Great ideas for enabling prompts or lifelines

Enabling prompts or life lines are a fantastic way of helping students who are stuck to get started.
They do not reduce the complexity of the question, but they do help kids to get an idea.
Here are a few of my favourites!

Why not draw it?

Here, I’ll start. This circle is a person.
Now, how many feet do I need to draw for them?
Two? Ok, these sticks are the feet… you keep going.

Let’s use some manipulatives

  • Counters 
  • Blocks
  • Paper to fold and cut
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Receipt roll
  • Play money
  • Cards
  • Post-it notes
  • Hundreds chart

Here is the answer… find how to get it

Simply give students the answer and ask them to work backwards to prove why this is right. This prompt is particularly effective for reducing anxiety for student who are worried about being wrong.


Here is a wrong answer… prove that it’s wrong

This works the same way as the last one but is even less scary. Plus, disproving a wrong answer has the added benefit of giving students an opportunity to develop their own idea to try next.

Read it out loud to a friend

Read it out loud to a friend to make sure you haven’t missed anything. Next, explain it in your own words. What do you think you have to do?

Would one of the flexible strategies help?

  • Relationship table
  • Array
  • Number line
  • Partition it
  • Horizontal format
  • Of a dollar
  • Fractions are division
  • Place value chart
  • Post-it note algebra
  • Spreadsheet algebra

Remember to check out the videos on each strategy in the Content Shorts section for subscribers.

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Two lies and a truth

Here are three possible answers. Prove any two of them are wrong.
Note: sometimes I give two wrong and one right, but it is also fun to give three wrong ones!

Top and Tail

Give me an answer that you know is not enough… how close can you get?
Now give me an answer that you know is too much…
This strategy is excellent for creating a “reasonable range” of possibilities, which encourages both estimation and number sense.

Partition it – what is missing?

  • Do we have the parts?
  • How many parts do we need?
  • Do we have the whole?
  • How could we find what is missing?

Prove and disprove in pairs

  • Write all the conjectures up on the board.
  • Form pairs. Pick any three to prove or disprove.
  • You get a point for each one.

If you did…

Finally, the one that drives me crazy because it shouldn’t work… but it is weirdly effective.

If you did know what to do, what would you do?

Seriously, try it.

Here is a video with some great rules to get kids started on risk taking.

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