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  • Writer's pictureLara

Thinking about Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics? Start Here!

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

I’ve done Building Thinking Classrooms for a whole year with Kindergarten and loved it! It transformed my math classroom and you can read about it in my results post!


If you have read the book, or are making your way through, you can definitely start with just the first three chapters.


If you are looking to try a task you can get this freebie!


That being said, if you are starting and need help with the logistics of getting started, this post is for you!



Thinking of starting building thinking classrooms on a map with the Building Thinking Classrooms book by Peter  Lilijedhal

Define Your Spaces

The Building Thinking Classrooms book recommends 2 per group if you’re working with K-2 and 3 per group if you are working with 3rd grade and beyond.


If I had an odd number of students I’d have groups of 3 (working with K) and it does work but it is not ideal, at their age it’s easier to share and communicate with just one other person as opposed to two.


The number of groups you have will determine how many spaces you need. I had 12 spaced in my Kindergarten classroom, if I needed more, I would have tried to use more dry-erase sleeves around the room.


Graphic with  images of a white board and white board U table and dry erase markers that says "define your spaces get your materials"

Get your materials

I have seen lots of ideas online for vertical non-permanent vertical surfaces like wipe-off boards,I haven’t used them so I can’t speak to how they work. My school was just remodeled so I had whiteboards up in my classroom, but I also used dry-erase sleeves a lot so I would recommend those, mostly if they needed a visual for the task. They are usually pretty inexpensive on Amazon or sometimes the Target Dollar Spot. If you have magnetic surfaces, or magnetic clips, if not you can try others to adhere to different spaces in your classroom or velcro dots.


Choose a randomizing method


I’ve used both digital randomization for free in Classroom Screen for groups and partner cards, while digital is faster, my students really enjoyed picking partner cards.


When we first started BTC the kids still felt like I was choosing when we used the digital randomizer for some reason 🤷🏽‍♀️ so they needed to pick their own cards for months before they realized that it was truly random.


Eventually, we did move past that, especially if we were in a rush but, something to keep in mind.


Pick a Schedule

I tried to find a balance between math centers and BTC because although I loved it and so did the kids, I would imagine that keeping up with daily tasks would have been a challenge, and the students needed opportunities to practice other skills and concepts.


There is no right or wrong way to set up your schedule, what worked for me last year was to do BTC once a week and math centers the other 4 days. I would occasionally do 3 and 2 BTC sessions, I would have liked to do that more but I would sometimes run out of time to plan two and think through thin slicing and check your understanding questions.


You can find out more about how I set up math centers in this post: 5 simple steps to set math workshop up for success.


Pick your task(s)

Where to find tasks? That is the question.


I wrote all about the tasks I used in this blog post if you want to take a closer look at them!


Starting with noncurricular is so important so students begin to see tasks as a fun experience and sets the tone.


Some great places are also from the Building Thinking Classrooms book as well as from youcubed.com and NRICH.org, Steve Wyborney’s website with some 3-Act-Tasks sprinkled in, with that being said, it has been a challenge to find tasks appropriate for Kindergarten when some students have not yet developed their concept of number (Identifying, knowing the quantity, and the number sequence).


There is also a great Facebook group for K-2 teachers with great ideas and support!


Define your goals with your students

Do you want your students to switch the marker at set intervals or organically? Do you want students free to roam the classroom and ask another group if they need help or just look around?


graphic that says "pick your task and reflect" with an image of a building thinking classrooms task and a teacher and students at circle time

There are so many things that might happen during a session, and you need to decide how you want your BTC time to run and how much freedom you want your students to have. Think about what it would look like to have the perfect session and set your routines at the beginning and work on them as you go.


Reflect on what worked well and what didn't

Don’t be afraid to course correct! Teaching in a completely different way can feel like a risk but I promise it is worth it!


The kids won't really know if something isn't working unless you tell them, the show must go on, right?


Make note of things that kids do well and might need to improve on, pick one to address before your next session starts, and just like anything else, it gets better as the year goes on!



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