At the start of the school year, teachers tend to give a lot of thought to how they will make a positive start to the year with their classes: establishing new routines, setting up an attractive and supportive classroom environment, building relationships with children. All of these help to set the tone for the year ahead.
In each new maths lesson, we have the opportunity right at the start of the lesson to set the tone for the whole lesson by the way we start it. There was a very useful and interesting discussion about lesson starters on twitter yesterday evening on the NCETM initiated #mathscpdchat. Lots of different ideas and resources were shared but all agreed that making a positive start to the lesson was crucial. I’m a great believer in having something ready for the children to do as soon as the lesson starts. That way, children get the message that we’re here to work and make the most of every second of lesson time. The actual content of the starter will very much depend on what we are using it for.
Why have a starter activity?
In the discussion yesterday, someone made the very good point that we don’t have to have a starter at all. Sometimes it might be appropriate to move straight into the content of the lesson – finishing off work from the last lesson or starting to explore an open ended challenge that will last for the whole lesson time, for instance. However, I’d guess that mostly teachers will want to have a starter for most lessons and so, before we reach for our tried and tested bank of staple activities, we need to ask ourselves just what the starter is for. There are a number of very valid reasons for using a starter activity and we need to choose an activity that is appropriate to our aim. Here are a number of possible reasons for using starters and some suggestions of activities that might be used for each.
Hooking students in
Our starter can be a way of engaging children’s interest. Puzzles and challenges can be good for this. The 7puzzle site provides a new number challenge every day and it’s worth looking through the archives as some puzzles are much more challenging for others and could be aimed at different age groups or ability levels. The Chris Moyles quiz show used maths challenges which I’ve found have been popular with KS2 children and there is a bank of them here, although I’d recommend watching them beforehand to check the content is entirely suitable for the age group. Sometimes, just an image on the board which gives something to think about can excite interest. I particularly like the examples of bad maths here. In the twitter discussion yesterday, @PGCEmartin suggested using short video clips or web pages of news and sports items and asking mathematical questions about them.
Connecting with previous learning
This might be by recapping a skill learned in the last lesson, giving time to respond to feedback in books or getting children to explain a concept or skill recently taught. Building up a learning wall which is kept current can help with making these connections too.
A mental ‘warm-up’
All kinds of activities can be used for this. There are lots of sources of interactive games that can be used on the IWB, including those at mathsframe or Crickweb. Number chains can draw on a range of mental maths skills. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’m also a big fan of having a structured programme of daily counting.
Skills practise or skills building
This very much overlaps with the mental ‘warm up’ idea and similar activities can be used but it’s worth thinking about which particular skills need building up by your group. I’ve used tables practice sheets, for instance with children working on the times table that they’re currently learning, and a similar idea could be used for number bonds and all sorts of calculation skills. I’ve used maths minutes which are available for different primary age groups and found that children respond well to them. Target boards like these can be used in lots of different ways and it’s worth building up a bank of them. Another idea is to have a number of the day which can be done either by using a permanent display or by means of a worksheet. The number can be changed every day and the instructions varied to suit different ability levels.
Particularly as end of key stage tests or end of year assessments draw near, it can be good to choose activities that help children revise previously learned concepts and skills. Sites like the BBC Revisewise or Education City (if your school has a subscription) can be good for this. Games like ‘Who wants to be a mathionaire’ can also be used.
Introduction to the lesson content
Sometimes, you might want to use the starter to introduce the main topic in some way. I love this video for introducing division, for instance. A simple idea suggested by @TheMathsMagpie yesterday was to have cards with key questions on one side and the answers on the other, which children could use to test each other.
Finding starters online
In the discussion yesterday, we agreed that it’s important to vary the kinds of starters we use. However, it’s always good to have a trusty source of starter activities which we can fall back on. I’ve already mentions 7puzzleblog, Crickweb and mathsframe. Nrich has some suggestions for starters on its excellent site. Other good sites are the Transum Starter of the day site and the Flash Maths site, which is aimed at secondary but has several activities which would be suitable for KS2. Another site mentioned in yesterday’s discussion which I hadn’t come across before was A+click which looks very useful.
As a quick reference, I’ve put together a pinterest board of starter ideas which contains links to most of the sites I’ve mentioned and some others too.