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Require Students to Show Their Work


Mathematics Science All Ages Strategy


Working Memory Attention Verbal Reasoning Abstract Reasoning Spatial Perception

Require Students to Show Their Work

If your student regularly makes mistakes on multi-step math problems

Instruction And Practice

  1. Objective: Students will get into the habit of writing out their work, so they can remember and reference their process steps and ideas, and find their own mistakes.
  2. Explain why: Even though you can do a lot of problem solving in your head, for problems with several steps, it can be hard to remember everything you need without writing it down. If you write it down, you can easily go back to check your work and not worry about forgetting an important idea.
  3. Model: Show a multi-digit math problem, first solving it in your head and then on paper. Speak out loud as you solve and all the details you need to remember. (You might even make a mistake to emphasize the point.) Then do the problem written out in clear steps (write the equation, show each step, label the answer) on paper. Demonstrate how much easier it is to find a mistake and that it doesn't take much extra time (and often even less time).
  4. Practice: Give students 4 multi-step problems. Have them solve the first two problems in their heads and then solve the second two on paper. Put them in pairs and have them "grade" their partner's paper and then reflect together. What was easier? More accurate? Took longer? Easier to grade?
  5. Discuss when: Have students think through when it is most important to show their work. What types of problems or tasks? When is it okay not to show your work? Keep in mind that some students will need to show their work most of the time, while others might be able to do work more easily in their heads. Every student will be different.
  6. Ongoing reinforcement: For many students, especially those who work quickly or lose focus easily, you will likely need to continue to remind them to show their work until it becomes an ingrained habit. Reminders on the top of the assignment are helpful, as is the student checklist. Giving partial credit on tests and quizzes when you can see their work also will provide an ongoing incentive.

*print* Student Checklist: Showing Your Work

  1. Write out your work on scrap paper to keep it neat.
  2. Aim for about two problems per page so you have enough room.
  3. Write the problem number on your scrap paper so you can find it when you go back and forth between scrap paper and your test or worksheet.
  4. For each problem, write the equation, show each step, and label your answer.
  5. Attach your scrap paper to your worksheet or test to hand back to the teacher. (Your teacher can give you partial credit, and see if/where you might have gotten stuck.)
  6. On tests where scrap paper is not allowed, use the space provided on the test booklet and be careful to keep your work as neat and organized as possible.

Why It Works (the Science Of Learning)!

Showing work and writing down your process steps is important for all students, but it is especially important for students with weaker memory, attention and critical thinking skills. Being able to reference their steps allows you to follow their reasoning and enables students to check their own work and think about their own thinking.