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How to Use a Math Problem Solving Model – The 3 Part Lesson

by Neil Finney

How to Use a Math Problem Solving Model

The 3-part math lesson has become one of the great frontiers in math instruction these days. As a planned and purposeful method to teaching, it can provide your students with an effective way of introducing, investigating and practicing a mathematical concept.

The Main Components of a 3-part lesson are:


Before: Getting Started

(or the “hook”)

During: Working on It

(or the “main”)

After: Consolidation and Practice

(or the “follow up”)


 1. Getting Started – The “Hook” (10-15 min) – This introductory piece of the lesson is perfect for games, math manipulatives exploration, short video clips, practice problems and challenges. The purpose is to prepare students for the lesson by activating prior knowledge and re-calling previously-learned mathematical concepts and skills from earlier lessons.

 2. Working on It – The “Main” (30-40 min) – A task or problem is assigned that is examined individually, in pairs or small groups of students. Students must devise a plan to carry out in order to find the solution through the use of mathematical tools and computational strategies. This is where exploration, self-discovery, collaboration and risk-taking in their learning should take place. They should be recording their mathematical thinking as a way of understanding their approach to the problem and preparing to share their strategies in the ‘consolidation’ part of the lesson.

 Tip From a Mentor – During the “main” activity, the teacher should be circulating around the room and making observations about methods selected, asking probing questions, reflecting on student-chosen materials and tools, and even using ‘think alouds’ to support students along the way. This is a perfect opportunity to make anecdotal notes about learning skills (i.e. collaboration, conflict resolution, problem solving, independent work).

 3. Consolidation and Practice – The “Follow Up” (10-15 min) – This is the opportunity for students to share and build upon understanding of math concepts. Consolidation can come in many forms. By carefully selecting a method of sharing student solutions and methods, instructional strategies such as “bansho” or “gallery walk” are used to allow students to compare their own approaches to the problem with those of their peers (or the other groups).

 Tip From a Mentor – Check out other online resources like Edugains for guiding questions and instructional strategies that support the acquisition of mathematical skills.

 4. The Follow-up – Based on a whole-class, pairs or guided student discussion, during the consolidation, you can identify your next lesson in order to extend the thinking and learning from the lesson today. This is also an ideal time to construct an anchor chart with the students that reflects the strategies and mathematical thinking demonstrated by the class today – this chart can be used as a starting point in your next 3-part lesson’s “hook.”

The benefits of using a 3-part lesson in your math teaching for your practice – and the learning of your students – are substantial. By providing opportunities to connect to their prior knowledge, creating a plan, exploring a problem and sharing their findings – students are given an opportunity to succeed and develop key learning skills in the process.


How has your use of a 3-part lesson changed the way that you approach math instruction? Share some examples in our idea bank.



During Neilʼs 10 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.


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