EFFECTIVE MENTAL MATH ADDITION STRATEGIES (and free quick reference cards)


Mental Math is an essential part of mathematics instruction today. We know that when students REALLY understand what numbers mean, they are more efficient mathematicians and are better equipped to solve problems. When our students know strategies for basic operations, tough equations become more accessible and less daunting.

The biggest advantage of teaching your students mental math is that it teaches them to be flexible thinkers. When we only focus our math instruction on the traditional algorithms (carrying, borrowing, etc), we teach students to memorize a series of steps. If they forget those steps, they typically don’t know how to figure the equation out. Mental math ensures that even if steps are forgotten, that we possess the understanding that enables us to figure out the answer.

Math is not just a series of steps.

Mental Math is real understanding. Mental math involves looking at numbers and knowing how to manipulate them in order to make an equation easier to solve. Mental math means possessing “tools” that can be used to solve an equation.


This being said, it is difficult to know how to teach and reinforce mental math concepts. How do we get started? How do we know when to switch strategies and when to integrate a new one? This is tough, for sure. But it all begins with you. You need to be comfortable with the strategies before you begin teaching them. You need to know which ones you want to emphasize so that you have a plan for your addition instruction. This gets even more difficult when you are faced with piles of different strategies for each operation. How do you choose?

Below, I have listed some of the most important mental math addition strategies (in my opinion) to teach and reinforce in your classroom. I have given a brief overview of each one.

At the end of this post, I also provide a link to where you can download a free, printable Quick Reference Guide to keep handy.

Keep in mind that these strategies start pretty easy, and get more difficult. I believe that regardless of the age of your students, you need to start with easy strategies, and slowly move towards more difficult ones. You want your students to feel smart and successful, and the best way to do that is by allowing them to succeed right away, before things get more difficult.















Would you like your own copy of the Quick Reference cards that I’ve shown above? These can be laminated and fastened with a metal ring as shown below. Keep them handy and use them whenever you need a little “refresher” of addition strategies to cover in your classroom.






  • This is exactly what I was looking for to guide my daughter…thanks for sharing such wonderful advice:) I like the way you build up the concepts…

  • Perfect timing!! My daughter is struggling with Mental Math. I know several of these tricks from my years of teaching, and of course my daughter doesn’t think I know! LOL. Now I can have her read the tricks and tips!! Thanks for making the cards and giving them away free!!

  • Wow! I always struggled with understanding math concepts as a child. I hated math, to the point of being in tears. As an adult, I am able to easily comprehend the strategies you are teaching. It is very thorough, yet simple. I LOVE it! I just got the cards so my kids can learn them. Thank you!

  • I have used these strategies all year long with my students and they have not only helped my students think of numbers in new ways, but have also helped me in my teaching! I feel like a much better math teacher now!
    Any chance you have the exact same type of reference cards for subtraction?? That would be sweet! I’m changing grades next year and I know how valuable it would be for my students ever-changing needs. Fingers crossed! And can I just say that I’m glad you are Canadian!! 🇨🇦

  • Thank you for these great cards! I teach (or review if they learned them in previous grades) all of these strategies explicitly to my grade 3/4 students (and will at home with my own kids, as this has not been a focus at their school). As others have mentioned, I would love it if you had a set of these for subtraction too. These are handy also to pass onto EAs that find it challenging to work with students on mental math b/c they didn’t learn math this way 🙂


Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.