students working on the “Purple” problems

students working on the “Green” problems

How do you get algebra students to do 20-30 review problems before Test Day? Type them up in a large font, 4 to 6 problems per page, grouped by theme, and print the pages on different brightly colored paper. The pages should be a mix of easy to rigorous problems (e.g. 1 easy, 3 medium, and 1 challenge) so the kids can’t just whip off a color in five minutes. Hand a different color to each group and walk around monitoring, assisting, and checking their work. When a group finishes a color, swap out their sheets for a different color. Plan five colors; most groups will only get through three to four of them.

For some reason the students dig in and want to do as many colors as possible. “Have you done pink yet?” “We need orange next!” are questions you’ll hear in my classroom, along with lots of discussion about the problems on the page. Students get up out of their seats to help their group because they know I will come over and orally quiz all of them on the ideas before they can move to the next color. If a group finishes all colors, I give them a little star sticker in their notes. Many students ask to take pictures of the colors they did not get to so they can practice more at home.

This style of review was renewed in me by my former student teacher, Kelsey Atkinson. My current teaching partner, Kelsey Russell, and I have kept it going strong in Algebra I this year. I realized that early in my teaching career I did the same type of review in my “informal” geometry class with hand-written index cards (I still have those index cards in a box in my classroom). Each index card had a different color highlighter across the top (pink, purple, blue, yellow and one plain or “white”). We called them Mr Pink, Mr White, and so on as an homage to the movie Resevoir Dogs. Boy, I have been teaching a long time. Let’s just say that movie didn’t come out in my first year.

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