An instructional routine is a task built into a teacher practice that supports both students and teachers–students are engaged in mathematics and teachers gain insight into students thinking. Tasks should be open ended with a regular and predictable structure and provide entry points for all students. Instructional routines move away from a focus on, “What is the answer?” and towards, “What is your thinking behind the answer?”

“The predictable structure lets students pay less attention to ‘What is it that I’m supposed to be doing? What question will I be asked next?’ or ‘How will things work today in the lesson?’ and more attention to the way in which they and their classmates are thinking about a particular math task. For you as the teacher, the routines keep the flow of the mathematics instruction deliberately predictable so that, as you gain familiarity with them, you can better attend to the most unpredictable elements of your mathematics instruction: how your students are making sense of the mathematics.”

Routines for Reasoning: Fostering the Mathematical Practices in All Students – Grace Kelemanik, Amy Lucenta,  and Susan Janssen Creighton


Instructional routines in a mathematics classroom build a community in which students feel safe to take risks and can learn from one another. The tasks are mathematically interesting; students engage when they feel they have space to give voice to their thinking.

Instructional routines:

  • Encourage multiple ways for students to demonstrate understanding
  • Provide a chance for students to play with mathematics
  • Develop mathematical competencies
  • Deepen conceptual understanding of content
  • Connect competencies and content
  • Offer opportunities for observational assessment

“If we want students to build this authentic understanding of the discipline of mathematics, they need to engage in these wonderful verbs (notice, wonder, imagine, ask, investigate, figure, reason, connect, prove) as they learn new mathematical content throughout the year.”

Becoming the Mathematics Teacher You Wish You’d Had – Tracy Zager

“Learning mathematics also means getting better at the action verbs that are often used to describe the thinking habits mathematicians routinely employ: looking for patterns, conjecture no, justifying, analyzing, wondering, and so on. Everyone can learn these ways of thinking if given the opportunity.”

Connecting Mathematical Ideas – Cathy Humphries


Instructional routines should be brief (5–15 minutes) and are often oral. When first introducing instructional routines to a class, create agreed upon expectations of how students share their thinking and respect one another to build a mathematical community. Start with an open-ended prompting question that allows every student access to the mathematical discussion and provide time for students to think, share and reflect. Be intentional with your selection of tasks–– plan to move learning forward in response to where students are in their mathematical learning.

4. Justifying a Choice

14 May 2021

Chris Hunter & Susan Robinson

3. Sharing Math Thinking and Modeling Notations

21 April 2021

Marc Garneau & Janice Novakowski


2. Similarities and Differences

31 March 2021

Marc Garneau & Amanda Russett

  • How does looking for similarities and differences promote mathematical thinking?
  • Consider the instructional routines explored in this presentation. How are these routines similar? How are they different?

1. Introduction to Instructional Routines

10 March 2021

Marc Garneau

  • What comes to mind when you think of a routine?
  • What would it mean for a routine to be instructional?
  • Which instructional routines have you tried? What went well? What were some challenges? What did you notice about your learners?