Last year was my first year teaching math, and over the summer Pinterest, TpT and fellow teacher blogs quickly became my best friends.  One activity that kept popping up was the Error Analysis activity.

In a nutshell….this activity is based around a handout that shows a math problem being solved incorrectly.  Students explain what mistake they think the person made, and then do the problem correctly.

I love that this low-prep activity actually encourages higher-level thinking than giving students rote math problems.  I quickly found this being my go-to activity for my math classes.  Below are four ways I use this activity.

At the end of the blog, you will find a FREE downloadable template, so you can use the Error Analysis activity in your own classroom!


Option One:  Focus on a test question that majority of students missed

You know that feeling when you grade a test and find that nearly every student missed the same problem, but it was a problem that you KNOW you went over in class?  I would often feel frustrated – how could they miss this?! – and I would feel a little doubtful – did I really teach this as well as I thought I did?

One option to settle this quandary is to use the Error Analysis activity.  In the Sample Solution box, rewrite a student’s actual incorrect response.  Then, pass it out to students and allow them to explain the error and redo the problem correctly.

You can even make this optional, but let students who complete it earn back any points they missed for this question.

Option Two:  Math Centers

As a few of my colleagues and I noted over dinner the other day, centers are quickly overtaking the education world.  Stations, Centers, Rotations…whatever you want to call it, they are becoming standard practice for all subject areas.

This activity is great to have at an independent math center.  You may want to complete one in whole-group format so students have an idea of what they’re expected to do, but after that you can choose a different problem each week (depending on your focus).  Leave it for students to solve independently or with partners.

Enrichment Idea:  Leave blank templates at the center and have your STUDENTS create the Error Analysis worksheet and then trade with a partner!  You’ll be surprised – student examples are always WAY harder than teacher ones.

Option Three: Pre-Assessment Tool

For a while, I always used this after being deep in a math unit.  However, I had a thought – if a student can explain an error, then it is a great indication that they understand the math process.  Why not use it as a pre-assessment?

This works great as a pre-assessment for my higher level students.  I’ve used it before setting up math groups for a unit to determine who has memorized a process vs. who can understand and apply a process.

Option Four:  Standardized Test Prep

My math students hate explaining their work.  And I get that.  When I was in math, I hated explaining my work, too.

And yet, on standardized testing there is an increased focus on having students explain the strategies they learned.

This activity is great to use before testing, because while students hate explaining their own work, they love explaining why their teacher’s work was wrong!  The versatility of the template allows you to use it for a variety of standards, which again makes it an easy tool for test prep.

How do YOU use the Error Analysis Activity?

Here is a FREE download for the Error Analysis template I created, along with a sample page that shows what a student’s response may look like.