Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Value of Open-Ended Math Questions (And a freebie, too!)

UPDATE Summer 2023: GOOGLE SLIDES NOW INCLUDED IN ALL PACKETS! All Open-Ended packets have been updated, added lots of pages AND if you buy the bundle, not only do you save a lot of money, you also get the questions organized by UNITS!

My truly fabo math supervisor held an in-service to address using open-ended questions in the younger grades.  During the first five minutes, she asked us to share some journal entries we were currently using.  One I shared:

I have 10 cookies.  7 are chocolate chip.  How many are sugar?

I thought it was fine until she changed it up to something like this:



As you can see, open-ended questions have more than one solution and it's often not an obvious one.  The problems often take much more time to figure out since they force the kids to dig deeper into their mathematical reasoning and it naturally allows for differentiation in the class. Gotta love that!  I love the way that the solutions often must be explained because so many children have different answers.

I immediately wondered why I hadn't made more of an effort to increase the use of open-ended questions with my firsties.  They really are the way to go!  The question above that I shared had ONE solution.  The new one allowed the students to dig much deeper, didn't it?  Some kids gave a few combinations and others gave all combos of ten. What would have been a 20 second "throw-away" activity became much more meaningful.  Some kids finished in two minutes while others took longer.

Although it took a while, I made December, January, and am working on February Open-Ended Math Questions for my class/colleagues and of course my TPT Store.  Here are some examples from the December packet:

Only ONE child got 16 circles!  Some had less, many had way more.  The best part was how unique each snowman was!  My favorite was a sombrero wearing snowman holding two yo-yos.  Clever!  Sorry no pic!

I allowed the kids to roam around the room to search for items.  They LOVED it!
Makes a great Morning Meeting Activity, too. 

A quick look shows me that this students gets the jump from 30 to 600!

You can see the different ability levels here.  Honestly, I was thinking I was going to get a lot of word problems here but I didn't.  Note the last one on the above page IS a word problem but you can see where the child went off-course.  An easy follow-up discussion ensued.

This is one that surprised me...  She wrote: It has two digits and it's after 19. After 2 more from eighteen 20 is 10+10, dose=20 (She was thinking Spanish) and when you count 4 times counting by 5s it =20.  Pretty impressive!

The last one I took a picture of is my favorite one! A spider and robot has 10 legs!  Fun!  Some kids drew five kids, or Santa with two reindeer.  All were so unique and I loved seeing their minds at work! 

They have quickly become favorites in the class!  I decided to give them a booklet at the beginning on the month BUT I also send some home for homework and use others for Do-Nows.  (One of my colleagues has them fold/glue into journal) Plenty of problems included in each pack!

Grab two freebies from my January packet:

BUNDLE Now Available...get THREE packs for FREE!

I'm so glad I made the switch to Open-Ended questions. My kids and parents are, too! 
Have a great night!



  1. Great ideas, Lisa! I totally agree - we can learn so much about the direction our teaching should take when we have the opportunity to see more about how our students are thinking, not just their "final answers"!

  2. Hi there, Linda! When I heard the topic of the workshop, I was a bit overwhelmed thinking "one more thing was being piled on" but it wasn't like that at all. Love everything about these types of questions. Hope all is well with you!

  3. Than you for sharing such a wonderful and fruitful post.It will rally help during my inspection days.

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