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Mental Math Strategies and Resources

Classroom Setup, Math, Setup & Routines, Teacher Support

Written by: Katie Palmer

“Use your mental math strategies” is a phrase heard around the world in classrooms. But just what IS mental math? And how can students get confident in using it? Cozy up and keep reading to find some tried and true (teacher backed) strategies to get your little mathematicians soaring through their work.

mental math strategies and resources to help students build automaticity

What is Mental Math?

Mental math is simply being able to do math in your head. It means not having to take out the pencil and paper, use your fingers or count manipulatives. Sounds great right? It is essential that teachers provide lots of mental math practice in order for students to truly be confident in ditching finger counting (or other slower strategies). Let's talk about a few ways to practice and some strategies to teach!

Mental Math Strategies

Check out these strategies and resources to get kids confident in their mental math abilities.

Mental Math Strategy #1: Subitizing

This is a fun word to even say! AND kids love practicing this skill. Subitizing is the ability to instantly recognize a number of objects without actually having to count them. This allows students to see numbers differently, practice breaking them up in different ways and can lead to quicker addition and subtraction. How do you practice this? With fun videos and FREE flashcards!

Also, go grab these free subitizing cards with game ideas from Minneapolis Public Schools.

free subitizing cards and mental math strategies to make math concepts more automatic for elementary kids

AND, check out the game Numtanga from Greg Tang Math. (Really, check out all of his games!)

interactive math games and mental math strategies that build automaticity and confidence in second grade

Mental Math Addition Strategies

Most curriculums teach these addition strategies. That is because they help build mental math skills. We listed some most commonly used addition strategies, but there are oodles of them!

Mental Math Strategy #2: Doubles

Doubles are adding a number to itself (3 + 3, etc..) Kids like learning these, like pointing them out when they see them in daily work and easily remember them.

Here's a fun song to use to practice doubles:

Mental Math Strategy #3: Doubles + 1, Doubles + 2

If students can learn and remember doubles, they can use them to solve addition problems that are only +1 or +2 more. This opens up a wide range of problems students now know!

One way to learn these doubles strategies is targeted practice. A great resource we have is Sticky Math! This resource can be used to hone in on any particular addition or subtraction facts. Even doubles & doubles + more!

sticky math is a developmentally appropriate math fact practice routine to build automaticity with math facts without the pressure of timed tests

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For more on Sticky Math, check out this post: Math Facts Practice for 1st and 2nd Grade.

Mental Math Strategy #4: Fact Families

Learning how fact families are put together is a sure fire way to help students get more confident in mental math!

Check out these FREE fact family fill in the blank worksheets from

Mental Math Strategy #5: Using Addition to Subtract

Subtraction can be a big hurdle for lots of students. However, teach them that they can use their mental math addition to solve subtraction! If they have to solve 17-8 a great thought train would be, “Okay, I know that 8 + 8 =16, so 16-8 would be 8.

Mental Math Strategy #6: Zero the Hero

Adding and subtraction zero is a SNAP when students learn it equals nothing and changes nothing!
Here is a fun song to try!

Mental Math Strategy #7: Turn Around Facts

This goes along well with fact families. The idea is that if students know that 2 + 3 =5, they should quickly (using mental math) know that 3 + 2 = 5 as well. If you are an 80s music fan, you definitely need to use this song in your classroom!

Mental Math Resources

Here are some great LOW PREP and easy to use resources to practice mental math.

1- Small Group & Intervention Math Kit

This resource includes Mental Math Warm Ups! What a great way to start your math lesson each day!

daily mental math routines included in the lucky little learners small group and intervention math kit

Read About It: Using Assessment Data to Plan Small Group Math

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toothy task kits

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2- Sticky Math

Say goodbye to timed tests that stress students and teachers out! Sticky Math will have your students practicing their math facts – building automaticity quickly in a self-motivating way!

Read About it: Sticky Math

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toothy task kits

Join All Access to download everything we've ever made.

3- Math Fact Fluency Sticks

A fun way to differentiate math fact mastery in the classroom!

Read About it: Math Fact Fluency Sticks

Happy teaching!

mental math strategies and resources for 1st 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms

1 Comment

  1. Ndome

    Great having Mental Math Strategies and Resources to teach my learners.
    Kudos excellent job, keep up.


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