An Engaging Activation Routine for Secondary Math Students


As a mathematics educator, I’m always looking for ways to engage my students and provide them with multiple entry points to the material they are learning. I have always believed that the first 5-10 minutes of class set the tone for the rest of the lesson. During that time I also feel it’s of critical importance for our learners to be able to contribute to class discussion. So, I spent some time exploring different activation routines I could use with my students and I came across a fun “Same But Different” activity/routine by Dr. Sue Looney.  For the activity, students are presented with a picture where two images are being compared. The question to ask is “How are these the same but different?”

As we were starting our unit of polar coordinates in precalculus, I decided to use the routine to review some of the properties of the sine and cosine functions. Students had a lot to share and once again, it did not feel like there was a unique solution/response. 


Later on, once students had practiced polar graphing, I gave them another routine comparing polar with rectangular. It was such an effective way to make connections and to review important vocabulary that they needed. Once again, students were very open to sharing their thoughts in a safe environment.


After I noticed how effective it was with my precalculus students at Horace Greeley High School, I decided to give it a try with my calculus students at Lehman College. My students at Lehman were also very open about sharing their ideas and got to make connections between multiple differentiation rules and when they should be used.

In conclusion, I believe the “Same But Different” routine can be very useful in upper-level math classes. So far, I have used it for many different purposes which include: review, compare/contrast, make connections, scaffold the lesson, and/or explore a different approach. I noticed that the routine helps create a very safe and welcoming environment where students are very open to sharing their ideas. Using Same But Different also avoids a single student (or group of students) dominating the conversation.  I learned that it really sets the stage for many voices to be heard. I plan on continuing using Same But Different with my students and learning more.

I really hope you find these ideas helpful and are able to hopefully incorporate them with your students. I would love to hear/see how you are using Same But Different in your classes. 

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About the Author

Chrissy Talbot

Elementary School Teacher