Essential Questions for First-Grade Math


First-grade math students take a giant leap after kindergarten. They aren't just expected to recognize numbers and sort objects into groups, but they must also learn to perform simple mathematical operations. As a first-grade teacher, you must ensure your students meet national and state math requirements. State education chiefs and governors in 48 states developed the Common Core, a set of standards for kindergarten through 12th-grade students, so you can use those requirements along with your state's first-grade math standards to make sure your curriculum and daily lesson plans are sufficient.

Addition and Subtraction

  • Are students learning how to add and subtract within 20? First-graders must learn how to add two-digit numbers, so you must ensure that they know how to carry from the one's place to the 10's place. They must also learn how to subtract two-digit numbers, so they must understand the concept of borrowing from the 10's place. First-graders can no longer use their fingers to add or subtract numbers because some numbers are too big. You might use manipulatives, such as connecting cubes or wooden beads on a string, to help students learn the concept before you have them perform addition and subtraction problems on paper.

Place Value

  • Do students know place value to the 100th place? Most students learn how to count to 10 or higher in kindergarten, but many don't fully understand the concept of place value until first grade. Place value is an essential part of adding and subtracting. When learning place value, you might draw columns on the blackboard or whiteboard and label them "1," "10" and "100." For example, you might show that the number "59" is the same as five 10s and nine ones. This practice should also help students learn how to count by fives, 10s and 20s to 100.

Simple Measurements

  • Can students perform simple measurements and tell time? Even though first-graders don't need to know all the different types of measurements, you can teach them simple ways to measure distance and volume. For example, you might teach them how to measure distance using paper clips or inches on a ruler. Instruct them on methods for measuring liquid using measuring cups, teaspoons or tablespoons. Teach them how to count money, using pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. First-grade students must also learn how to tell time on a standard clock -- not just a digital clock. Use a cardboard clock with adjustable hands to practice telling time to the hour, half-hour, quarter-hour and minute.

Elementary Geometry

  • Are students able to recognize, sort, identify and match shapes? In kindergarten, students often learn basic two-dimensional shapes, such as circles, squares and triangles. First-graders must learn three-dimensional shapes, such as cones, pyramids, cubes and cylinders. They must also learn how to put shapes together, like a puzzle, to create congruent figures. For example, they might learn that two attached squares form a rectangle. The best way to help students learn three-dimension shapes is to allow them to play with manipulatives, such as plastic shapes, puzzle pieces and foam shapes. Encourage them to flip, slide and rotate shapes to see how pieces fit together to form symmetry.


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