Teacher Talk: Mistakes Wanted!

In this edition of Teacher Talk, I’ve invited Ivette Aguilar, a 5th grade Dual Language teacher at Union Hill Elementary School, to share her experiences using the My Favorite No routine to reinforce the norm that mistakes are valuable opportunities for learning.

Here’s Ivette:


As many of us know, getting our kiddos to carefully and thoughtfully work through math can be a challenge. I’m a 5th grade Dual Language teacher and not only is my goal for kids to learn to read and work through word problems, I also want them to tackle computation with the eye of an eagle. It can be especially daunting when as teachers we notice that the mistakes being made are simple or “quick fixes”. This is where My Favorite No comes through to save my day!

When starting this routine, it is usually something totally new to them. They are baffled that I am picking the “wrong” answer to showcase under the camera. We (my team and I) use this routine as a way to highlight what students do know how to do, but also as an opportunity to have a class discussion on the ways in which a student could improve. As a math teacher, is it not our goal to have our students improve and feel proud of how far they have come? What student is not willing to work if they know they are super close to the finish line?!

When considering using My Favorite No, I usually consider the areas of struggle I notice in my classroom. Is it their regrouping when adding or subtracting? Could it be the way they make equivalent fractions? Their confusion on finding prime or composite numbers? The possibilities are endless and open to anything you feel your class should revisit or take a closer look at.

Once I figure out the learning target for my students, I set out to create a simple way to represent it with an expression or equation as shown below.

This problem is from our unit on adding and subtracting fractions. I had noticed some students were forgetting to regroup when subtracting fractions.

After presenting the problem, I hand each student a sticky note. They write their names on the back, copy down the problem as written on the board, and show all the work needed to solve. As students finish up, they raise their sticky notes up and I go around picking them up.

While I look through their work, I start separating the sticky notes into correct and incorrect piles. I look through the incorrect piles and look for one with many good qualities but with some areas that need improvement. I try to pick sticky notes that highlight one area to work on (ex: regrouping, making equivalent fractions, etc.). Once all sticky notes have been picked up and sorted, I pick My Favorite No. Students are always excited to see what the sticky note looks like.

One thing to note is that before starting this routine some expectations are set up. Nobody can ask whose sticky note it is, or try and point to guess. It remains anonymous and the name is never shown. This creates safety, comfort, and an openness to the suggestions that will follow. I always remind them of expectations whenever we do this routine.

Here is My Favorite No I chose when my students solved the subtraction problem above:

Some positives mentioned by kids:

“That student knows how to make equivalent fractions very well.”

“That student knows how to find a common denominator.” 

For the mistake, a student said:

“The mistake is that the student forgot to regroup. You can’t take 8/10 away from 5/10. They needed to borrow from the 8 wholes.”

That was my target!

When I first display the sticky note under the camera, I ask students to notice the positives they see. My students use the sentence stem:

“That student knows how to ____ very well.”

I love this part because the student whose sticky is on display is getting affirmed that they DO know how to do some part of the work. After discussing the positives we move on to find the mistake. For this, they say:

“The mistake I notice is ____. They should have ____ instead of ____.”

I ask the class if they agree and proceed to solve it correctly on the board.

Once we solve it as a class, I ask the kids to think of tips to give to that student so they do not make the same mistake again. For the example above a student said:

“A tip I would give is to write your problem up and down instead of side to side so that you remember if there’s not enough to take away, you take from the whole.”

Another one said:

“A tip is to just double check your work using addition to see if it gets you back to 8 and a half.”

The tips kids come up with sometimes blow me away, they are great at giving tips!

We end the routine counting the number of correct and incorrect stickies. Our goal is to always increase the number of correct stickies and shrink the incorrect ones for next time we do this again. Ta-da, done! I will give students a similar problem later that week or the following to see if there was improvement. Those students that I consistently notice struggling are pulled into a small group during conceptual refinement time in our math block.

Not only is this routine accessible to all students, it helps them pay attention to detail so that they next time they encounter a similar problem, they have the tools they need to avoid silly mistakes! Why not check for understanding in a fun, quick, and doable way?!


Thank you, Ivette, for sharing how you use the My Favorite No routine to honor mistakes and use them as opportunities for learning. I especially appreciate how you make this a safe experience for students by establishing norms for how students discuss another student’s mistake. The sentence stems are a great way of structuring students’ comments during the discussion.

If you try out this routine with your students, let us know how it goes in the comments and/or tweet about it and tag @EMathRRISD in your tweet.

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