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Maths and Numeracy Lesson Starter Activities

Updated on November 18, 2015

Lesson Planning - Making A Good Start

Maths Lesson Starters

One of the keys to successfully teaching a lesson is the type of lesson activity you use. Maths games for kids are often a great idea, BUT . . . . . only if they are the right type of activity, used in the right way. A key part of your lesson plan should be the way that you start and end the lesson. For sure, we are all chasing the ‘maths is fun’ concept but the lesson activity has to be well thought out.

In this article, I am going to give you some ideas that I have found to be very simple and yet, extremely effective in creating either a good start to a lesson, or a good lesson in itself.

I hope you will find that the teaching resources and some of the numeracy maths games I am about to share with you will give you a step up on the ladder towards adding that little bit of extra content to your maths lessons.

Even if you are not a maths teacher, you could still use these lesson activities to either start or finish a lesson in almost any subject.

One particularly key aspect now is demonstrating cross curricular numeracy and I hope that, even if you teach a language, a humanities subject, a practical subject or a creative subject, you will find these resources and ideas to be useful.

Some Maths and Numeracy Starter Ideas and Links

1. How many squares can you see?

On the IWB or just an ordinary white board, draw a square and sub divide it into a series of smaller squares in a 5 x 5 arrangement.

The questions is, “How many squares can you see?”

Pupils will, very quickly, say the answer is 25. Then, when that doesn’t work, they will say 26, to include the big square around the outside.

This is then followed by a further series of guesses.

Ask them “What is a square?” to prompt some further thought.

Eventually someone will come up with the correct answer (have you got it yet?) which is 55.

This activity can be an extremely basic one or it can lead to the introduction of the sum of consecutive squares (5² + 4² + 3² + 2² + 1²) = (25 + 16 + 9 + 4 + 1)

If you use this at the end of a lesson, say about 5 minutes before clearing away, it makes a great investigative homework activity which can be reviewed at the start of next lesson.

2. Alphabet Algebra

Create a powerpoint slide with the letters of the alphabet on it and next to (or undserneath) each letter put its value (A = 1, B = 2 and so on)

I use this in one of 2 ways (usually) although there is a whole host of ways it can be used.

Method 1

Give the pupils a set time, say 10 minutes, to find the word (or you could allow a phrase) that has the biggest value. I use ABBA, which has a value of 6, to illustrate how the activity works.

At the end of the allowed time, I ask if anyone has a value greater than 100? 110? And so on

Method 2

I pick 3 pupils and ask them their favourite subject (excluding Maths) and write those 3 subjects on the board. I then ask 3 different students for a number, between 10 and 50, then between 50 and 100 and finally between 100 and 150. I place a number next to the subject, so maybe we get:

English 34

PE 78

Art 109

The pupils then have 10 minutes to see if they can find a subject specific word for each subject that is exactly the value next to the subject.

Some pupils work on one subject for the whole 10 minutes in order to try and achieve the exact target figure, whilst others try to get as close as they can to each one, in 10 minutes.

You could also use the same activity with the last topic you taught, or seasonal variations (a Christmas word, and Olympics word, a summer holiday word and so on)

At the end of the activity I will ask the class what specific type of maths was involved in the activity. Eventually I will get “algebra” which gives me the opportunity to formalise things a little by showing that ABBA = 6 can be expressed as 2A + 2B = 6 and allows me, in quite a seamless way, to discuss algebraic substitution!

3. The answer is . . . . .

This one is a doddle!

Just think of a number, say 9, and then the class have 5 minutes to think of as many questions as possible that produce that answer!

I encourage questions that have more than one stage, such as 1 + 2 x 4, or 5² - 4²

It is a great activity to encourage decimals, too (what is 0.09 x 100)

I also encourage more ‘lateral’ thinking: “A pentagon plus a quadrilateral”

Another type of ‘answer’ involves shape. So, the answer is “A square” now, what was the question?

4. Mental maths tests

I use mental maths tests quite often. They are a valuable and essential part of a pupil’s maths skill base and they are very simple to write.

1. If 3b + 2 = 17, what is the value of b? (5)

2. Spell the word hexagon

3. Write 60% as a decimal (0.6)

4. If 3 pens cost £1.20, how much will 10 pens cost? (£4)

5. 2 of the angles in a triangle are 50⁰ and 65⁰ what size is the 3rd angle? (65⁰)

6. What is the name of the special triangle in question 5? (isosceles)

7. The difference between my number and 10 is 15. What could my number be? (-5 or 25)

8. How many quarters are there in 2 ½ ? (10)

9. Spell the word fraction

10. What is the next square number after 49? (64)

You will notice 2 spellings in there. The reason for that is, firstly, I believe that pupils should at least attempt to spell subject specific words correctly.

If a pupil has poor literacy skills, then fair enough, they may struggle. However, it does no harm for pupils to make an effort though.

But one of the main reasons for including spellings is that, once we have established how we should spell the word, I ask the crucial question:

“Hand up if you can tell me anything about that word, please”

This then allows me to delve deeper into mathematical understanding of key concepts and ideas.

5. A simple BODMAS (or BIDMAS) starter

On the board, you write about 5 questions that require the correct order of operations to be used:

5 x 3 + 2

15 - 7 x 2

20 - 2 x 20

4 + 6 squared

16 + 14 x 2

I am fairly limited to what I can do on here, as the range of symbols at my disposal is virtually non existent! But I am sure you get the general idea!

The purpose is self-evident! It allows you to explore their misconceptions about the order of operations.

As part of the activity, to extend it, you can always ask pupils, once they have finished this and before the time runs out, to design some of their own

6. Something is missing

I usually print this out onto an activity sheet. Like most of the other activities in this article, it is one which can be ready for them when they enter the room, so that they can start straight away.

The idea behind the activity is for them to find the missing word in each sentence by solving the maths problem and then using the number references at the end.

a = 3 b = 5 c = 10

1) Pythagoras was a mathematician who discovered a formula which works with b²

2) Numbers which are multiplied by themselves are called 2a + 3b

3) A six sided shape is called a c² - b²

4) The distance all the way across a circle is called its 25 ÷ 2.5

5) A shape with 5 sides is a 3a + 2b + c

6) A number which divides exactly into another number is called a c – b - a

7) The steepness of a line is called its 20% of 60

8) 400 is a (c + b) ÷ a of 5

9) The distance all the way around a shape is called 5a + b

10) Information is called 91 ÷ 13

Solutions to choose from

21 = square numbers 29 = pentagon 25 = triangles

35 = slope 50 = divider 6 = circles

7 = data 5 = multiple 12 = gradient

20 = perimeter 75 = hexagon 2 = factor

10 = diameter 16 = even

7. Fizz Buzz

Ever come across this one before?

If you have then, move on to the next activity but if Fizz Buzz is new to you, read on!

Get all the pupils to stand.

You select 2 multiplication tables (to start with 3 and 5 are easiest).

A number in the 3 times table is fizz

A number in the 5 times table is buzz

A number in both tables is fizz buzz

Start at the front and the class simply count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on.

However . . . . . . .

Instead of saying 3, they have to say fizz etc . . so the activity should go:

1 . . .2 . . fizz . . .4 . . .buzz . . .fizz . . . 7 . . .8 . . .fizz . . .buzz . . . 11 . . . .fizz . . . . 13 . . . .14 . . . .fizz buzz

As the pupils make a mistake and say the number, instead of fizz, buzz or fizz buzz (or if they take more than about 5 seconds) they have to sit down. The winner is the last one standing!

8. Where is The Maths in That?

Ok, this one can be made up from just about anything.

A lot of people who use this activity will put a picture on the board, say, of a suspension bridge or an aeroplane or a rose petal. You can use just about anything.

The thing is, you are trying to get your pupils to see the maths that is all around us, every single day.

One very good way that I saw this used, which I then developed into a series of lessons, was to get 3 supermarket till receipts. Paste them onto a sheet of A4 paper and then make a class set of copies.

Hand them out and, as a 10 minute starter, ask them . . .

Where is the maths in that?”

When I did this, I got the pupils to make a list of the maths in their exercise book and then collated all their suggestions.

We then turned this into a series of 2 or 3 lessons.

The list of ideas included:

· Money

· Decimals

· Weight

· Length

· Adding

· Subtracting

· Multiplying

I think they came up with about 30 different bits of maths in total.

For the series of lessons, we looked at:

Categorizing data


Producing charts and graphs

Value for money

It was a great way to start a lesson and developed into a series of lessons that the pupils really enjoyed and which was self-differentiating.

9. Bingo

Give each pupil a piece of paper. They divide the paper into 8 and place a number between 1 and 20 in the 8 sections.

You then give questions (rather like a mental test). If the answer is a number on their ‘bingo card’ they cross it off.

First one to get all 8 is the winner!

10. Maths Starter of the Day

Click on this Maths Starter Of The Day hyperlink and it will take you to a website that you might find useful, fun and which may just give you loads of ideas of your own!

There, I hope this has been of some use to you. Maybe you have gained some ideas from this article that you can use or adapt into your own creations!

This Link will take you to my article on Teaching For Beginners

And this link will take you to My Maths Bookstore

Please, forward thisarticle on, if you found it useful and maybe, even, vote it up!

Good luck and if you have any good ideas of your own (or if you find that some of these ideas work) leave some comments for us all to share!


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    • saif113sb profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting hub.


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