Friday, May 29, 2009

Lateral Lessons: Questions and Answers

I had this great question last week that I wanted to address:

"Our school uses curriculum compacting for the higher level kids, however they will NOT move the curriculum ahead. They claim to do lateral lessons, not forward, after each curriculum benchmark has been mastered. Your opinions on this.. Is it possible to do lateral lessons on 2digit Addition for 30 days like the curriculum map outlines? What kind of lateral lessons should we be requesting for Grade 2 next year since they will not deviate from the regular curriculum schedule? I love your blog! "

First off, thanks for loving my blog! I aim to please and it is so great to get positive feedback! This website is more about you all than me. . .

And now, to answer your question.

I can completely understand your frustration! My first year teaching, my students mastered our ridiculously easy standards right away, and wanted to move further. They still loved the concept we were studying; they just wanted to learn more about it. I started to look for resources for higher grade level content. Uh Oh! Did I step on some toes or what?! Another veteran teacher came down from the "Big Kid Hallway" and let me know that this was not how it was done. While I don't know that this was in the best interests of the children, I did learn some interesting techniques that I am happy to share.
  • Replacement Units
For the particular instance I was talking about above, the teacher who corrected me did provide an alternative. She gave me a Marilyn Burns replacement unit on the topic. These are more in-depth and hands-on units to teach certain math concepts. Our textbook only spent about a week on the topic, but the replacement unit spent almost a month.

We looked at the vocabulary in more depth, learned how to discuss the topic, and wrote about it. The students designed products that demonstrated these concepts (in this case a carnival) and we invited other classes in to share. I would highly recommend looking into these replacement units. There are a ton of them out there. Three that I recommend for second graders are Math by All Means: Probability Grades 1-2, Math by All Means: Geometry for Grades 1-2, and Math By All Means: Place Value for Grades 1-2. You could do this with your whole class, or just with a higher group. These would probably be my single best request for ordering for your grade level, because you get the most bang for your buck for what you are trying to do. I will put the whole series in my bookstore so you can have a quick look at all your choices. There is also Math by All Means for other grade levels. I have used the 1-2 and the 3-4 and had great success with both.
  • Extension or Enrichment Activities
I don't personally use these, but I have a couple books I have loaned to others on them. I also know many teachers who use these with great success, so I thought I would mention them. These are units that a student or a group of students can work on when they finish a task. They are related to or extending the task at hand. I do something similar with reading, but I have not had a need for it with math. Here are a few examples (enrichment activities for primary and intermediate) (extension activities for primary and intermediate) if you want to look at it in greater detail. Again, this is a pretty good bargain for what you spend, which is important in this economy!
  • Entrenchment Activities
I invented this word to try to describe this type of teaching for gifted kids. Ever met a kiddo who fixates? Ha! This is a blog for parents and teachers of gifted kids, so I am sure you can identify. Sometimes, it is good to just camp out on a topic. Not because you have to or because you are trying to beat it into the ground. Just because it is fun and the kids like it!

After the kids have learned the concept, you can find fun and exciting ways to become experts on it. Take your two digit addition example. When I taught second grade, we did some fun activities to reinforce this concept. You can write stories to explain the process (the ones family lived in an apartment until they got too big, so they all had to move to the tens house). You can research the mathematical theory behind it (ever wonder how long people have been studying this? who was the first person to regroup?). You might not find out the answers to your specific questions, but you will find out a whole lot more!

I also love to do 4-Box problems for almost all math topics for almost every grade. These consist of a single story problem written on a piece of paper. Then, you give the small groups of kids a big old piece of butcher paper and a marker (come on, what kid doesn't get just a bit excited over a big piece of paper and a marker?). . . They divide their big paper into four boxes. In the top left box, they rewrite the problem in their own words. In the top right, they write an algorithm or math sentence. In the bottom left, they draw a mathematical picture (important to stress this with your artistic kiddoes who want the Mona Lisa in a 4" by 4" box). In the bottom left, they solve and write a one-sentence explanation. You pass out different problems to each small group, and give them a time frame to solve. Afterwards, you call on one, two or all the groups to share (I do not recommend all the kids sharing because you will get bored and the kids will get bored, too. It also makes it more fun if you don't know when or if you will get picked).

My last plug is for my personal math hero and life saver, Marcy Cook. If you are a teacher or parent and you have not been trained in Marcy Cook tiling math- DO IT NOW! She is so awesome, and her resources are just invaluable. My principal sent me my first year teaching, and I swear by her! You can use the tile math for every subject ( I am not kidding; there are tile cards for every subject. They must make tiling cards in their sleep over there in California). You can use them to extend any curriculum. I have used them every single year of my teaching, and have taught countless other teachers how to use them as well. Check out here and here for a sample. These are specific to two digit addition, because that is what we were originally talking about, but she has plenty more to offer, like this and this. I am telling you- your district or your family NEEDS to invest in these! Your students will learn algebra, problem solving, stress management, coping strategies and more.

I hope that answers your question, Anonymous. Please feel free to leave another comment, or email, if you need more information, you'd like specific resources, or you're looking for management strategies. Second grade is a favorite grade of mine, so I am happy to share resources with you!

**Special thanks to my friend, math specialist Robin Jones, who taught me about the 4-Box problems.**


  1. Oh thank you! I have so many in my class stretching past the work we're 'supposed' to be doing. I particularly like the four box concept - looking forward to using it, and to passing these ideas on to my student teacher.

  2. Thanks alot! We are getting a new GT teacher next year and I hope to share some of your resources with her to get our changing GT program going in the right direction.

  3. I LOVE your idea of having the kids write a story to explain a mathematical process! I will be giving that a try for sure next year!

    Re: your 4-box question, we do a word problem every morning and use a strategy called SPDR (sometimes nickenamed The Spider). It stands for See, Plan, Do, Reflect. In the See box, they write the important numbers and units, in the Plan box, they draw a picture or a table, in the Do box, they write the number sentence and solve, and in the Reflect box, they write a sentence that answers the original question. Sounds very similar to your approach.


I love to hear your feedback! This website is intended to be a welcoming and safe space for parents and advocates of the gifted. All wholesome and encouraging questions are invited, as well as questions or concerns relating to gifted topics.