Spiral, Massed, and Spaced Math Practice

Spiral, Massed, and Spaced Math Practice - TeamTom Education

Author: Nancy , Tags: Ideas and Strategies, Math

( words) minutes to read 

Practice that Works!

It’s pretty much a closed argument…we know students need both massed and spaced practice.

While some curriculum and instruction nerds are still arguing over spiral review vs. focused review, let’s get our students learning by using both! Here are some ways to boost engagement and learning.

In this post, I will show you:

  • Why we need both spiral and massed practice
  • 4 spiral practice ideas
  • 3 massed practice ideas
  • Links to resources and apps for math practice

Why Spiral and Massed Practice?

“Don’t drill and kill!”

“This concept stuff isn’t working!”

“We need more fluency.”

“They don’t understand the why!”

This is why we need different types of practice. Students need to be fluent in their computation. Students need to understand the conceptual foundations to the problems they solve.

Look, it’s not a dichotomy. Both spiral review and massed practice reinforce each other. Spacing your practice across weeks builds long-term retention and retrieval. Massed practice allows students to build the accuracy and conceptual understanding needed to apply their knowledge in new contexts.

Math teachers know spiral & massed practice are both essential! #teachingClick To Tweet

Fluency comes as a result of massed practice. Without fluency, students will fail to comprehend complex problems. Their working memory will be overloaded with computational demands and they will lose sight of the strategy behind the problem.

Without doubt, students need deep understanding of concepts and fluency with skills. This is why we must deliver practice in both formats…more importantly, have strategies and resources for each type of practice.

Here are 4 Spiral Math Practice Ideas, That Work! #mathchatClick To Tweet

Clearly, students need both- conceptual understanding and fluency. How then do we teach to ensure students get an appropriate balance between each?

In this post, I want to focus on the fluency element. Regular retrieval practice following a spaced and interleaved schedule is a highly effective strategy for building retention and fluency. What teaching strategies promote this type of practice?

Spiral Math Practice Ideas

Spiral math practice is important because it spaces the content out over time. Spiraling is when students are exposed to previously learned skills and concepts…in small chunks…in practice activities. Here are four ways to use spiral practice in math.

1. Warm Ups

Warm ups are not a new concept, but they are an effective tool to include in spiraling math concepts. Not only will you have a quick check from each student, but you can use the results to pull small groups to clear misconceptions, include more homework practice, and create stations.

2. Homework

Really? Everyone is hating on homework these days…and for good reasons.

But homework, if done right, can have a large impact on student learning…at least for those who do it!

Homework should allow students to practice what has previously been covered. By spiraling your homework, you are giving students an opportunity to continue applying that knowledge independently.

3. Stations

Stations are not just for practicing previously learned material. They work great with new content. Have at least one station with new content…and be nearby to help support students as they develop their skills.

To build long-term retention, have at least 1-2 stations that are targeting previously taught skills. This allows students to continue applying what they have already learned without needing continuous support from the teacher.

4. Small Group Instruction

Exit tickets or warm ups can give you quick data to pull students who need more spiral math practice time. Don’t feel overwhelmed by trying to document, plan, and overthink it! Just make it a quick 2-5 minutes…you won’t have to worry about classroom management, extra materials, or lost instructional time.

Get a small group of students, and do a quick reteach. Over time, you’ll be amazed how much students can learn from this focused practice time!

Here’s more information on math small groups.

These strategies are perfect for spacing out practice sessions. They build long-term retention and retrieval…which really is learning!

Now let’s look at a few massed practice ideas.

Get long-lasting results with these four spiral review strategies! #mathchatClick To Tweet

Massed Practice in Math

Massed practice is just a fancy way to say focusing on one skill. This is traditionally how math was taught. We’re learning subtraction today, so we are going to practice 30 subtraction problems. It is helpful when learning new content or when re-learning content.

1.  Nearpod

Technology is a hook that instantly engages students in the learning process. Nearpod is very user-friendly and allows you to create an interactive presentation. With Nearpod, you can:

  • Include your slides for instruction or upload a PowerPoint or Google Slides.
  • Insert polls for an instant formative check.
  • Review each student’s interaction as you go through massed practice session.

2. is a game that will have your students screaming for more! Literally. You can insert your favorite problems and have the students sign in with a code. It’s perfect for massed practice of a math skill because they can work independently or as a team.

Here are great math problems on TeachersPayTeachers to use with Kahoot.

You get instant results showing what answers the students chose, as well as the ability to show the problem again and review the process. also has the option to download an excel spreadsheet so that you can review student responses or take a grade.

3. PowerPoint with Dry Erase

It amazes me how students instantly participate when you give them a dry erase marker. Take your typical worksheet and create a quick PowerPoint. Then have the students work the problems on their desk or a whiteboard. They are still doing your traditional practice, but you can walk around and instantly see who is working, where there are misconceptions, and which students need additional support.

If you’re not keen on creating your own PowerPoints, just use TeamTom Education’s Math Task Cards with a projector!

Why argue over spiral versus massed practice? We know students need both! So, here are 7 strategies for you...4 spiral review and 3 massed practice. Read the article.
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Instructional coach, Educational Administration, teacher, author, presenter, and super mom. Loves the water and sunshine.

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