Math Warm-Ups that Boost Number Sense: 3 Types of Puzzles to Try

Boost number sense with these three types of puzzles that are perfect for math warm-ups.You announce that it’s time for math. You hear grumbling. Sadly, by the time students arrive in our upper elementary classes, many have already decided they don’t like math. Math warm-ups and improving number sense through puzzles and games can help turn this attitude around.

Number sense can boost achievement and confidence in math which is usually the reason students don’t like math in the first place.

There are many engaging types of puzzles that help boost number sense. Let’s dive into math puzzles and how you can use them in your math warm ups.

What is Number Sense?

Have you ever met someone who is able to do mental math with ease? They have great number sense. In general, number sense is how well someone understands numbers and their relationships. Someone with good number sense can connect and relate numbers and also use numbers in many contexts.

Number sense involves a wide range of skills, similar to how literacy also covers many abilities. So, teaching number sense also means practicing many different skills. Young students start out learning that each numeral represents a quantity. They become comfortable counting. Older students learn different ways to form 10. Or, they might calculate how many dots are on a domino without counting each dot. Math warm ups like thinking games and math puzzles can help students boost their number sense.

Benefits of Math Warm Ups that Boost Number Sense

What is a math warm up? It’s a quick engaging math activity that can be completed in just a few minutes. Typically, you do this activity as a whole class. However, you could also complete a math warm up with a small group. A math warm up gets kids thinking and can help jump-start a math lesson.

One major benefit of math warm ups is that they are fun! They can get kids excited about math (no more groaning!). Plus, math warm ups help kids get into math mode. During math warm ups, kids practice mental math and critical thinking. They also develop perseverance for math problems. Math warm ups promote number talk and offer an opportunity to review skills.

Another benefit of math warm ups is that they can prepare students for the lesson. For example, if you’re going to introduce division, you can do a math warm up puzzle related to multiplication. That way, students can see how these two operations relate.

3 Types of Puzzles Perfect for Math Warm Ups

There are many types of puzzles that make for great math warm ups. From number puzzles to math puzzles, they can all help students improve their number sense. Here are three of my favorite types of puzzles to use as math warm ups.

I have also included a few links to my digital math puzzle resources. These, and other number puzzles are excellent math warm ups.

1. Emoji Puzzles

Can you figure out what number each emoji represents? To do this type of puzzle, students need to use number sense. Each symbol has a value. Students need to think through which operations might help them determine the value of each symbol. Emoji puzzles make it fun to experiment with adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Students might use mental math and scrap paper to think through these engaging emoji puzzles.


2. Balance Puzzles

Encourage students to build number sense with balance puzzles! This type of math puzzle encourages algebraic thinking and mental math. The goal is to determine the value of each symbol and balance the scales. While solving balance puzzles, students divide, multiply, add, and subtract. Students also use logic to think through the problems. For example, they might think “If the yellow monster is 19, then the pink one must be 29.”

3. Grid Puzzles

Branch out your math warm ups to include grid puzzles. Grid puzzles make mastering number sense skills fun. To solve grid puzzles, students need to think critically to figure out the value of each of the symbols and solve the final problem. In each grid, the sums of the columns and rows are shown. Plus, students are given the value of one of the symbols. Then, students need to solve the final problem. Grid puzzles are especially interesting because there are many possible paths to solving them. How many different ways might students discover?

Using Math Puzzles as Math Warm Ups

One way I use math warm-ups is by projecting them on the board. Students can solve the puzzles using scrap paper or a math journal at their desks. I encourage students to work silently for five to ten minutes. If you have tablets or digital devices in your classroom, students can also view puzzles this way.

As students work through these puzzles, they practice mental math strategies for addition and subtraction. For example, what strategies can help students solve 40 – 24? Students might start by solving for 40 – 20. Then, they can subtract the last 4. After the warm-up, you can talk through some of these strategies as a class. Or, have students talk in pairs about their mental math strategies.

Boost number sense with these three types of puzzles that are perfect for math warm-ups.

The first time you use a math puzzle, you may need to walk students through it. Set aside more time for the first puzzle, creating a lesson around it. Then, when students are more confident, you can use them as a warm-up.

Using math puzzles as a warm up can help bring fun and number sense practice into your classroom. Are you ready to give it a try? I’d love to hear how it goes. Leave a note below.

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