How to Improve Students' Math Skills in Just 5 Minutes Per Day

How to Improve Students' Math Skills in Just 5 Minutes Per Day

Math skills hold an enormous amount of power. Students with weak math skills end up struggling through new math concepts because those pesky skills hold them back. Students with strong math skills tend to embrace new math concepts with confidence; building on what they already know. Improving math skills is key to accessing math content and developing a high level of understanding of future math topics. Though exploring math concepts is an important goal, math skills are the first priority. According to Bloom (of Bloom's Taxonomy) "Creativity follows mastery, so mastery of skills is the first priority for young talent." 

Why is 5 minutes a good place to start?


Not everyone has a math intervention block in their schedule. Curriculum pacing guides urge teachers to keep moving along through the grade-level topics. However, taking time to review, practice, and reinforce previously-learned math skills is essential to studying mathematics. This does not have to interfere with grade-level concepts; instead 5 minutes a day is enough to move the needle in the direction of math skill success by teaching students how to get better at math perseverance and unleash their potential.


Improving students' math skills is a heavy lift for students' brains. Math skills practice requires focus, determination, and sustained attention. Framing math skills practice as a 5-minute activity aids in improving students' willingness to put their best foot forward for a limited time. Having to focus for a short burst creates meaningful, laser-focused practice time. Too-long tasks are frustrating and foster avoidance and delay. On the other hand, mini review sessions are just right for encouraging students to give their all.


Minimize wasted time by implementing consistent routines. Routines work best when practiced daily. Train students to come into class, take out their assignment, and get to work on specific problems. To make the most of the 5 minutes of math skills practice, students should learn to begin working, or at least get organized and set up for the period, independently. Using a 5-minute timer projected on the whiteboard is a good way to provide students with a visual expectation and helps deter time-wasting behavior.

How can 5 minutes make an impact?


Think, Pair, Share is an effective tool for developing students' math confidence; which is needed in order to have willingness to really engage in math skills practice. Wondering how to improve math skills in 5 minutes? Train students to activate their math brains by entering the classroom and beginning to work on their assignment. Once they have had a chance to think individually, students check with a partner to confirm their work or ask for peer assistance. Finally, the pairs all check in with the whole class to make sure everyone has figured out the review skills. This sequence is a high-impact strategy that does not take long to implement, yet gets all students involved in the learning process.


Do your students fear answering questions incorrectly? Try introducing My Favorite Mistake. Your students complete their math skills practice and submit their work. Later in the class period or the following day lead students through an error analysis activity called My Favorite Mistake. Copy onto the whiteboard a common error you saw in students' work. Tell students it's your favorite mistake and ask for them to look it over and see if they can identify an error. Give students time to think, then call on students to state the actual error and fix the mistake. Lead students in a conversation about the misconception and discuss ways to avoid the error in the future. Thank students for being brave enough to put forth an effort even if they were not completely sure. What a great learning experience! (Pro tips: Don't call out students who actually made the error. If projecting the error, rewrite it in your own handwriting to keep it anonymous.)


5 minutes to improve students' math skills can feel like a lofty goal. A key component is to ensure students embrace ownership of their learning. Students cannot be passive learners here. As math teachers, we want students to take initiative to improve their own understanding. Self-reflection charts are a great way to keep students motivated and working towards a goal. You could give students a checklist of skills they must master, encourage students to graph their progress, or keep a portfolio of their growth.

Who has the magic wand to make this 5-minute plan a reality?

Magic wand? Something like that! You can implement this procedure using your own resources or you can purchase a fantastic created-for-you, year-long resource to make this process a snap. Check out these Math Skills Drills for middle school and high school math classes. Students complete 4 problems per day if used weekly and 2 problems per day if used biweekly. Includes student skill logs for students to track their progress. Perfect ready-to-use math intervention tool!

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