Pass The Pen – Math Activity For Kinesthetic Learners

April 13, 2010 at 9:45 am 3 comments

As a math instructor I have to be aware of the different learning styles that my students have. I try multiple representations to reach my visual learners and my auditory learners, and it’s quite easy to do. The hard group to reach is the kinesthetic learner.

One strategy I use is trying to get my students actively involved in the lecture. Often I will do one problem at the board, then give my students another problem for them to try. Short group assignments in class are effective as well. I’d like to share another activity with you that works really well – I call it “Pass The Pen”.

Pass The Pen Activity

This activity works best at the end of class, when I have time to sneak in an extra example or two to make sure that my students truly understand before they leave.

I begin by putting a problem on the board, and ask for a volunteer to get things started. That volunteer comes up to the board to do 1 step, then passes the pen to another volunteer who does the next step, and so on, until the problem is complete.

My students love to get up and get involved. They feel confident in coming to the board to complete one small part of the problem, rather than standing at the board for a while to complete the entire problem.

As they come to the board, I am able to talk to the class about the previous steps, about things to watch out for, and about big picture ideas. If a student makes an error, we get to talk about the error and learn from it.


The first time in the semester that I use this activity, I will allow students to come up in pairs – it seems a little less stressful. Another variation that I use is occasionally allowing the student with the marker to pick who goes next. It makes the whole process more fun.

Types Of Problems

This activity works well with any multi-step problem. I have used it for

  • order of operations
  • solving linear equations
  • word problems
  • polynomial division
  • graphing parabolas
  • completing the square to find the center of a conic section
  • hypothesis testing
  • many, many more


My students seem to love this activity because they are allowed to get up and get moving. (They also seem to love the ceremonial passing of the pen – we make a pretty big deal out of it.) Most of all, they love it because it is different from just sitting there doing math problems, they get to actively participate.

Maybe the next step is to have them “pass the pen” at home using Twitter? Hmmm…

If you have any experience with similar activities I’d like to encourage you to share by leaving a comment, or reaching me through the contact page at my web site –


I am a math instructor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. Each Tuesday I post an article related to Math Study Skills on my blog. If there’s a particular study skill you’d like me to address, or if you have a question or a comment, please let me know. You can reach me through the contact page on my website –


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mary Beth  |  April 13, 2010 at 11:09 am

    George, I love the pass-the-pen idea! I do a lot of collaborative learning and group work in my class but somehow forgot about htis one! Keep these ideas coming.

    Mary Beth

  • […] 20, 2010 In last weeks study skills blog I presented an activity called “Pass The Pen” that is designed to get students involved. […]

  • 3. kay allen  |  January 7, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks, Mr Woodbury for this idea. I have quoted you and your site in my blog as I tackle teaching math to the 7 multiple learning styles. I also have some original closing games I used. I just applied them to a much younger audience. I am a beginning blogger with a sore back. However, teaching was my greatest passion (retired but tutoring) and remains to be so. Best Wishes!


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