These no prep math warms up can really make a difference in launching your math lessons in your upper elementary classroom!
Think of a math lesson as a highway. As teachers, we know time is precious and sometimes we just expect students to be going full throttle. But in reality, we need to provide an onramp to get our students up to speed and ready to engage in high level mathematics.
A good math warm up (like the ones below) will push students’ thinking in a fun and safe way so that they’re then ready to reason critically during the math lesson. These no prep math warm ups for 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grade are short (once you’re in the routine), low/no prep, and are easily adapted into Spanish.
Would you rather?
Would you rather win one million dollars or $20,000 yearly for the rest of your life? Would you rather buy 2 shirts and get one free, or get a coupon for 30% off?
These questions are intentionally ambiguous and don’t have a clear “right” answer because it’s all about explaining and reasoning. If I’m 10 years old, I’m definitely choosing the $20,000 yearly. But if I’m 80? I’ll take that one million dollars.
What about the shirt question? Buy 2 get 1 free is effectively a discount of 33% which is greater than 30%. But what if you don’t want 3 shirts? As you can see, these kind of question prompts are the perfect intersection of math reasoning with real life situations.
So where can you find these prompts?
Wouldyourathermath has a large gallery of prompts available for free and sorted by grade level that you can use with your students, although they are in English only and not in a presentation format. If you’re looking for a no prep option, you can find my own Would you rather prompts in Google Slides available in English and Spanish. I have a set for grades 3-5 and a set for 6th grade that you can find here or by clicking the image below.
Which one doesn’t belong?
I love these prompts because again there’s not a clear right answer, it’s all about explaining your thinking.
Looking at the picture above, which one would you say doesn’t belong?
You might say the donut doesn’t belong because it’s the only one that’s not a unit fraction.
You might say that the square in the top right doesn’t belong because it’s the only one showing an area model with squares rather than a circle.
You might say the domino doesn’t belong because it’s the only one with a fraction bar.
You might say the pizza doesn’t belong because it’s the only one that doesn’t show the whole.
And you would be right. This exercise really builds students’ confidence with math because there are so many ways to be right and it really reiterates the importance of being able to explain your reasoning.
Where can I find them?
WODB.ca has a large selection of these prompts available. I like to copy the image into a slide and add a sentence frame to help our language learners.
If you’re looking for a no prep option, I have a set of fraction prompts available in English and in Spanish both as slides and as task cards. These are appropriate for grades 3-5. You can find them by clicking here or by clicking the image below.
How do I teach it?
When I do this no prep math warm up with upper elementary students, I present the image and practice reading it. For example, I would talk about how we read 4/8 as four-eighths and how we add the -th sound at the end. Then I give them a sentence frame, usually, “_______ doesn’t belong because…”. Then I give some think time. After a minute or so of think time I have them talk to a partner. After having time to talk I do a vote of which one doesn’t belong just to give me a formative assessment of how the class is thinking. Then I go through each of the 4 answers one by one and ask for an argument for each. Eventually, it comes out that all of the answers are right!
From there I usually do a second round. I follow the same steps, but this time I challenge students to think of an explanation for all 4. Not all students have the time to do it, but it provides some differentiation for students who are fast finishers.
Another fun spin that gets students up and moving is to combine this warm up with the 4 corners strategy. Ask students to choose which one they feel most strongly doesn’t belong. Then have students move to a corner designated by you, the teacher. For example, the students who selected the donut move to the front left by the window. The students who selected 4/8 move to the front right by the library and so on. Once in their corners, students discuss why they chose that one and then you facilitate a whole class discussion. This may take a bit the first time, but once students know the routine this becomes a quick warm up activity.
Estimation activities can be really quick and fun! Even the big kids can benefit from estimating. When I did estimation activities frequently I really saw growth in my students’ number sense.
One of my favorite sources for these is Estimation180.com. I use this cheeseball one often with both students and other educators. Students look at the picture of an empty tray and make an estimate of how many cheeseballs it will take to fill the tray. I have students estimate on a whiteboard. I give them 30 seconds on a timer and then have them show me. But no erasing! Then you can play the video answer. Students will start groaning and cheering as the answer gets closer and closer. I usually have the winner explain how they made their estimate.
Another great thing about the cheeseball prompt is it builds upon itself. So if you click on the bottom right to the next lesson, you’ll see this prompt where students see the tray of cheeseballs but are asked how many fit on a smaller which plate sitting on top. They have to use their number sense to make a new estimate. Plus the estimation180.com prompts are language free, making them a great no-prep option for bilingual teachers.
Steve Wyborney has a great estimation activity as well called Estimation Clipboard. These are all available as downloadable PowerPoints. In this activity, students will see something like marbles in a jar and make an estimate. Pretty straight forward. But from there they’re shown the marbles in a jar but this time it’s overflowing. So using their knowledge of the first picture, they make an estimate of the overflowing jar. Next they may be shown the jar half filled. So now how many marbles are in the jar? Again they’re using what they know to make their estimates.
Honorable Mention: Read 3 Ways
I’ve written about this strategy before (The Only Word Problem Strategy You Need . This one is time intensive the first few times, but like many activities gets easier as you continue and can become a 10-15 minute warm up.
In this activity, students walk through a word problem step by step. In the first read, the numbers are covered or ignored and students talk about what the problem is about. In the 2nd read, the numbers are included and students discuss their meaning and how they relate. Up to this point, the question has not been revealed which prevents students from rushing ahead. In the 3rd read, students develop a mathematical question that could be asked and answered. Finally, the question is revealed and students begin to work. The questions that they generated become challenge work for early finishers.
This strategy can be used with any word problem. If you’re looking for something no-prep, I have slides available in English and in Spanish. You can find my addition and subtraction slides here and my multiplication slides here or click on the images below.
Try these no prep math warm ups today!
Incorporating no-prep math warm-ups into your upper elementary classroom can truly transform the dynamics of your lessons. These engaging activities serve as essential onramps, propelling your students into the realm of critical mathematical thinking. From the thought-provoking “Would You Rather?” prompts that bridge real-life scenarios with mathematical reasoning to the visually stimulating “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” challenges that empower students to embrace diverse perspectives, these warm-ups are designed to spark curiosity and build confidence.
Whether you opt for the interactive 4 Corners strategy, the exciting estimation activities, or the meticulous Read 3 Ways approach, each method brings its unique flavor to the mathematical learning experience. The benefits extend beyond just mathematical skills; they nurture collaboration, communication, and a genuine love for problem-solving.
So, why wait? Try these no-prep math warm-ups today and witness the positive impact on your classroom environment. As you embark on this journey, remember that the goal is not just to teach math but to inspire a lifelong appreciation for the beauty of numbers and the joy of exploration. The road to mathematical success begins with a simple warm-up—where will it take your students?