question mark. (Label and color the question)
6. Work the number sentence out (see? this is towards the end)
7. Write a sentence to answer the question mark.

I really need to make an anchor chart with these steps and keep it up the whole year. These are the steps recommended by Singapore math experts. They are the bomb.

Let's go back to the gradual release.
I have already told you about the "I do."
I made these Color, label, cut, and paste mats to do during small groups during guided math. This is the "we do" part. It takes time and patience. The a-ha moment is priceless.

For the "you do it together" and " you do it alone",  I ask my student to apply their strategies learned from the "I do" and "we do" stages by using task cards.
Simple and effective way to check for understanding. Hello formative assessment.

So what's next?
Word problems are hard to understand. They make an important part of our classroom. As of recently, I have created a problem solving corner, where I hope that my students can see themselves as true problem solvers and mathematicians.

I hang posters with problem types that we have already practiced over and over.

There are connecting cubes, base ten blocks, coins, shapes, counters, and many other things in our problem solving corner. I hope to add more supplies based on observations and the suggestions of my students.

I continue to look for literature that supports problem solving in Math. Let me know if you have a fave!

Just in case you are interested in these activities, you may check them out from my TPT store.

You can learn more by clicking HERE!!

Thank you for reading teacher friends, I hope that you found this post useful.
Until next time!

Seven Great Activities for Charlotte's Web


We just finished reading our Charlotte's Web as a class before the end of the first nine weeks of school. I feel that this is the most beautiful read aloud ever. Year after year, my students absolutely love the characters and they love this sweet story of friendship and kindness.

In the past I have moved from read aloud to read aloud without any further ceremonies. 
This year, and in the future, I want to celebrate every single read aloud and show my students how we can take a piece of literature and make it ours.
Last Thursday we celebrated in a big way and I really wanted to show you all what we did.

On the eve of Charlotte's Web Day, I asked my classroom parents if they could come and help me get the spider web words and the "salutations" banner up. I had to leave somewhat early to get my sweet N from middle school.
While I was doing the read aloud, I went in depth about the vocabulary and the meaning of the words that Charlotte weaves to save Wilbur. So I felt it was just about right to hang the words around the classroom. Luckily we found some fake spider web to hang the words! 

We also created this great "some class" bulletin board. I wrote the kids' names on little pieces of paper and  let them pick one at random. Once they had picked one name, they wrote about the friend that they picked. Opinion writing from the heart!
They wrote the most beautiful things about each other.
Made me cry.
After they wrote,  they got to assemble a spider for each other as well.

I also made posters with memorable quotes for display.  I had the classroom parent crying too.

We also completed this craftivity where we analyzed the characters of Wilbur and Charlotte. We also reviewed theme and author's message with it!

You know how at the end of the story, Charlotte's babies (the balloonists)  fly away from the barn cellar? Well, I  figured that we could have a STEM activity where we help the baby spiders land safely. We made parachutes using ribbon, Dixie cups, paper towels and other things.
They completed a STEM mat where they recorded their attempts and illustrated their prototypes.

Towards the end of the day we had spider eggs and Wilbur's brew. Yum!!!

At the end of the day I handed "Charlotte's Web" awards. Just like  Wilbur won a special prize at the  fair, each student received a special award that tied them to a special character in the story.

We had a grand time.
I cannot wait to finish our second read aloud and celebrate!

Just in case you are interested in doing these activities with your students, they are available in my TPT store. They are perfect for any time of the year!

You can get it by clicking HERE!

Thanks for reading teacher friends, until next time!