4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Error Analysis to Teach Math

4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Error Analysis to Teach Math


Do you have some students who rush through their math work, while others seem frozen and unable to even get started? Do you have students who are chatterboxes all day and then when you ask them to speak about mathematical concepts turn to crickets? Do you struggle with students who aren’t engaged and don't see the point of learning? Do you want to help your struggling students but aren’t sure where to begin? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, using error analysis can help turn your math classroom around!

What is error analysis anyway?

Error analysis is a method used by teachers to identify the factual, procedural, or conceptual mistakes commonly made by students in order to provide support where needed. However, it takes on a slightly different meaning when teachers use it as a way to teach mathematics. In this way, students are given a mathematical scenario already solved by one or more fictitious students. The role of your students is to determine which “student,” if any, is correct and identify the errors made by others.

4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Error Analysis to Teach Math

How do students benefit from this approach?

1- Slow Down and Speed Up!

When students are asked to analyze the work of someone else, they can’t just get an answer and move on. They must analyze and reason why an answer is or is not correct. This helps students slow down while using higher-order thinking and reasoning skills. Yes, you’ll still have early finishers, but my students spend more time thinking than rushing when asked not just for an answer but to agree or disagree with someone.


In a similar way, using error analysis can have the opposite effect on some students who might normally freeze up in math. Students who may have no clue how to begin can use the example of someone else’s work as a starting point. They can see how someone else solved the problem first and the steps they took. 

This can provide scaffolding for students who might otherwise feel overwhelmed. Agreeing or disagreeing also takes the pressure off of students who may be afraid to be wrong because it isn’t their own work being analyzed. 

4 Reasons Why You Need to Use Error Analysis to Teach Math

2- Critical Thinking and Vocabulary Rich Dialogue

Many students often know what they are thinking, or how they would approach a problem, but have difficulty expressing their thoughts clearly and concisely. Engaging in written or verbal dialogue can help students to process and really understand the mathematical concepts they are working on. Students must think critically to critique someone else’s work, and they must put themselves in someone else’s place to try to make sense of their thinking.


My students often disagree about whether or why a problem is correct or incorrect at first. They acknowledge that one side is right, so they know they need to both clearly present their own thinking and listen attentively to the critiques of others as each problem is dissected. 


These Agree or Disagree Problems will get your students thinking critically and are the perfect starting point to get your students talking on task. I’ve also included Math Discussion Stems and Questions to jump-start and guide mathematical dialogue.

Grab these free math stems to get started on bringing math dialogue into your classroom!

3- Noticing the Why

While I love a good math talk, this may be my favorite reason to use error analysis to teach math. As students are deciding whether they agree or disagree with someone, I pose a critical thinking thought question:

“What would  happen in real life if someone made this mistake?”

While some scenarios are frivolous and wouldn’t have severe consequences, others do. If an employer makes an error in a paycheck, that can have real and lasting consequences. If a team shows up late for a game because they calculated the time wrong, they might lose a championship.

Students quickly realize that accuracy is important and the impact of making mathematical errors in the real world. I use this to reinforce why we work together, check our work, and persist in making sure work is legible and accurate. Suddenly, my students who couldn’t be bothered to do math are interested and see value in learning what I’m trying so desperately to teach them. 

Knowing the “why” really does matter.

Agree Disagree Cards for Math Problem Solving

4- Targeted Support

This is a bonus for teachers really. 

When you use error analysis to teach math, you get to know your students on a deeper level. My students LOVE using the agree and disagree cards to show their thinking. These simple manipulatives ensure that ALL students are participating, helping me get a grasp of each student's understanding.

When you watch and listen to students as they reason through agreeing or disagreeing, you see beyond the checkbox of whether a student meets a certain standard. When I walk around my classroom and listen to my students’ arguments, I get a deeper sense of what they do understand and the places they are getting stuck. I can target instruction for small groups of students or review a concept with my entire class. I can choose partners strategically and better plan for and support students who are struggling as well as those ready for the next challenge.


Not convinced yet? Click HERE to try them out for FREE in your classroom!

Using error analysis to teach math has helped my students in so many ways, and can help your students, too. Bringing these types of activities into the classroom provides challenge, rigor, and critical thinking...all on standards that you already have to teach. What do you think? Do you Agree or Disagree?

You might be interested in reading:

Looking for more printable and digital critical thinking math activities? Click HERE.

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