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DIY Whiteboard Math Warmups for Grades K–6

Student engagement seems to be the name of the game in education. It’s what our supervisors are often looking for when they observe our classes. A great way to create engagement is through the use of whiteboards in our classes. The purpose of this post is two-fold: to provide you with some ideas for whiteboard warmers, and to give you free printables to create do-it-yourself (DIY) whiteboards in case you don’t have regular mini-whiteboards available to you. Even better, these DIY whiteboards made from sheet protectors give you a whole host of flexible options that make them preferable to store-purchased white boards. Plus, my Do-It-Yourself Whiteboard Math Warmups Kit includes 34 blackline masters you can insert into your DIY boards.

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Math Warmups at the Beginning of Class

It is so important to do a great math warmup at the beginning of class. One finding through my graduate research program was that relating the math warmups to the objective of the class is one of the best ways you can spend your lesson planning time. The reason for this, I think, is that the math warmups not only get the students engaged from the start of the lesson, but also because it surfaces the prior knowledge students will need for the class.

An ideal math warmup is like a formative assessment for the teacher. It answers the questions: “Which students are ready for this lesson?” “Are enough students ready to move forward with the lesson?” and “How can I use the math warmup information to quickly group my students for today’s activities?” Once I got the hang of this, it propelled both my teaching and my students’ learning rapidly forward!

Relating the math warmups to the objective of the class is one of the best ways you can spend your lesson planning time!

This is why using whiteboard warmups is one of those ways you can both engage students and get a good, quick assessment of how they are doing. Say, for instance, that you are working on place value. (This is a good topic that cuts across all grade levels.) The general strategy is for the teacher to do between four and ten quick problems one at a time, and have students show their responses by holding up their whiteboard for the teacher to see. Here is a quick list of ways you could start your lesson on place value using a whiteboard warmup.

  • Dictate numbers
  • Have students write a number in expanded form
  • Have students write a number in expanded form with exponents (upper grades)
  • Have students identify the place value of a certain digit in a multidigit number
  • Give clues about a number (I’m a two-digit number bigger than 50 and my tens digit is four times bigger than my ones digit:82)

Start your series of problems with easy questions that you are sure students will get correct and slowly ramp up the difficulty. You will quickly get a sense of where students are at, which ones get it and which ones are struggling. You now have that information to move forward with your lesson.

One way to spruce up math warmups is with whiteboards. My printable Kit helps math educators create whiteboard warmup activities that will get students engaged from the start of the lesson, and also help teachers assess students’ prior knowledge and readiness for what is going to be taught.

Put up a set of data and have your students make a line plot. Put in a ten frame and do some activities with ten pairs. Put in a tape diagram and have students make a graphic model of a word problem that you project. By starting your class in this way, you will activate your students’ prior knowledge and be able to see whether they are ready for today’s lesson.

Download the Do-It-Yourself Whiteboard Math Warmups Kit now.

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Making DIY Whiteboard Math Warmups

These do it yourself (DIY) whiteboards are a great and flexible tool for your classroom. They are perfect to use for whiteboard warmups or even in the middle of the class for a quick formative assessment. One of the greatest things about these DIY whiteboards is that once they are created you can put ANY blackline master or graphic organizer that you create inside the whiteboard and use it as a background. Number lines, fraction models, line plots, coordinate grids, place value charts are all good options. You are bound only by your imagination.

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The materials needed for each DIY whiteboard are:

  • Plastic sheet protector
  • Two sheets of different colored 8 ½ x 11 card stock (red and green is standard, but any two colors will do)
  • A sheet of 8 ½ by 11 white paper
  • A small square of felt
  • A narrow dry erase marker

Plastic Sheet Protectors

The sheet protector will provide the surface of the DIY whiteboard. Make sure you check the supply room in the school before you go out and purchase them! If you have a choice in sheet protectors, try marking them up with the dry erase markers you will use. See which one works best, smears the least, and is easy to clean.

Card-stock Colored Paper

You use the two pieces of card-stock to provide the firmness of the whiteboard. Use the same two colors for the whole class and insert them into the sheet protector. You can then use them as ways for your class to answer questions or signal you. If the colors are red and green, you can do a quick series of true/false questions where green is true and red is false. You can also use it for individuals or groups to signal you. If the green is showing on the table, they are OK. If they flip it over to red, then they need some help from you.

White Paper

The white piece of paper is used as the “white” part of the whiteboard. When using it as a whiteboard, you put it on top of the card-stock pieces. When using the card-stock colors, you can have students put it in between the two sheets of card-stock.

Dry Erase Markers and Felt

You will also need dry erase markers. Although brand name markers tend to last longer, whatever brand you buy, you want to get the narrow ones, not the wider ones you usually use on the whiteboard as a main display in a classroom. You will use the small square of felt to erase the blackboard. The square can be any size from 2” to 4” square, though it doesn’t need to be a perfect square… Choose a darker color. White felt gets to look dirty fairly quickly and students won’t want to use them.

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34 Blackline Master Inserts for DIY Whiteboards

If you are planning to do some math warmups using the DIY whiteboards, then you will appreciate this collection of 34 blackline master inserts included in the Do-It-Yourself Whiteboard Math Warmups Kit. Just print up the blackline master you are interested in and insert it into the sheet protector on top of the card stock so that students have a stiff surface to write on. You will have a large palette to work from to create whiteboard warmups that will engage your class right from the first few minutes of the class! 

whiteboard-math-warmupsIn the earliest grades, some of the most useful inserts for whiteboard warmups would be ten frames and number bonds. As students are learning to add within 20, these inserts would allow you to have students model these numbers and their relationships to five and ten, as well as flexible ways to decompose numbers using number bonds. I like using number bonds at every grade level, but they can and should be used quite early. You can give students simple scenarios with two parts and a whole, and have them complete a number bond. This leads to students being able to reason about parts and wholes as they develop an understanding about the operations of subtraction and addition. You can also use the clock template in a math warmup to see if students can place the hands correctly to tell time in hours and half hours.

As students progress in the elementary grades, they are developing more formal ways to add and subtract numbers, first within 100, then within 1000. There are several sets of whiteboard warmer inserts that are addition and subtraction frames, and that you will find useful. They include being able to add coins and dollars. A hundred chart can be used in developing ideas about place value. At this level, students first start using number lines and there are a variety of whole number lines and a thermometer for you to use. Use the clock inserts to not only assess students’ ability to express time, but also to relate half and quarter hours and even other fractional amounts like thirds, sixths and tenths of an hour!

The development of fractions is a central idea the student develop in elementary school. Whiteboards are great for this as student can create visual representation so you can see how they are thinking about fractions. There are several shapes you can use to see how students are doing at creating equal subdivisions of a whole. Also, tenths and hundredths grids extend the area model concept and help students make connections between fractions and decimal numbers.There are more number lines that include fractional amounts and some rulers divided into fourths and eighths. I also love using number bonds with fractions!

Geometric concepts are also great for using with whiteboards and can they easily be used to create a math warmup. You will find several inserts for your DIY whiteboards in this area: shapes to subdivide, a protractor, a first quadrant coordinate plane, dot papers and grid papers.

For upper elementary grades, you will find that the whiteboard inserts will help students develop circle graphs (pie charts) using either degrees or percents. These circles, with their circumferential subdivisions can also be used to draw figures (triangles, quadrilaterals, hexagons) and neat designs. Fractional and decimal number lines, standard and metric rulers can be used to further develop students’ number sense. Don’t forget that number bonds can be used at any grade level to model the relationship between parts and wholes in adding and subtracting word problems.

Download the Do-It-Yourself Whiteboard Math Warmups Kit to get the complete list of blackline masters by grade level.

In Summary

It is important to start the beginning of class with a great math warmup! Whiteboard activities are super-engaging for students and you will accomplish the following pedagogical goals at the beginning of your lessons:

  • reveal a student’s prior knowledge
  • collect valuable information (formative assessment)
  • assess students’ readiness for what you are planning to teach

When you download the Do-It-Yourself Whiteboard Math Warmups Kit you will have a ready-to-go set of tools for your students to use to support their conceptual development in all areas of mathematics.