13 Effective Learning Strategies: A Guide to Using them in your Math Classroom

Using a range of learning strategies is invaluable in the classroom. Teachers have the greatest impact on student learning and achievement when they consider the learning process and learning strategies that students use to access and learn new material. 

This article explores 13 effective learning strategies and how to use them in your math classroom to boost student achievement.

What are learning strategies? 

Learning strategies are methods that help students organize and practice the information they need to remember. These learning strategies also help students apply new learning material effectively and efficiently. 

There is more to learning strategies than memorization. Students must retain and apply information and develop independent thinking skills.

Learning strategies can be thought of as tools in a toolbox. Each student has different learning styles and preferences so teachers need to provide students with a toolbox of different teaching strategies and students need access to a toolbox of various learning strategies to suit their needs. 

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While learning strategies can be used in any content area, they help teach students how to learn math. They can also be used across grade levels, some are most effective for students in high school who can manage more of their own learning. 

Students must use cognitive processes to transfer the information absorbed through learning strategies from their short to long-term memories. This information can then be accessed and used for a long time after they learn it for a class or test.

Math learning strategies can be used in whole class teaching or as math intervention strategies.  

Some popular learning strategies:

  • Provide concrete examples to help students understand more complex concepts
  • Encourage collaborative group work
  • Practice or interleaving a target skill with other skills
  • Retrieval practice to remember information.

13 learning strategies: A guide to using them in the classroom

1. Concrete Examples

What it is 
Teachers provide clear examples of a concept or skill and students create concrete examples to help them understand material. Concrete examples help students understand and learn abstract concepts such as time. 

Learners can apply learned concrete examples in their studying as well as come up with their own examples to reference.

Why it works
Human memories are better at working with concrete examples than abstract information. When students practise with concrete examples they are more likely to learn and retain foundational concepts. 

Example
A teacher has students brainstorm examples of how fractions are used in real life so that students can develop a firm conceptual understanding of fractions using concrete examples.

Process for using concrete examples

2. Group Work

What it is 
Students work in groups where they each have a separate role, such as reader, note-taking, or artist. Each learner is required to access and work with content but in a different way.  

Why it works
Group work helps students engage with content using their learning style and preference rather than each student learning in the same way.  

Example
A teacher assigns students to work in small groups to solve problems. Each student has a role and must contribute to the problem-solving through their role: 

  • One student reads each problem
  • Another student draws a model to represent the problem
  • A third may write an explanation of the steps the group took to solve it
List of group work roles learning strategy

3. Concept Mapping or Visual Examples 

What it is
Concept mapping requires students to create a visual representation of information. This may take the form of a chart, graphic organizer, flow chart, Venn diagram, or another visual representation.

Why it works
Students must think through how they use and organize information when they use concept mapping, which involves metacognition. A review of visual information helps students remember and organize information.

Example
When students study fractions they are provided with visuals of what fractions look like and how they work together. For example, a visual of how to add and subtract fractions using an image of pizza.

Fractions concept mapping

4. Interleaving

What it is
Interleaving involves practicing related skills or topics simultaneously. It can be used across the curriculum but works particularly well for maths. 

Why it works
When students interleave their studies, they are required to think about how to approach each problem rather than rely on what they just completed. Although interleaving can prove harder to learn information in the short term, it helps students with long-term learning of information.  

Example
Students practice finding the area of shapes. Instead of having students complete 10 problems in a row using the area of a square, they switch between problems that use triangles, squares, and circles. This means they must pay attention to which processes they need to solve each type of problem.

5. Spaced Practice

What it is
Spaced practice requires students to break down review into small chunks over time, rather than spending a larger time reviewing and cramming the night before an exam.

Why it works
Students need time to move new concepts from short to long-term memory. Spaced practice extends the learning experience over time which incorporates the information over time. 

As students repeatedly review content, they strengthen their memory by forgetting a little and then relearning content again. 

Example
Help students create a study calendar, or set up a class calendar to review small chunks of information before a test. Study calendars should include current concepts and previously taught skills in the review. Spaced practice can help reduce student’s test anxiety by revisiting older content frequently before exams.

Example of the learning strategy spaced repetition.

6. Mnemonic Devices 

What it is
Mnemonic devices are physical or visual memory devices that help learners remember larger pieces of information. These are particularly helpful for remembering math sequences or lists. 

Why it works
Mnemonic devices put large amounts of information into shorter lists or phrases that students can remember more easily. This information helps them remember the longer, more complex information they apply. 

Example
A student uses the mnemonic device PEMDAS (Please Excuse my Dear Aunt Sally) to remember the order of operations for math equations. 

PEDMAS mnemonic

7. Retrieval Practice

What it is
Retrieval practice is the process of recalling facts, concepts and information from memory or without prompts or visuals to enhance learning.

Why it works
Learners’ memories have to work harder to recall information. It helps with summarizing information they have learned. 

Example
Students put their study materials away and write or speak everything they know about the topic of quadratic equations. Once they have retrieved all the information they know from memory, they can return to their notes and textbooks to check for accuracy.

8. Reciprocal Teaching

What it is
Reciprocal teaching is a strategy with four parts to help students work through math problem-solving: 

  1. Predicting
  2. Clarifying
  3. Solving
  4. Summarizing

Why it works
Reciprocal teaching uses students’ knowledge to engage them in planning and working through math problems. The four steps are effective at helping students apply higher-order thinking skills to solve more complex math problems.

Example
Students are given a multi-step word problem. They predict: 

  • The type of question asked 
  • Mathematical operations needed 
  • Answer 

After these predictions, they clarify the information they do not yet know. 

During the solving stage, students solve the problem and in the summarizing stage they reflect on the process and how they got their answer.

reciprocal teaching model

9. Dual Coding

What it is 
Learners use a combination of words and visuals to present, learn, understand, and work with information.

Why it works
Students work with smaller chunks of information rather than the entire concept or problem at once and make connections between the content as they progress. 

Example
A student graphs inequalities before working with them in a larger problem. The visual representation of inequalities helps the student manage the amount of information they are working with. 

Dual coding learning strategy example

10. Elaboration

What it is
Students describe concepts in their own words when using elaboration. They ask questions about what they are learning and make connections between material and dig deeper into a topic. 

Why it works
Elaboration helps students to identify:

  • What they have learned
  • What they still need to learn
  • How the ideas connect

 Example
Students work in pairs to review the concept of ratios. They record what they have learned, and jot down things they are not completely confident with yet. 

11. Active Learning

What it is
Active learning involves discussing, investigating, writing, thinking, and creating. In math, explaining thinking and discussing solutions is a form of active student centered learning.

Why it works 
The combination of talking through explanations and receiving feedback through questioning helps students retain information. Receiving feedback helps catch and correct misconceptions in real time.

Example
Students are working on solving equations. In small groups, students must present and explain their thinking as they model how to solve an equation. The other students must provide feedback and ask additional questions.

Alongside effective learning strategies, high-quality math intervention strategies determine how quickly students progress. Math intervention lessons with Third Space Learning take place in an interactive online classroom and use strategies that strengthen students’ math skills. Students can draw, type and circle the relevant information to help them solve math problems. STEM specialist tutors use effective tutoring strategies to encourage students to use various interactive tools to embed learning in long-term memory.

Davish Let’s learn Let’s solve 42,365 + 10,416 using the standard algorithm. You T Th Th H T O T Th Th H T O 10,000 10,000 1,000 1,000 100 100 10 10 1 1 + 4 2 3 6 5 0 0 10,000 10,000 100 10 10 1 1 + 1 0 4 1 6 0 0 10 10 1 + 10,000 100 100 10 1 1 a Start with the ones. 100 100 1 1 5 + 6 = 11 so we regroup this for 1 ten and 1 one. 1 1 b We carry on working from right to left, adding the values in each place value column. You 10 √ Select Point Symbols Text Shapes Draw Erase Clear all Undo Redo

12. Flashcards

What it is
Flashcards are pieces of paper with facts written on them. Students read the facts to help them ingest the information. Although they may be an old learning strategy, using flashcards to memorize math facts and math vocabulary is an effective learning strategy. 

Why it works 
Repeated exposure to information and practicing skills multiple times help the brain recall information. 

Example
Two students practice math fluency facts. Each has a set of flashcards and reads the information before they test each other. They then put the math facts they have mastered in one pile and review the facts they have not yet mastered until they can quickly recognize each math fact. 

13. Technology

What it is
Technology such as interactive whiteboards, virtual classrooms and technology programs or apps can be used as a learning strategy to increase engagement and allow teachers to collect and monitor student progress through concepts.

Why it works
Technology encourages active learning. It helps students engage with content through active learning strategies to retain information such as: 

  • Practice opportunities
  • Visual examples

Example
Students learn about graphing and work through a rotation of stations that allow them to practice different types of graphing. Stations could include:

  • An online app
  • Interactive whiteboard activity
  • Online games

Read more: 

Final thoughts on learning strategies

Learning strategies help students learn processes and remember and apply information. When students apply learning strategies effectively they retain information long into the future. Learning strategies must be incorporated into every learning environment if students are to succeed in quizzes, tests, and projects.

FAQ

What are the 6 types of learning strategies?

Six learning strategies include:
• Spaced learning, spreading practice out over time,
• Retrieval practice, practicing accessing and recalling information without looking at notes,
• Elaboration or putting content into your own words,
• Concrete examples or putting information into examples that are tangible and easy to understand,
• Interleaving, switching between different concepts to study, and
• Dual coding or combining words and visuals to learn information.

What are the names of four learning strategies?

Four learning strategies that are effective are active learning, dual coding, reciprocal questioning, and retrieval practice.

What are five strategies to help improve your learning?

Five strategies that can help you remember what you learn and recall it for exams and later use are elaboration, retrieval practice, interleaving, and dual coding.

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