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Oral and Mental Starters. A Must for any Teacher.

Updated on October 9, 2014
Inspire us please
Inspire us please | Source

What are the benefits of an oral and mental starter?

It is well known that starting any sort of lesson can be challenging when children are tired, hungry, distracted, or just not ready, therefore the 'oral and mental starter' is the perfect way to switch their brains on as well as yours.

The idea of the oral and mental starter is to tread on known territory rather then introducing new concepts. It is designed to fit within all the children's capabilities (where possible) and yet still be challenging enough to make them think. There should be some slight competitive element.

Last of all, it should be FUN!

How long should the oral and mental starter take?

Ideally it should last no longer than 5-10 minutes and should be easy to tidy up (e.g. a packet of loop cards, a soft ball etc)

Simplicity is the key

You may find some very complicated oral and mental starters out there that require many resources. Unless you're going to re-use them over your teaching career, they may well not be worth doing. Your school probably have plenty of resources, not just in the maths cupboard (large foamy dice, cards, shapes, sorting circles.) But in the PE cupboard too.

The incredible ball!

With a foamy ball, children can have tremendous fun reciting tables, or number patterns, adding 2 each time, doubling or halving numbers as the ball is passed around a circle, either with one child in the middle passing it back and forth or in a complete circle. For even more fun and to make sure the children really are awake, try adding another ball. It always seems to result in a lot of laughter as well as the competitive spirits being raised!

Loop games

Very simple to make. (print out and laminate, then cut out the cards) The best way is to make several different loop games of the same theme so as to differentiate for your class. A loop game should have 1 card per child. Each child has an answer on top of their card followed by a question. The child gives their answer to the previous question, then puts their question to the class. The only problem with this game is that the children have to speak up so that everyone can hear their question. Also it is best to ensure the loop game is easier rather than more difficult, so the loop works quickly and effectively.


A brilliant invention and it allows children particular ownership over their maths. You can challenge children with a sum (of whichever area you are covering) then they can write down their answer. On the command of 'show me' you can see what they have written. nb position your teaching assistant near to the LA children so that she can guide them where necessary. You can challenge your higher ability children by asking them to show how they worked out the answer, or to show the next step in a pattern.When teaching about time, money or shape, whiteboards are invaluable as children can show their understanding very visually and it enables you as the teacher to immediately pinpoint which children are struggling so that you can help them later. Only pitfall with whiteboards is that children do like to doodle on them.

Get up and go

This is where children have to leave their places and find a partner, this can be used in all sorts of things from fractions finding a whole (2 halves get together, 3 thirds etc) to children finding their number bond to make 10 (number 4 has to find number 6) Children can have more partners than one which can lead to further discussion.

For teaching a topic such as 'direction' you can stick up a N, S E W on the 4 walls of the classroom and teach children about quarter turns, half turns etc...(which direction are we facing now?)

Number fans

A brilliant invention. You can adapt them according to your theme. E.g having a decimal point, or putting in fractions or multiples of one hundred. See attached a photocopiable. You can simply tipp-ex out the numbers and add your own, they're a bit fiddley when making a classload, but well worth it if you make them able to withstand small fingers!

Photocopy the fans, and either laminate them or glue them on to thin card. Children love colouring and sticking, so it can be an activity for the children during a spare few minutes.



The possibilities are endless! Simply use the whiteboards, or laminate some premade bingo boards and let the children score out their answers as they get them. (some ideas could be rolling two large dice and add up the numbers, the children have written 6 numbers in their bingo board from 1-12, the first child to get all their numbers as the answers wins. I cannot give justice to all the possibilites here, but please ask for more ideas on the comments section, I'd be happy to help!


There are simply hundreds of very good websites out there than are continually being updated and improved. I got a lot of use out of these two, but there really are plenty more, it is well worth spending a sunday afternoon searching for some good ones.

I hope my article has been useful, whether you are a trainee teacher, teaching assisstant, teacher, or just interested! There are so many activities to choose from and many can be adapted easily to meet the needs of your class. Having said all that, enthusiasm is contagious and it is extremely important that YOU are, so as to get the maximum benefit from these exercises. Brain gym is another good way but that really needs a separate hub!



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