Math Wheels for Note-taking?

How to Help Easily Distracted Students by Using Math Wheels

Help keep your easily distracted students engaged in learning with these tips and tricks using math wheels.

As a teacher, you already know just how fast-paced the curriculum is. The demands placed on teachers and students seem to grow every year. With skills building on skills and a curriculum that requires you to keep moving, it doesn’t take long for a student to start falling behind. It’s our job, as teachers, to do whatever we can to keep that from happening. Today we are going to talk about just that and how it applies to our easily distracted students.

You know who I’m talking about! Chances are those words brought at least one name to mind. We all have them so it just makes sense that we spend a little time talking about simple things we can do to help them.

Over the years, I have found that using math wheels has been an extremely valuable tool for my easily distracted students. Today we are going to talk about easy ways to use math wheels to minimize distractibility.

What Are Math Wheels?

Imagine stepping into a world where math notes are anything but boring. That’s where math wheels come in! They’re not just your run-of-the-mill note-taking method. They’re a game-changer for making math approachable for your students, even those easily distracted students.

Math wheels are designed to revolutionize the way your students engage with math concepts. They’re graphic organizers with a twist, featuring a wheel-like structure divided into note-taking sections. Inside each section, your students will have access to simple, straightforward definitions or explanations for each step of the math concept. Each section holds a couple of examples to show the steps in action. Your students have additional practice problems surrounding the wheel. As they tackle these problems, they’re reinforcing their understanding of key concepts in a hands-on way.

Math wheels are a hands-on, creative way to take math notes and learn and review key math concepts in a way that makes it engaging and entertaining for all of your students, even your easily distracted students.

Then, they have a chance to unleash their creativity. They can use colors, drawings, and doodles to transform their notes into vibrant works of art. It’s about creating visual cues that make learning stick for the targeted math skill.

Math wheels aren’t just a note-taking tool. They’re also a reference tool that can be utilized all year long. They encourage students to think creatively, engage with the material, and take ownership of their learning journey. With math wheels, math class goes from dull to dynamic in no time!

To learn even more about the benefits of using math wheels with your students, explore my math note-taking page.

Strategies to Engage Easily Distracted Students With the Math Wheel

Listen, I get it. We all have those students who seem to have a built-in radar for distractions. Sometimes, you get to a point where you feel a bit helpless or unsure of what to do. You might have even read the first section of this post and were like nope, not for my group this year. But rest assured, there are strategies you can test out that will help you to use math wheels even with your easily distracted students!

Make the Math Wheel Interactive

First things first: Keep things interactive and hands-on. For easily distracted students, sitting still and staring at a textbook can feel like torture. With math wheels, they can get their hands dirty (figuratively speaking, of course) by doodling, coloring, and solving problems in a visually engaging way.

I have my students volunteer to come up to the board to help them get out of their seats. Other times, we pull out the dry-erase markers and solve the problems right on their desk. Talk about engagement – permission to write on the desk will get even the most distracted student engaged. I also have them turn and work with a partner before we go over the problem together.

Whatever you choose, by adding in some variety of interactivity you will help keep all students engaged and focused.

Chunk the Information for Easily Distracted Students

Next up, let’s talk about breaking it down. Sometimes, the sheer amount of information for a specific math concept can be overwhelming! My students tend to zero in on all the steps or vocabulary and immediately decide they can’t do it. That’s why I love using math wheels with them! The math wheels take that daunting list of steps and organize each step into a section of the wheel. The language is simple, no fancy words. The concept is then broken down one step at a time.

Math wheels naturally break the material up into bite-size chunks of information. By helping our students find practical ways to focus on one section at a time, we help them eliminate the overwhelm that comes with all the things.

For some of my students, seeing the sections helps them to see how many more until they’re finished. It’s almost like checking off an item on a to-do list for them. I have other students who still become overwhelmed or want to skip around to other sections. For them, I have them take a piece of paper and cover the majority of the math wheel. Instead of all the sections, they may only see one or two at a time. This helps them focus on the step we are on as a class.

Math wheels naturally break the material up into bite-size chunks of information. By helping our students find practical ways to focus on one section at a time, we help them eliminate the overwhelm that comes with all.the.things! Encourage students to focus on one section of the wheel at a time, slowly working their way around. It’s like tackling a big task by breaking it into smaller, more manageable chunks.

Flexibility Is Key

As educators, we’ll never forget the word flexibility. We know not every student learns at the same pace, and that’s okay! When it comes to easily distracted students, flexibility becomes even more crucial. These students in our classrooms may require a bit more time to process information or find it challenging to maintain focus for extended periods. And that’s where flexibility comes in handy.

By giving our easily distracted students the freedom to work at their own speed, we empower them to take control of their learning journey. For some, this might mean providing extra time to digest the concept by allowing them to dive deeper into concepts at a pace that feels comfortable for them. For others, it could involve incorporating quick bursts of activity followed by short breaks to keep their energy levels up and their minds engaged. Middle schoolers are not too old for brain breaks, whether it be a funny dance video, guided meditation, or a walk to get a drink.

Make It a Game to Engage Easily Distracted Students

I try to incorporate games and challenges into math wheel activities, especially at those times when students are dragging. When students are tired (be it the end of the day, week, or even the school year) they are more likely to fall to those distractions. By adding some game-like elements to the lesson, we can up the energy level and keep them focused.

Once we go over the steps and complete a practice problem or two together, I turn solving problems into a race against the clock or a friendly competition between students. A little competition never hurt anyone, nor a small treat like a Jolly Rancher (if allowed) to amp up the engagement and motivation. By adding an element of fun and friendly rivalry, you’ll be able to keep your easily distracted students on track.

Positive Reinforcement Goes a Long Way

Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement. My goal each year is to create a safe environment in a subject area that is often feared or looked down upon as boring. I want my students to be excited or at least not dread walking into my classroom. So, I make sure to celebrate small victories. I always offer words of encouragement, whether it be while solving a math problem or for an event outside of the classroom.

Most importantly, I always tell my students I don’t expect perfection. I highlight progress whenever I can to help my students see that with practice, they can start to better understand and apply the math concepts. When I see them doing something well, I acknowledge them. A lot of the time, students who struggle to stay on task are given a reputation. By middle school, they are so aware of it that they may not care as much about their work. So, for me, when I build up their confidence and self-esteem, it makes all the difference in keeping easily distracted students engaged and motivated to succeed.

Easily Distracted Students and Slower-Working Students Still Benefit From Math Wheels

Navigating the diverse learning needs of our students can feel like a daunting task at times. But prepared with the right strategies and tools, such as math wheels, we can create an environment where all students thrive.

By embracing flexibility, making learning interactive, and providing support tailored to individual needs, we can empower both easily distracted students and slower workers to succeed. Let’s continue to innovate, adapt, and support each and every student on their unique learning journey. Together, we can make math class engaging and approachable. Here’s to colorful and successful learning experiences ahead!

Additional Math Wheel Resources

Looking to learn more about math wheels? Below are helpful resources that show you examples and provide more information on how they’ll benefit your students!

Save for Later

Remember to save this post to your favorite math Pinterest board for ways math wheels can help your easily distracted students and slower-working students.


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



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