Strategies for Teaching Students with Dyscalculia

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  • 0:04 Dyscalculia
  • 1:21 Practice, Organize,…
  • 2:45 Color and Manipulatives
  • 3:59 Think Out Loud
  • 4:37 Calculators & Charts
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Diehl

Elizabeth studied to be a special education teacher at Regis University, and received her masters in 2014.

When teaching a student with dyscalculia, remember that there are simple strategies to help the student learn and grow. Here is a list of some things you can try in your classroom today.


As one might expect, limitations in understanding math will greatly affect how students learn more complex mathematical theories. Indeed, dyscalculia affects how students process and understand mathematical concepts, which can lead to confusion and errors in their answers. Dyscalculia can manifest in disorganization, difficulty with number sense, and even confusion with counting. Here are some strategies to help your students with dyscalculia master mathematical skills.

Many times a student with dyscalculia will know that he has a deficit in math reasoning. Empower the student by asking him for information. Maybe there was a strategy that helped him last year. Maybe there is something that his dad says that helps him practice his times tables. Go over any other aspects of math where you might anticipate he would struggle. He may be too shy to tell you that he still struggles with reading the clock, for example.

Many students with dyscalculia are not confident they can find the right answer. You, as his teacher, will have a deeper understanding of your student, and you will build his confidence by showing you are on his side. This will also provide information about the strategies the student might have used in years before, as well as inspire you for ideas to try this year.

Practice, Organize, Small Pieces

Build students up by making math practice fun. There are all kinds of games available that focus on memorizing math facts or practicing math concepts. As is true for all students, such games are fun when they are easy and/or just at their comprehension level. A game that is too difficult is not fun for the student and will backfire.

Sometimes students with dyscalculia benefit when they have extra organization support. This might be writing on graph paper or always putting the big number on top, regardless if the question is addition or subtraction (obviously this strategy does not work when students learn integers). Another strategy is with a blank piece of paper - cover the page so that only a few problems are seen at a time. This could help students who sometimes skip problems or confuse the directions of an assignment. Encourage students to use scrap paper as they check their work to help keep their assignments easier to read.

When introducing a new concept, make sure you break each step into smaller pieces. Practice the steps that you expect students to follow and the flow of steps throughout the problem. For some students with dyscalculia, one might have to add steps between the standard steps you give to the rest of the class so that they see how the process works. An example might be having them circle the tens place in a number before rounding so they remember which is the tens place.

Color and Manipulatives

Color coding is an easy way to show how numbers combine and can be rearranged to illustrate all sorts of algebraic concepts, such as the distributive property. Use markers to help students of all abilities see the steps and assign each number its own color. Allow students to use colored pencils or markers in their notes too, as reinforcement. Another way to use color is to highlight specific directions or problems that typically trip the student up right on their paper. For example, you could highlight the minus symbols on the worksheet or the word 'subtract' as a clue for what the work should include.

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