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Ideas for maths lesson starters

Updated on December 13, 2015

Maths lesson starters

Over the years, I have collected together many different ideas for lesson starters across the different maths topics. Some of these starters are related to particular topics, some are number practice, some are just great little puzzles or sheets to get a class in and settled to work with. On this lens, I am going to share some of these ideas with you and give you links to find some more great starters.

Image used is my own from www.doingmaths.co.uk

Multiplication grid starter
Multiplication grid starter

Times table practice

This is a great starter to do when you need something in a hurry as it requires no preparation. Simply draw a 4x4 grid on the board, put a multiplication symbol in the top left and then fill in the rest of the top row and left column with any numbers from 1-12. The pupils then need to fill in the remaining squares by multiplying the number at the top of the square's column by the number at the far left of its row.

Simple, quick and easy, this starter works especially well once the pupils have seen it a couple of times as they soon get used to what is required and can get on with it quickly. It's great times table practice and can be made trickier by missing out one of the edge numbers and filling in one of the central numbers instead, to allow for a bit of division practice.

Alternatively, I've set up an excel spreadsheet from which I can print out multiple copies of the same grid so they are ready on desks as the class enters.

Image is my own.

Maths Starters books on Amazon

Sometimes you need a bit of inspiration. I especially love the Red Hot Starters book and regularly use ideas from it.

Letts Red Hot Starters - Maths (Letts 101 Red Hot Starters)
Letts Red Hot Starters - Maths (Letts 101 Red Hot Starters)

As the title suggests, 101 starters along with recommended year groups for each activity. Activities are indexed by topic as well.

 
Quadrilateral wordsearch
Quadrilateral wordsearch

Wordsearches

Some schools I have visited don't like this one, but in the right circumstances a maths-based word search can make a fantastic start to a lesson. In my first year in teaching I had a difficult group who I really struggled to get started in the lesson, so it was recommended to me that I had something accessible on their desks each lesson ready for when they came in. That way, each pupil knew they were to come in, sit down and get straight on with their work. Word searches were one of the activities I used.

Word searches are great for vocabulary practice as well. For example, you could do a polygon word search and ask each child to sketch the shape as they find it in the grid. You could do similar things with circle words such as arc, diameter, chord etc. or many other things.

There are many places on the internet where you can make word searches. Just Google 'word search maker' and choose the one you like. They're extremely easy to use and usually allow you save a pdf version to your computer when you have finished.

Image is my own word search I made.

Riddles

A riddle can be a great way to get a class thinking and warm their brains up ready for a great maths lesson. I often use these to encourage thinking outside of the box, but beware, it can be tempting to spend a long time allowing the class to think the riddle through. Make sure you are strict with your timings.

Here's an example of a riddle I've used in class:

You are trying to make 3 slices of toast under the grill.

Your grill can only take 2 slices at a time and only toasts one side at a time.

If it takes 30 seconds to toast one side and moving a slice takes no time at all, how quickly can you toast all three slices on both sides?

Hint: It takes less than 120 seconds.

I love this one, classes are always adamant that it is 120 seconds. I add the hint to the bottom as it gets tedious repeatedly saying "no, it's less than 120 seconds".

If anybody thinks they know the answer, you are welcome to put your guess in the comments module at the bottom of the page.

Sudoku
Sudoku

Puzzles

I have a lot of puzzle books ready for some quick photocopying for a starter. Just like the wordsearches, these are great activities to get a class in a settled with as they are easily accessible, but require enough thought to be worthwhile and to get the pupils thinking.

There are a lot of puzzle books available out there. I regularly use Sudoku (either the traditional 1-9 or the easier 1-6 grids) or puzzles from a Mensa book that I have. It's also easy enough to find free, printable puzzles on the internet.

Photo Courtesy of Welt-der-Form - wikimedia commons

Puzzle books on Amazon

Value Sudoku 1.0: Everything Edition - 1000 puzzles at 4 difficulty levels
Value Sudoku 1.0: Everything Edition - 1000 puzzles at 4 difficulty levels

Sudoku: Everybody knows the basics, although I sometimes find full size Sudoku to be too difficult for a lot of kids.

 
Mensa 365 Brain Puzzlers 2013 Page-A-Day Calendar
Mensa 365 Brain Puzzlers 2013 Page-A-Day Calendar

Some quick Mensa style challenges to get the brain going.

 
Brain Games for Kids #1 (Brain Games Kids)
Brain Games for Kids #1 (Brain Games Kids)

Brain games are always a great way to start a maths lesson.

 

Topic specific starters

The starters I have mentioned on this page are all quick, easily done starters that are easy to pull out of the hat during that frantic few seconds between one class leaving your room and the next class arriving.

However, it is generally good practice to have a starter related to the topic you are doing.

I very often have several reasonably simple questions up on the board to remind pupils what we have been doing and to test how much they have remembered. As with the other starters on this lens, these are easy enough to be quickly accessible and to get pupils in and working. but challenging enough to get pupils thinking. I generally end with a question to lead pupils into the current lesson's idea and get them thinking for themselves on how to progress.

For example, for a lesson on finding averages from a frequency table, I would have a list of numbers on the board and ask the pupils to find the mean, median, mode and range of the list. This gets them remembering the different averages and practising their use.

The final question would be a very simple frequency table and pupils would be asked to find the averages and range. I make the pupils aware that this is new and they shouldn't panic if they find it difficult, but many pupils relish the challenge of pushing themselves and showing off that they understand more difficult problems.

Use a quiz from Sporcle.com

My brother introduced me to this website and I suddenly became hooked. It's a collection of topic based lists where you are given a set amount of time to fill in as much of the list as possible. For example, can you name all 50 US states in 10 minutes, or the 200 most mentioned Harry Potter characters in 20 minutes.

This can also be used effectively in maths lessons. Just search maths, or even a particular topics and see what quizzes come up. In one I found, you must name the Least Common Multiple of 36 sets of numbers in just 2 minutes. Difficult, but the timer counting down gives it that extra edge of excitement. You could even give it a go yourself and challenge your students to beat your time.

If you are worried about getting your class too overexcited with this one, it could also make a great plenary.

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    • David3142 profile image
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      David3142 4 years ago

      @TanoCalvenoa: Thank you for the comment and the Squidlike. They're hugely appreciated.

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      TanoCalvenoa 4 years ago

      This lens makes it obvious you're a math teacher. Very good for kids who need practice.