Singapore Math Strategies and Success for Every Teacher

By Char Forsten

Singapore Math strategies can do wonders for building math skills, improving student achievement, and increasing children’s math confidence. But only if teachers use the right strategies, at the right time, and in the right way.

Singapore Math refers to the teaching methods or actual K–6 curriculum used in the small island country of Singapore. It has become popular here in the United States due to the success it has had elevating scores in Singapore. For years now, students in Singapore have repeatedly ranked at or near the top on international math exams.

While American math instruction often emphasizes drilling and memorization of formulas and skills, Singapore Math focuses on children’s mastery of a limited range of concepts each school year. The idea is to understand math on a deeper level, not just “pass the test.”

Even though Singapore Math may seem strange, virtually every teacher can learn and use the strategies. They’ll get students excited, they work in every classroom, and they have a big impact.

Math Talk

In Singapore, students are not encouraged to spit out answers, but rather to discuss which strategies they used to come up with a solution. By teaching “math talk,” teachers can help students learn, practice, and master math concepts in a language-based setting. Teachers may involve children in interactive discussions or perhaps inspire them to share math stories. They may also introduce photographs, illustrations, or books that encourage children to discuss the story, theme, or content of the material, and then tell their own math stories. Teaches can also help students communicate mathematically by asking leading questions, such as: How many dogs can you count? What can you count one by one? Can you name how many trees you see in the picture?

Number Bonds

A number bond is a mental picture of the relationship between a number and the parts that combine to make it. A whole is made up of parts. If you know the parts, you can find the whole. Singapore Math emphasizes mastery of number bonds from the early years. It is a foundational skills required in later years and the basis of the development of mental strategies. A strong number sense allows students to decide what action to take when trying to solve problems in their head.

Teachers may start teaching number bonds by using M & M's or popsicle sticks or whatever manipulatives they have handy. The goal is not for students to memorize specific math facts, but to understand the idea of taking a number apart and putting it back together again, and then applying that concept.

Model Drawing

When it comes time to solve word problems, Singapore Math does something very different—and unfamiliar to many teachers. It relies on Model Drawing, which uses units to visually represent a word problem. Students learn to get past ambiguous words and visualize what a word problem is saying. That way, they can understand the meaning and thus how to solve the problem.

Math talk, number bonds, Model Drawing—Singapore Math provides new vocabulary and simple strategies that lead all students to mathematics mastery.


For a deeper look at how to easily introduce Singapore Math into your classroom, check out SDE’s webinar 3 Singapore Math Strategies that Work in EVERY Classroom by veteran principal and Singapore Math expert Char Forsten.

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