March 1, 2015

You Can, Toucan, Math (Mentor Text for Mental Math)

This week, my second graders have been practicing mental math. They were struggling to make the connection from their 'worksheets' to what we meant by doing mental math. I'm not a huge fan of worksheets, so I took a step back and remembered I have a great tool at my disposal. I told my students to put everything away as I pulled out the book "You Can, Toucan, Math" by David A. Adler.

If you haven't heard of this book, and you teach math in the primary grades, I'd highly suggest you go pick it up. It's one of my favorites for math. According to, it is less than $10, and it  "introduces kids to addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in a fun and unthreatening fashion. Math riddles encourage young readers to think through math problems as they study both the amusing verse and pictures."
If you haven't heard of David A. Adler, he has written books for children such as, Cam Jansen, Picture Book Biographies, and books related to math strategies (fractions, money, area/perimeter, etc.)
Anyways, as I read the first word problem to the kids, we talked it through. I picked a fairly easy one. Then I prompted with questions like...
 How do you solve this problem?
Do we need to add, subtract, multiply, or divide?
Ok, now how do we know what to add?
Alright, so what answer did you get?
Are you right?
Are you sure?
You're positive?
Well, so and so got a different answer, so who is right?
All of you try it one more time and see if you get the same answer.
Well then how did you get to that answer?
What strategy did you use?
As the kids got the hang of it, I didn't use as many prompts. Eventually, I would read the riddle and wait for them to raise their hands to give me their answers. Often, I would have each student (keep in mind I'm working with groups of 2-4) whisper me their answer so the others couldn't hear and copy off of each other. Then I would prompt with, "Are you right?" and "Are you sure?" I would follow up by asking them what strategy they used (ex. counting on).

I have noticed that many of my kids, when asked, "Are you right?", they would immediately change their answer because they are so used to being wrong when questioned. I try to question my students whether they are right or wrong. I want them to gain the confidence in their answers and start thinking more for themselves.

If you decide to try this out with your kiddos, or you have used this book in other way, I'd LOVE to hear about it!! :)

Until next time..



  1. Hi Suzanne, I love your blog! I'm currently hosting a giveaway and was hoping you would be so kind to donate a product. It's a fundraiser for Autism that will take place from April 1 -30. Please hop on over to my blog for more info.
    Teacher’s Lounge

    1. Thank you so much! It's not quite where I want it to be but it's slowly getting there. I filled out your form and donated! Thank you for hosting for such a great cause! :)


  2. Don't lose your opportunity to spent more time with your family. Just give your writing tasks for, they'll do theirs best. I know, because I use it regulary.

  3. Thank you for the great book Suzanne. This looks like it will definitely have to go in my library! I like how you mentioned your students questioned themselves because they are so used to relating questioning/ further investigation with a wrong answer. I try to combat this by using discussions and allowing students to "teach" the other students how to get an answer or to "show what you know" and allowing the students to explain reasoning rather than defend themselves or an answer.

    Thank you again for this wonderful resource!