Episode 174: Warm-Up Worries – What Should A Warm-Up Look Like?

Mar 28, 2022 | Podcast | 0 comments



In this episode, we’re eager to dive into a discussion about the beginning of each and every math class… you got it: Warm-Ups! 

Stick around and you’ll hear how the Math Moment Maker Community defines and implements warm-ups, why different approaches to implementing warm-ups can be helpful and how you can be a little more choosy with your next math class warm-up in this jam packed episode.

You’ll Learn

  • What I should be thinking about when I’m picking or considering using a warm-up;
  • Why every lesson doesn’t necessarily need a warm-up; 
  • How a poorly chosen warm-up activity can derail your lesson; and,
  • Why intentionality is key to ensuring you maximize the effectiveness of your warm-up and the remainder of your lesson.
Start your school year off right by downloading the guide that you can save and print to share with colleagues during your next staff meeting, professional learning community meeting or just for your own reference!


Kyle Pearce: In this episode, we're eager to dive into a discussion about the beginning of each and every math class. You've got it, it's all about warm-ups.

Jon Orr: Yeah, stick around and you'll hear how the Math Moment Maker community defines and implements warm-ups, why different approaches to implementing warm-ups can be helpful and how you can be a little more choosy with your next math class warm-up in this jampacked episode.

Kyle Pearce: Here we go. (Singing) Welcome to the Making Math Moments That Matter podcast. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr. We are from makemathmoments.com. We are two math teachers.

Kyle Pearce: Who together with you, the community of Math Moment Makers worldwide who want to build and deliver problem-based math lessons that spark curiosity.

Jon Orr: Fuel sense making.

Kyle Pearce: And ignite your teacher moves. Welcome, my friends, to yet another wonderful math episode here, where we're going to be talking about a very specific part of the math class, which is the warm-up. Jon, I don't know about you, but you say math class warm-up to any other colleague. It can look and sound really different, right?

Jon Orr: Yeah, totally. I remember back to my very early teaching days where your pre-service teaching, they're like, hey, you need something called a bell ringer. You need to have something ready to go. So when the bell rings, you are in to it, right? You are ready to go. Kids are active. And that could be a form of a warm-up, but Kyle, math talks could be forms of warm-ups. I've heard of stand and talks. That could be a warm-up. There's so many different warm-up routines out there. And I think there's lots of folks listening now have been like, you know what? warm-ups are my favorite part than my lesson, or I get a lot of mileage out of my warm-up.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, totally. And when you were going back and talking about the bell ringer, like, hey, let's get everybody working right away. Some people are using them as almost like a means to keep students busy while they're doing attendance or while they're collecting, if you're in elementary you might be collecting pizza money or something, or there might be a fundraiser, there's some other chaos going on, especially homeroom teachers or secondary homeroom room teachers as well. There's things going on here. But really what we want to do is kind of dig in a little bit about what is a warm-up to us and how can we do it effectively? And I'm going to let a little cat out of the bag, right? Jon, there's no one best way to use warm-ups. But I think in this episode, we're going to talk a little bit about some of the things we want to be thinking about. So we can be more intentional about our warm-ups and really trying to figure out what it is that we're trying to achieve specifically with each warm-up each and every single day.

Jon Orr: Yeah. Kyle, and before we hit record here, we were chatting about this topic, which really, yes. Let's talk about this topic. I think it's a really important one. And when you go into classrooms now and teachers are using warm-ups, I know how I used warm-ups throughout the course and how that warm-up has progressed from my end.
But when you go into classrooms, what do you commonly see? And don't held back, tell us some of the names of the routines. There's lots of websites out there that kind of give us great warm-up type activity. How long are you seeing these things last? That kind of stuff.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah, absolutely. And I see all kinds of different approaches. I see many of the approaches that I've used at some point. Sometimes I still use some of these ideas, but maybe not all the time, something I see most commonly is again, something that is almost like an extension of the previous days lesson. More of again, when we talk about the intentionality, it's like, I'm doing my attendance and I want to get the kids a quick bit of practice in, amazing. That's definitely a great use of a warm-up, right? Especially if some people are even calling a ticket in the door, right?
It's almost like this idea. It's like, hey, you grab your ticket in the door. Then you sort of do that and then the teacher can sort of circulate the room, maybe address any homework problems. If you're in a grade level where homework isn't appropriate, something appropriate, that's happening in the daily routine. Or maybe there's just common challenges, right? They can stop and listen with students. But then I also see other things happening too where you have some people who are using more, I'll call it, is it more new approaches to warm-ups? And we have things like Estimation 180 out there, we have which one doesn't belong. We've got even people using, like Jon, your math before bed, some of those prompts. Is like quick way to get students kind of talking and engaged in the lesson. There's so many different things that you can see out there.
And then you have your other warm-ups too, which are just, again, just a random problem. And it's just sort of an expectation that students do it and it's taken up and then you just sort of move along. So, Jon, what are you thinking nowadays, when you think about warm-ups and math class, what are you pitching in your mind? And I guess what are you thinking when you are starting to think about, say tomorrow's lesson in terms of whether you're going to use it? Do you always use a warm-up or is there some days where maybe it's not appropriate, what's going on in your mind and with your thoughts on that?

Jon Orr: Yeah. So if you think back five years ago, when I started hearing or experiment or getting some of these warm-ups that you just mentioned, like estimation of 180 from Andrew Stadel. I think one of the first websites that I was like, he has crafted these very unique estimation prompts in picture format and one for every single school day. This is why it's called 180. And I remember grasping those and putting them up. And even in my senior level high school classes, it sparked discussion, right? We've held sessions on how to start a math fight in your class in the past. And that being a key prompt to help start math fights in your class about estimating. And we've talked about estimating here on the podcast as a... What's a too high, what's a too low, what's your best guess, let's share those with a neighbor. Let's share that out. And it does help get some great discussion going. And then there's like you said, which one doesn't belong? Was another great discussion start.
And so the purpose of some of the warm-ups I've used in the past is to get discussions happening very quickly in the classroom. And I felt like that changed a lot of my classroom. And what was happening with warm-ups is that discussion allowed kids to hear other kids' ideas, which before I ventured down that path, I didn't have that a lot happening in my class. This is kind of my gateway to doing problem-based lessons. And then you also got this camaraderie in class, kids were hearing other kids' ideas, but then that allowed them to accept them. And that changed some of the culture in my class because voices were now being valued in the room. So warm-ups had a great place in my classroom for that. And they still do, they still do. They still use those warm-ups at different times. We were discussing this is that you had this thought, you was going into classrooms and seeing people use these resources that I just mentioned, which I've had a lot of success with. And then you were saying just earlier, before we hit record, you were saying like, you know what? I got an issue here. I love these resources. You were like, I got an issue with grabbing these resources and just tossing them into a lesson. I want everyone to hear this because I'm going to push back just a little bit.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. I love it. And I got to say too, the reality is just to kind of preface this a little bit is I think, and I was one of these people just like you, Jon, trying some of these different resources. I even have my math is visual site where some educators use it as a warm-up, which is super cool. And I remember saying this to educators, it's like, just give it a try, just go try it. So that's the first step. And I think there's so much benefit to doing that. So I don't want to say anything negative about just giving it a shot.
But the challenge that I think sometimes happens is, we give it a shot, but then it's almost like we sort of immediately stagnate there. And then it's we just throw that into a routine. It's almost like in math class, how we proceduralize everything so fast, we rush to the algorithm. It's like as math teachers...

Jon Orr: That's what we, math teachers do, right?

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. It's like we come in and it's like, okay, I'm going to give this a shot. You do, you have some success with it? So you're like, all right, I'm going to keep doing this. And then all of a sudden it's like every Monday is Estimation 180 day. Every Tuesday is math before bed day, every Wednesday is, would you rather, and all of these things, we've got this full lineup of all these different warm-ups. And I guess my challenge here, or my concern is when we're using these tools and forgetting to pause and think about the intentionality and you said something really important. And I want to go back and I want to talk about how important this was. You had said it was sort of like early in your transition before problem based learning. So it was like you started doing these things. It was almost like it was your first step towards that problem based lesson. And that's amazing.
And I do not want people misconstruing what I'm saying and going like, oh, he doesn't want us using these tools. I think they're great. I just worry when we start using them, you saw students that were having great conversations. And I remember doing this to Jon, in my class, it was pretty quiet typically, right? And it was like, these warm-ups were a great way to improve the mathematical discourse in my classroom to get students collaborating. That was a great first step. But then after do we take those first steps? And once we start building that culture, I have to pause and I have to sort of reassess and I have to think about what's the goal now for my warm-up.
So if my goal initially, well, first of all, the goal for me was just to try it and mostly engagement. That was my initial goal. But then it was like, I quickly got this goal of mathematical discourse and I was like, okay, that's great. Getting kids talking in my math class, awesome. But once that's happening and that becomes more of a part of the culture, part of the fabric of your classroom, you then have to start thinking and go, okay, do I need to commit my warm-up time all the time in order to get those things? Or can I get those things in other parts of my lesson? And could my warm-up time be leveraged for something else? Is that my specific student learning need that I want to dedicate those 15, 20 minutes or however long you were going commit to that? Or is there something else that I could use or is it just like, it just varies based on the day or the week or the lesson, right?

Jon Orr: Right. Yeah. And so let me just be clear, you're saying, hey, these are all great. As long as you have this particular purpose in mind, and maybe that purpose was discussion and engagement, getting that culture changed. But then once we start proceduralizing it and saying, look, we're going to do it every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Friday every day is a different routine. Then all of a sudden it's like, today I've been doing this. We're going to do this activity over here, but we got to start with our warm-up just because.

Kyle Pearce: Just because, and I have colleagues that do exactly what I'm saying and I hope anyone who's listening. They're not thinking I'm not judging at all, but I guess I want everyone to kind of pause and go, okay. And the answer might be that, yes, I need to continue doing Estimation 180 on this day. And if that's the answer, rock and roll, but I just sometimes wonder whether we're actually thinking about it or are we now just filling a place in our day, because then Jon, what's the number one thing that we hear from educators, including us when we're in the classroom. We're always, so there's not enough time. There's not enough time to get through the curriculum. There's not enough time to get through my lesson. I always run out of time before we get to the consolidation-

Jon Orr: Or I can't work in any purposeful practice time in.

Kyle Pearce: Totally. So it's just sort of when we hear those things, but we're essentially committing the first X number of minutes to certain tools and resources. I'm just kind of advocating for this intentionality. And we go, wait a second, let's pause here. And let's really start thinking about, it's almost like the pros and cons. You almost have to get the pros and cons, when I do this warm-up, what are the pros? So we listed some of them that you and I experience, maybe there's others that other people are experiencing, but then what are the cons? So what am I giving up when I say yes to this? I'm saying no to something else. And another one I'm going to add on the list is everybody always says, my students struggle with fact fluency and with flexibility, with numbers and operations. And then I wonder and I say, okay, well, is there a place where maybe a warm-up could be more of a number string of some type, right? Like a math talk.
And maybe it's just for this week that you do that. And then maybe you shift back to some of these other ideas, but I guess it's just constantly, I guess, not getting too comfortable where it's set and forget. And this is the other thing too, Jon, I worry that it's like, if today is, would you rather day? And I just randomly pick one it's again, it's like, am I getting the best bang for my time by randomly selecting one? Or is there more intentionality by selecting one that's are connected to something we did last week or maybe a couple months ago that we could spiral back. Just some of the ideas that I think are really important for us to be thinking about.

Jon Orr: Definitely these are all good points. And I think the students themselves, when you start setting them up on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and routinely making it something that's always on that day, I think it can lose some of its effectiveness that way. When you're like, we always going to do it this day. And it's kind of it seems like a good idea to get kids into that routine. But I think pushing that same type of routine can lose its effectiveness. But going back to that purposeful, this choice is really important. And I think that's where my pathway changed over the course of the years was that, it morphed into, we talked to so many teachers about spiraling over those last five to six years, Kyle and helping teachers spiral their classrooms, which was interleaving concepts. Instead of mass practice, one unit, you would take a unit and space it out and teach through problems that kind of bring in different strands of the course. And I know that we talk with many teachers to say, they're like, I'm really worried about spiraling. And then one technique we gave them was, look, you could take some time at the beginning of your lesson and pick a warm-up that helps you spiral.
Now a warm-up could be the number talk, right? It could be a math talk. It could be an activity that gets kids up and thinking at the walls. And maybe it's a low floor, high ceiling type thinking, but it was a way to go, okay, look, I'm going to do this topic here in this first 10 minutes. And then a couple days from now we'll do it again. And then by doing these other topics and then going on with your regular lesson or the lesson that's going to take the bigger chunk of your time. Maybe it's a problem based lesson. Then you kind of are working in other topics on different days and your interleaving concepts, which we know is good for learning, that way the warm-ups can be very productive as well. I know that you've had some success there. I've definitely had some success there.
I think I've made a couple videos on sneaking in factoring or sneaking in algebra concepts, which is over on our YouTube channel and using algebra tiles to help sneak in these very kind of dry subjects, these bridge skills based things in algebra class. And the way I did that was through that, hey, we're going to solve this puzzle as our warm-up today. How did you solve it? Oh, you made a rectangle with these tiles. Okay, we'll do a couple more two days from now. And we interleave this idea of factoring and by the time our factoring unit came, we had already done it, right? Because it was interleave throughout in the first 10 minutes. So warm-up can be very strategically placed if... Like you said, if you've been very intentional about why you're picking that warm-up on that day.

Kyle Pearce: I love that Jon, because something that you just said, it's like, you've got this plan for that particular warm-up with your factoring, with the tiles and you've got... Okay, I've got this vision of how this is going to play out. And it's for a very specific purpose. And then I also look back and I think about some of the warm-ups that are out there. Again, I have to give Andrew Stadel so much credit because I will say that I probably never asked my students to estimate anything prior to coming into the world of 3 Act Math or Estimation 180. And that's where I was like, whoa, I need to do more of this. And again, part of my intentionality of doing that was because I knew it was good for kids. I knew it was good for the class culture, but it was also good for me. Because it was like, I used that tool to help me realize and I guess build into practice the importance of estimating. And now if you ever do any of our math tasks off of the Make Math Moment site, pretty much all of them have an estimation or a prediction. That is an essential part of our curiosity path.
So guess what I'm not doing on a problem based math lesson day, I'm not doing Estimation 180 because I built it in to the actual lesson. So my lesson has a builtin warm-up, which is Estimation 180. So for me, when I personally do this, I'm actually curious to hear what you do, Jon, when I go into classrooms and I'm working with students and I'm doing a problem based lesson, my warm-up is actually the curiosity path, which we built in to that lesson. So it's like, I don't do a separate-

Jon Orr: Right. You don't have this 10 minutes, that's different.

Kyle Pearce: Yeah.

Jon Orr: You just going right into it-

Kyle Pearce: Right into it. And the reasoning for me doing this. And I'm curious again, to hear what your thoughts are on this. For me, I always find when we're doing a problem-based lesson, it can vary in terms of how much time students might need in order to truly engage so that I'm not looking at the time and going, huh, should I cut them off? Should I, oh, I didn't get to the consolidation like I wanted to, or I didn't get here. I didn't get there. It gives me more time so that I have time at the end to really focus in on the consolidation prompt, which it is essentially practice. But basically we're trying to get at, who heard what from this lesson? And I just think on a day like that for me, I don't need another warm-up, even though it could be beneficial to have another warm-up. It's like, I think it's more beneficial on that day with that particular lesson to get into it, get kids thinking. And that's where having a really good prompt for your problem based lesson, it works as the warm-up and it works to engage them and get them into some deep thinking and do some pretty awesome stuff.

Jon Orr: Right. And it goes back to the intentionality of the warm-up. Like you said, if your warm-up to begin with was to create discussion, you've got that embedded in the lesson. So you're creating that culture. If the warm-ups purpose was to get them to think instead of just regurgitate and take notes, right? So I know that might be also a teacher as we've recommended different routines to get teachers kind of changing the style of their lesson.
We had an episode, a couple episodes back about flipping the classroom and thinking about changing the order of your lesson. So if you're starting to do that, using a warm-up to get some thinking and get kids up at the boards, working on a problem right away, that might be short is a great way to get them in. But if you've embedded that in your problem-based lesson, Kyle, like many of the lessons on the website that we have it's already in there.
So the purpose, it doesn't need to be, hey, look, I'm going to do it now. And I'm going to do it 10 minutes from now when I get into my lesson, that purpose might be wasted time. If the purpose is to spiral right, then are you bringing that in? Is it needed? Or am I spiraling through the problem based lessons anyway, right? Because that's the way we morphed into a good chunk of time for us was that we were changing when we were doing problem based lessons. We weren't always doing proportion problem based lessons for two straight weeks, we were doing a proportion problem based lesson. And then all of a sudden we're doing a linear relations or we're doing a geometry problem based lesson. And so we were spiraling that way. So that lost, that need to throw in these warm-ups to take up extra time. So it definitely goes back to that intentionality, which is key.

Kyle Pearce: Absolutely. And again, when you're looking at, we went... If you go all the way back to our flipped classroom, the real flipped classroom, we talk about a problem based lesson. And typically we use those lesson structure to sort of introduce an idea or extend an idea. So it's almost like to like emerge new learning, but then we also have these other days that are built into our units, which are kind of focused on what we call like a visual math talk in most cases, which is like a warm-up, but it's like we focus a lot on the number fluency, the number flexibility while deepening the conceptual understanding at the same time. So we try to hit two birds with one stone and then we also have some purposeful practice in there. Those are great fits because it's not all the teacher. When you're leading a math talk, oftentimes it's like the teacher's facilitating and trying to hear students strategies and trying to help other students see them through different math models.
If I try to do all of that work and then go into a problem-based lesson, I'm probably going to get jammed up for time. And I might also get some students who are already tapping out, right? Whereas when you flip it on a day where it's like, hey, we're going to be doing some purposeful practice today. I mean, students are going to have some time to do work at the beginning. I can facilitate this learning and I can kind of build maybe off a yesterday's material or maybe it's a spiraled math talk. It could be interleaved where it's something from weeks ago and you want to bring it back to the forefront.

Jon Orr: Right. And that's more what I lean to these days is that depending on the type of lesson, what we're working on and like you said, we're not doing a problem based lesson necessarily every single day. We want to make sure that we are betting some purposeful practice as it connect to other things. For example, like this week, we're going to do a problem based lesson on some proportions. And we were using Dan Meyer's Nana's and chocolate milk or Nana's eggs, the way she makes the eggs, which is a really nice problem to get into equivalent ratios and equivalent rates. Knowing that I was going to get into that problem. And most of that problem ends up being a lot of purposeful practice. It doesn't take a ton of time to do that problem based lesson. I knew that we were going to get into that and we had time and I wanted to do a little bit on exponent to kind of work in this exponent idea, kind of like I was sneaking in factoring, I'm sneaking in some exponent work, right? And so it was like, let's go to the boards and get some of that stand up time. That discussion time on this low floor, high ceiling exponent task that took us 10 to 15 minutes.
But knowing how long my next task was going to take. And then we pivoted towards this proportion task after. So knowing where you want to place those things can achieve those goals you're looking for, which are really big ideas, right? We want discussion. We want to make sure we get that. We want collaboration. We want to make sure we capture that every single day and it can look differently every single day.

Kyle Pearce: I love it. So like what I'm hearing as we sort of kind of wrap up some of these big ideas from this episode is a warm-up, it can look and sound different in different classrooms and really only you who can really know whether it's the right one, right? If I walk into a classroom, so kind of going back and saying, I've gone into all kinds of classrooms, everybody's doing these different warm-ups and there's no judgment because, hey, I'm walking in for one day.
This might be exactly what your students need at this time. But if let's say we're doing it just because this is what we do, then that might be a cause for us to pause for a second and just think about that and say, again, when I do this warm-up tomorrow, what am I hoping to achieve? And if it serves that purpose, then I'm golden, right? And maybe tomorrow's lesson doesn't have a warm-up, but I guess what I'm hoping is that people are hearing that they're not feeling pressured to sort of like, I worry as educators, everybody feels they have to have the newest, greatest thing. It's like Keeping Up with the Joneses, right? So it's like, have you heard of this resource? And it's like everybody wants to be doing the right thing, which unfortunately I think leads us sometimes times to not be as intentional because we're just trying to do what everyone else is saying we should be doing.
So really I think in summary, if you think about a math talk or a warm-up, I should say it really can be anything that you want it to be as long as you know what you want it to be. And that's where I can speak for myself that I used to do warm-ups because it's what we did. It's just what I decided. And it might have made sense when I came up with that idea, but I didn't really think about it for a really long time. It was just what I did and how I did it every day. And when I really go back and I think about it, I think, hmm, I bet you, there was some different ways and different things I could do to make this a little bit more intentional, a little bit more helpful. And I think that's sort of the key message that we want people to take away from today.

Jon Orr: Good thoughts there Kyle. I like the way you said that a warm-up could be anything you want it to be, but just make sure you know what you want it to be. I think it sums up this discussion well, as the purpose being intentionality. Why do we choose the activities that we put into our classrooms? Hey, why are you choosing warm-ups? Have you thought about it? I know that I didn't. And I took over the course of this progression to think out it very carefully. We'd love to hear about it. What are the warm-ups you're using in your class? How are you choosing activities for your class? Let us know. We've got a few places, right, to let us know Kyle. We've got our private Facebook group, Math Moment Makers K-12 over on Facebook. Find us over there. Let us know about that.
You can put a message out and go, hey, I'm using some warm-ups. I just listened to the episode. You guys just put out. Hey, I want to talk warm-ups. We would love to talk warm-ups. It's one of our passions. This is why we just hit record. As soon as we are chatting about this because we're like, all right, let's just hit recording and chat Kyle about warm-ups. Where else Kyle, can they tell us about what they're doing?

Kyle Pearce: Yeah. Right on our website, we have a show notes page @makemathmoments.com/episode174. This is our 174th episode. That is pretty crazy and mind blowing. So head on over to makemathmoments.com/episode174 and at the bottom, there's actually a comment box right there. You could actually throw your comment in, of course our academy members, those who are listening, keep up the awesome, awesome conversations inside the academy forum of course. And you can also get us on social media @makemathmoments on Instagram, on Facebook, on Twitter, we're all over the place. So make sure you let us know and reflect. And I hope you Truly do reflect on, why am I doing what I'm doing when I do my warm-ups, right? And do that reflecting, share it with someone and hopefully we'll see you share it with us.

Jon Orr: Awesome stuff there. Don't forget to hit the subscribe button. We put out new episodes here on your favorite podcast platform every Monday morning. Don't forget also to hit us up over on YouTube. We are putting out these episodes on Monday mornings as well in video formats. So you can watch us or, hey, we also are putting out another weekly video on YouTube on Tuesdays, which are more helpful tips, different from the podcast, more bite size for you to gobble up over on YouTube. So please subscribe over there so you can get some more and make more math moments for your students. All right, Kyle?

Kyle Pearce: Well, my friends, it's been a fantastic episode with you all until next time. I'm Kyle Pearce.

Jon Orr: And I'm Jon Orr.

Kyle Pearce: High fives for us.

Jon Orr: And a high five for you. (singing)

powered by


Download the Cheat Sheets in PDF form so you can effectively run problem based lessons from a distance!

MMM From A Distance Cheat Sheets Smaller.001


There is a LOT to know, understand, and do to Make Math Moments From a Distance.

That’s why so many Math Moment Makers like YOU have joined the Academy for a month ON US!

You heard right: 30 days on us and you can cancel anytime. Dive into our distance learning course now…

Make Math Moments From A Distance Course
LEARN MORE about our Online Workshop: Making Math Moments That Matter: Helping Teachers Build Resilient Problem Solvers.

Thanks For Listening

To help out the show:


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Pedagogically aligned for teachers of K through Grade 12 with content specific examples from Grades 3 through Grade 10.

In our self-paced, 12-week Online Workshop, you'll learn how to craft new and transform your current lessons to Spark Curiosity, Fuel Sense Making, and Ignite Your Teacher Moves to promote resilient problem solvers.