Using MLRs in Virtual Instruction

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

Now that schools have started the year, this is the time of year where getting students to more deeply engage with the content becomes the higher priority. As we continue to navigate this global pandemic, many classrooms are still online fully or in a hybrid way - which extends the conversation of "how do I do this online?"

The context of our problem is compounded with what we know is good content area teaching, like in math with the Math Language Routines, or MLRs, by Stanford.

Based in the best practices created from good online teaching before COVID, one of my favorites is using the The SAMR Model for Tech Integration (forgive me for not knowing where SAMR originated; I've encountered it in so many different iterations over the years and the linked blog post is a clear definition of how it can be used now). What I've created below is a SAMR Model for Tech Integration for the Math Language Routines, used across the nation in schools and math curriculums. Check out the image below to see how this has a similar feel while being laser focused on the following questions related to student-centered math pedagogy.

  • How can virtual learning help students access their own and other's math thinking more often and more deeply?

  • How can teachers uncover student math thinking in order to adjust instruction?

  • How can virtual learning expand what I can see about individual students' math thinking?

In the context of different iterations and combinations of the aspects of distance learning, we provided examples of how the MLR can be accomplished using SAMR separated first into synchronous and asynchronous ideas then the levels of SAMR. Here's what we define has synchronous and asynchronous.

Educators currently use a lot of digital tools, and some are indicated by name in the examples below. Here's a list of examples of tools that could be helpful if not explicitly named or ones you have access to that could be used instead.

Here's a helpful spreadsheet of the below for your reference as well.

Let's get to it!

MLR1: Stronger and Clearer Each Time

Purpose: To give students a piece of mathematical writing that is not their own to analyze, reflect on, and develop.


  • Substitution: Model with a selected student (warm call) how one could question another during the protocol. Then send students to breakout rooms in pairs to share their responses. Use breakout rooms for student pairings.

  • Augmentation: In the whole group, give students time to independently craft a first draft of their response, then send them into breakout rooms to share and edit their second drafts. Remain in the main room until all students have been paired, then start a five minute timer. Have the students return to the main room when the time is up, and start the process again.

  • Modification: When in synchronous breakout rooms, have students type their answers in a class-wide shared document to use the comment feature about why they updated their response.

  • Redefinition: Direct students to make connections between other students' 2nd drafts by creating a summary sentence about what is the same between everyone's responses after viewing all of the 2nd drafts in a class-wide virtual document.


  • Substitution: Have students submit an example of their thoughts, then respond to questions you provide (as a set) to make their responses stronger. Students get credit for a first draft, then an updated second draft based on responses to the question(s) you provide.

  • Augmentation: Use a discussion board to have students submit their 2nd draft as well as ask a question in response to another post. Then when a student receives a post, the assignment is completed when the student responds to the question posted under their original post with and edited version of their original post.

  • Modification: Tell students to students compare and contrast the concepts in their first draft statements in a class-wide shared document with other students' thoughts or an exemplar response.

  • Redefinition: With an example video, prompt students to create a video outlining the difference between their first response and their second response, focusing on why or how their understanding changed.

MLR2: Collect & Display

Purpose: To capture students’ oral words and phrases into a stable, collective reference.


  • Substitution: Post example work in a discussion board, Google Doc, or slideshow for students to view on a shared screen while the teacher explains the connections between the representations and the concepts.

  • Augmentation: Have students annotate on the screen what is the same or different between their representations and the example representation screen-shared by the teacher.

  • Modification: Ask students to volunteer to show and explain their own work using screen-share.