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Math Teaching Tip: Use an "Advance Organizer"

As a homeschool teacher and tutor for kids/teens in-person and online, one of my specializations is working with children and teens who have difficulty with understanding math, retaining math content, and/or anxiety about math. So, I'm always looking for strategies to help my students learn effectively.

One strategy that I've read a lot about in research studies is using an advance organizer. An advance organizer is like an outline or preview that shows the student what a lesson is going to be about. Using an advance organizer may improve retention by helping students make connections between what they've already learned and what they're about to learn. One of the goals is to help your child see how the new lesson relates to what they already know. (Source: Denham, 2018. See reference list at the end of this post.)

Here's what you might include in an advance organizer:

- A review of any "pre-requisite" knowledge the student needs for the lesson,

- The goals/objectives of the lesson,

- Rationale for learning the topics in the lesson.

- (Source: Miller & Hudson, 2006)

This is an example of an advance organizer that I used before a homeschool teaching session for a student who was working on order of operations. I make these in PowerPoint, so we can view it as a presentation. It will show one line at a time, and each time I click the mouse, it will show the next line. So, I can read and talk about one line at a time with the student.

A screenshot listing the objectives for a lesson: 1. Define order of operations as the order that we simplify math expressions. 2. Use the order of operations to solve math problems. 3. Learn what pandas eat for dinner. That's totally about math, right?
A screenshot listing prior knowlege (basic math problems such as 2 + 3) and then the rationale for learning order of operations (it helps us solve more complicated problems such as 36 x 2 + (5 - 2) - 16

In this lesson, I use a little memory trick for memorizing the order of operations that involves a sentence about pandas (instead of the "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" sentence, if you learned that one as a child). So, I like to put a little joke about the pandas in my advance organizers (as you'll see in the third objective in the first photo). Just for fun, I usually make the last lesson objective something silly that still relates to the lesson.

I go over this information right before I begin a lesson.


If Your Child Isn't Reading Yet, or Learns Better with Pictures Than Words

If you think the above approach wouldn't work best for your child, here are some other ways to preview a lesson:

1. Do a review of the previous lesson. For example, let's say you were working on patterns with your child and did ABAB patterns already. You and your child (or student if you're a teacher) can build a few ABAB patterns before moving on to AABB patterns (for example). This is also good practice for the child.

2. Show a photo of what your child worked on in the previous lesson and a photo of what the child will be doing in the next lesson. Talk a little about the previous lesson and how it applies to what you're doing next.

3. Look for a YouTube video that talks about the previous topic you've learned and the new topic to show your child the progression from one topic to the next.

4. Use a strategy called "priming" to preview the new information with your child. You can read this blog post about how to use priming.


Denham, A. R. (2018). Using a digital game as an advance organizer. Educational Technology Research and Development, 66(1), 1-24.

Miller, S. P., & Hudson, P. J. (2006). Helping students with disabilities understand what mathematics means. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(1), 28-35.

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