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Five tips to make mental maths count

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Five tips to make mental maths count

Think Mentals 20/1/24


Chances are each of us will use mental maths more times in our lives than we can count. But do your students know how important this skill is? Here are five tips to make the most of your mental maths lessons.

1. Establish why

In an age where a calculator or phone is never out of arm’s reach, the value of mental computation might not seem obvious to your class of digital natives. However, studies indicate that we do more than 70% of day-to-day maths problems in our heads.1

Start the year by establishing the purpose of mental maths with your students. They can then dive into their lessons with the right mindset rather than continually wondering ‘What’s the point?’. Discuss when mental maths might be relevant in their lives, for example:

  • when they spend pocket money at the shops
  • when they need to share a number of pizza slices equally between friends
  • when they have three extra things to do in the hour before going to school.
2. Encourage jotting

Jotting might seem counterintuitive to mental computation. However, jotting helps students who are still learning the ropes to keep track of their numbers. Encourage students to use this tool, but also clarify with them that it’s not the same as writing out the problem in full.

Read our article How jotting helps with mental computation for more information.

3. Teach strategies

Explicitly teaching mental computation strategies will give students the tools to efficiently solve a variety of maths problems. While there are numerous strategies out there, the most effective will:

  • be broken into a simple 2- or 3-step sequence
  • use friendly language that students can easily understand
  • include several stepped-out examples.

Additionally, it’s best to teach a set of strategies with consistent language and structure so they’re easier for students to memorise and recall. To see strategies like these, check out the Think Mentals series.

4. Provide targeted practice

The next step with mental computation strategies is to give students targeted practice.

When students are first taught a strategy, provide carefully scaffolded questions that are best solved using that strategy so they can consolidate what they’ve just learnt.

After you’ve taught all the strategies for the year, provide a mixed bag of questions. Students can then practise recalling different strategies and picking the right one for the job.

5. Apply strategies elsewhere

Look for opportunities to use the computation strategies outside of your dedicated mental maths lessons. A good place to start is in a regular maths lesson where students can use mental computation to solve one of the steps in a larger problem. Students will get to see how working things out in their heads allows them to breeze through the smaller steps, which might normally bog them down, and manage the problem better as a whole.

When an opportunity to use mental computation arises, don’t forget to use the free projectable strategies at to refresh students’ memories.

By applying the strategies outside of your mental maths lessons, you’ll further reinforce the purpose and value of mental computation in everyday life.


  1. Northcote, M & Marshall, L 2016, What Mathematics Calculations do Adults do in their Everyday Lives?: Part 1 of a Report on the Everyday Mathematics Project, Avondale College, viewed 18 January 2018,
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