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Math Block Routine: I Do, We Do, You x 2 with a Twist!

By Naomi O'Brien


It took me years to get a math routine that worked for me and really AND served my students well. I had heard of “I do, we do, you do, but it didn’t really feel quite right and it didn’t have the level of fun I always try to incorporate into learning.

Enter: Shape Shifter! On a trip to the Denver Museum with my students, they used a character during a presentation to help the kids focus and want to contribute to the lesson. I brought this back to my classroom.

Shape Shifter is a character that essentially roots against my class, but also (inadvertently) gives them tips to be successful. My students and I work hard to show Shape Shifter that we are up for a challenge and that we won’t give up trying to learn.

Make sure your students know what they are supposed too learn. It will help their brains understand what they should be working towards. Make sure to revisit this objective at the end of the lesson to make sure you all stayed on track and achieved your goal.

For example: If your objective was to use pictures to add and find a sum. Make sure your examples and student work is focused on finding sums by using pictures. When you reflect on the lesson (which I’ll address later) and you ask your students “What did we learn today?”, they should be saying something about using pictures to find the sum.

I use this routine with K-1 students. I take the time to go over key words and add a picture to support when I can. I also add these words to a growing anchor chart that we will refer to for the entirety of the math unit we are in.

This is a time when all of my students are gathered together for whole group math. They all have dry erase boards, markers, and a partner to collaborate with.

All of the math work we do is thought to be given to us by Shape Shifter as a math challenge.

During the I Do time, boards and markers are down, and all eyes are on me as I introduce and teach the new skill.

Example: If I am teaching students how to add with pictures. I might show them the equation 2 + 3 = ?. I would brainstorm aloud how I could solve this. I would say that one strategy is drawing a picture and then actually model how to draw a picture to support my equation.

I would think through mistakes my students might make, so I might draw too many circles, not count properly, etc…

I would make these mistakes and model how to correct myself. I would solve the equation and then check my answer by summarizing my process.

Me: “The addends are 2 and 3. I drew two circles and then I drew 3 more. I counted all of the circles to find the sum. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! The sum is 5.”

At this point, I would fake call Shape Shifter and tell him that I solved his problem and didn’t get tricked at all. When I “hang up” I inform the kids that I got the answer right and that Shape Shifter was SO mad.

Cue the giggling and fist pumps.

Then, would I ask them to help me solve the next equation using pictures to find the sum.

So now we move onto a few more examples of the skill we are working on. My students have their dry erase boards, their partners, any manipulatives we might be using, and me for support. I guide them through how to solve the equations. I ask for student input. I repeat student answers that are great for the group to learn from. I address misconceptions that are great for the group to learn from. I narrate great work I’m seeing on their boards.

“I see that a friend of ours has drawn a picture to match their equation and is now adding the picture to find the sum. Great strategy, friend!”

All of this time, while the kids are working, I would be starting or adding to an anchor chart to capture their thinking with their input.

I would give them another equation to solve and tell them I’m going to call Shape Shifter to check our work. They ask questions, they check the anchor chart, the turn to their partners for support, they use their manipulatives and check their work. The engagement is amazing!

I don’t call Shape Shifter until we all have the correct answer. I want them to feel successful and confident. After I call, I tell them that he was so mad that they worked so hard and all got the right answer. They LOVE it.

When I’m on the phone it sounds like:

“Yes, Shape Shifter. They did draw a picture to match the equation.”

“How did they know how many circles to draw? They used the addends, Shape Shifter.”

Before we move on, I ask a question that will gauge their understanding thus far. For this particular lesson, I might ask: How can pictures help us find a sum?”

If they can’t answer that, then we aren’t on the same page, and I know I shouldn’t continue yet.

If they can, we move on in our lesson.

During the first You do it time, students are no longer working with their partners, but they are still being watched closely and guided by me. They work on their dry erase boards to solve a few more problems.

I also differentiate the problems being worked on. I might have some students working on one problem while another group of kids has a different problem that will challenge them.

For example: Some kids might be working to solver 4 + 5 = ? and others are solving 5 + 3 + 6 = ?

They both still have to use picture to find the sum.

I would remind them to utilize the anchor chart. I would check for students struggling and ask them to explain their process and problem solve with them. I would narrate great strategies I see.

This sounds like:

“I see one friend organizing their picture like it’s on a ten-frame. Nice!”

“I see someone tapping each circle as they count so they don’t lose track. Good idea!”

Then I call Shape Shifter once again.

If there are any errors (because I can see everyone’s dry erase board and work), I hang up and tell the class what Shape Shifter had to say. It might sound something like:

“Shape Shifter said someone didn’t use a picture to find the sum.


“Shape Shifter said someone drew the right picture, but needs to recount their circles again.”

Then I would encourage students to check their work and check in with their friends.

I develop a culture of “Teaching and Not Telling” in my class when it comes to learning. It’s hard in the beginning, but soon my students learn not to just tell someone an answer. They might look over and say, “I think you should count that again.”

I meet with students while others check their work and get feedback from their peers.

Then I call Shape Shifter again and tell him that he didn’t trick us. I call on various students to explain how we got the right answer and ask for any final questions before they are released for truly independent work.

This is typically when I give a worksheet or experience that gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding and success with the objective. I remind them to use the anchor chart and remember what we just practiced. They are also welcome to take their dry erase boards with them. I walk around and take note of how students are doing. I allow time for productive struggle to occur. I don’t jump in and correct errors I see or help students that are stuck. A few minutes in, I will stop the group and give a helpful tip based on what I saw. I will also narrate awesome work/thinking I saw.

This might sound like:

“I love that I see friends are remembering to use the addends to know how many circles to draw.”

“I see students counting on to add quickly. Great connection to our last lesson.”


“It looks like some friends are guessing. Remember, our objective was to draw a picture to find the sum.”

After some time, the work is due. Some students really get it, and some need more support. That’s okay. We all learn differently.

Before time is up, students finish (at staggered times) and their work is checked and they are released to go to a math center, play a math game, or do a math challenge.

When independent time is up, the small group that needs to be retaught comes back to me for another mini lesson. Oftentimes, they have the same misconception, and we work to help them be successful with this new skill. (If there is still time after the reteach. They join their peers at centers, games, and challenges.)

During this time, my other students are independently engaging in centers, games, or challenges.

We come back together as a group one final time to reflect on the lesson. It’s a time for me to reflect, too. How many students were successful? What can I do to increase that number tomorrow?

Sometimes our reflections are in our heads. Sometimes they turn and talk. And sometimes we share whole group.

This is the math routine that works for my students and I!

I hope this was helpful for you!



Hi, I'm Naomi

I have been teaching elementary students for over 10 years. Effective reading instruction and accurate social studies at the primary level are huge passions of mine! 

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