6 ways to get maths lessons off to a great start

Coming up with new and engaging maths starters can sometimes become a struggle, especially with the additional resources that need to be created, printed and organised for each lesson. Maths starters can be a great way to get your children ready to engage with the main learning activity. However, for those days when you would rather complete the maths starter without heaps of preparation, cutting and sticking, there are some fantastic ways to get children motivated with their number skills. Below are some ideas for getting maths off to a great start!

  1. Create maths movements

Getting moving is a great way for you students to stay active and learn at the same time. By encouraging children to create their own actions in relation to different calculations, they develop greater ownership over their learning and the experience becomes more memorable. Creating actions as a class is also a fantastic way to get everybody involved, preventing those passive learners from sinking into the background. One interesting actions maths starter that I observed during my teacher training involved the whole class. They were all encouraged to pretend that they were on a bike ride and as they climbed different hills, they counted up in numbers and when they descended the hill, they counted down. Making up rhymes and creating an accompanying actions is also a way to make number facts memorable e.g. 6 + 4 knock on the door.

  1. Online Games

Why not explore some online interactive games? Your students will love the opportunity to play online maths games and participate in interactive problem solving. Although most interactive boards only allow for one child to answer a question at a time, the rest of the class can jot down their answers on mini whiteboards. Some engaging online maths websites include: https://www.topmarks.co.uk/maths-games/5-7-years/counting, http://www.ictgames.com/resources.html and http://www.mathplayground.com/games.html.

  1. Splat! Maths starter

For this maths starter, all you’ll need is a couple of fly swatters, a board pen and your classroom whiteboard. This game can be played with varied maths questions and different levels of difficult. Playing this game is great fun and gets all children involved in the competitive spirit. How do you play?

Draw six/eight squares on the board. You’ll need to draw two grids in the style of noughts and crosses.

Write your numbers inside the grid.

Your numbers can depend on the type of maths learning you would like to cover. For example, you could play this game with the 7 x tables. Inside the grid, you could write some of the answers. Then, split your class into two teams and for each question, choose a child from each time. Next, you’ll need to call out the question e.g. 5 x 7, and the child to swat the answer first wins the point. The team with the most points wins.

  1. Pass the maths ball

Another active maths starter game could include passing an object, such as a maths ball or dice with calculations. This is also a brilliant way for all children to feel engaged with an activity and an alternative way to keep your students on their toes. Passing a maths ball or dice around the class during the maths starter can help to kick off the maths lesson in a fun and enjoyable way.

  1. Maths Quizzes

There are plenty of amazing maths quizzes online that can help to engage children with their learning objectives. Putting children into teams or carrying out the quiz ad a whole class activity encourages children to help their team members to succeed in the game and with their maths skills.

  1. Maths Puzzles

Maths puzzles can be an engaging and hands-on starter for your students to get to grips with their maths topic. This is another great way to encourage children to work in pairs or as a team to solve the answers. Maths puzzles can serve as part of a great starter activity for any maths topic and can be differentiated to suit varying abilities. I’ve included some addition maths puzzles below. These puzzles are differentiated and colour coded, ranging from number bonds to 10 to challenging addition calculations, involving 3 digit numbers.

Addition tarsia front

Video Teaching Inspiration #1: Soar

Thinking Questions

How does the girl feel when her plane crashes? Make a note of some words to describe how she might be feeling.

0.56 Who do you think the purse belongs to? What do you think might be inside the purse?

Why does the little boy grab the pencil? How do you think he is feeling?

Pause video at 1.54: What could happen next? What would you do in a similar situation?

How did the girl help the boy?

What was the moral of the story?

Writing Ideas

Imagine you are the girl in the story. When you get home that evening, write a diary entry about what has happened in the day. Describe how you felt when the small aircraft crashed and how you helped the boy to fly again. Include as many feelings words and adjectives as you can.

Write a list of instructions on how to create the best flying aircraft. Remember to use excellent adverbs and include lots of detail!

Create a short play script to show what the characters might be saying to each other. Include stage directions, scene descriptions and lots of dialogue.

7 Ways to teach phonics: Making early reading fun!

For early years’ teachers, nothing is more rewarding than coaching children through their first steps towards reading fluency. Parents can equally experience the excitement and joy that comes from observing their children as they make greater progress with their reading abilities. For children aged between 4 – 5 years, it is also an important time to allow their curiosity to flourish and encourage them to explore their environment. By combining a mixture of fun, curiosity and reading strategies, children can develop an essential love for reading that will hopefully continue throughout the course of their lives. Below are some ideas for teaching phonics to early learners, combined with resources that you can download from my TPT store:

  1. Sensory activities

Sensory activities don’t always require a great deal of preparation. They can be put together readily and quickly, guaranteeing loads of fun and amusement for children during their independent activity time. Some ideas for sensory activities include: putting letters in water. Children can either fish the letters out with a net or their hands, say the sound and look for more! A great idea for a phonics activity with sand could be burying treasure coins in a sandpit. Children can dig to find the buried treasure and say the sound they have found. By introducing an element of play, children can explore, have fun and associate and an enormous amount of joy with early reading.

This is our time for playing

  1. Colouring the sound

Colouring is a great activity for children to engage with pencil control activities. There are loads of fun and creative colouring sheets to choose from. Children can choose their favourite characters or scenes and colour in the picture one section at a time. Each section can include a sound from the alphabet. The children can match the sounds with the colours and become more accustomed to their early sounds. This is also great for more advanced readers, as they can begin saying and colouring words. Below is an example of a sweet jar I’ve created. Each lolly pop has a sound. The children have to say the sound and colour the lolly pop the correct colour.

colour the sound

  1. Playing games

Playing board games is a fantastic way to encourage children to develop those early social skills as well as introducing sound activities. Playing games introduces a fun, competitive element. Teachers can play in a team with children in their class and encourage them to follow the rules of the game. There are loads of games to choose from, including matching card games and fun board games. I’ve included some of the games that my students have enjoyed playing, including a pirate phonics game, honeycomb game and traffic lights board game. Each game has varying levels of difficulty, giving very early readers a chance to shine and more fluent readers a bit of a challenge.

phonics pirate game front cover

  1. Online Phonics Learning

Children are increasingly technology savvy. They have access to all manner of technology, including apps, iPad, computers etc. Children respond incredibly well to interactive resources and enjoy fast paced learning styles that maintain their interest. By allowing 15 minutes to engage with an interactive game, children can continue to develop their reading fluency and enjoy much valued computer time. Some fantastic phonics sites that I’ve come across include: Phonics Play (http://www.phonicsplay.co.uk/Phase2Menu.htm), Top Marks (https://www.topmarks.co.uk/english-games/5-7-years/letters-and-sounds) and Education.com (https://www.education.com/games/phonological-awareness/).

  1. Cut and Paste Activities

One early skill that tends to get left behind is the simple action of cutting and pasting materials for school projects. Another great way to enjoy early reading is through activities that involve finding the correct sounds and putting them in the right order. Encouraging children to begin sounding out letters and spelling CVC words can give them a huge amount of confidence in their own reading ability. Sounding out letters and spelling words is great practice and an engaging activity for early learners.

phonics front page

  1. Explore your environment

Finding and sounding out letters doesn’t just have to happen on paper. Children have their classrooms, outdoor environments and beyond that with their parents to explore the outside world. Why not play ‘find the letter’ game? You could encourage your class or children to look for letters in everyday objects. Which letters can they spot? Could they make a list of their letters? This is a great way for children to begin exploring their environment further, using their phonics knowledge and practicing their writing skills.

  1. Find the object. Sort the object.

As well as looking for letters, children could also benefit from finding objects that start with a particular sound. If everybody is learning about the sound ‘s’, children could be detectives and walk around the classroom, looking for objects that start with the letter ‘s’. This could even be a great phonics independent activity for children. By leaving bowls out with different objects in each bowl, children can decide which sound each bowl represents or they could organise objects into the correct sounding letter.

These are just some of the ways that children can begin exploring their environment and develop a love for reading. Hopefully these tips and ideas can serve as some inspiration for teaching early reading strategies. If you are interested in any of the above resources, just click to visit my TPT and download your favourite product.


Creative Writing for children: Inspiring Reluctant Writers

Some children seem to naturally gravitate towards a love for writing. Creating stories in their heads, acting them out and writing them on paper is one of the joys of literacy for those children who love to share their literary gifts with their friends, teachers and parents. However, with a growing focus on exciting games, apps and all manner of technology to keep children entertained, it appears that simple pleasures, such as writing or imaginative play are becoming a thing of the past. In my humble opinion, this couldn’t be more true than for that category of young boys who thrive off of games like minecraft, racing car games and fast paced learning styles.

When working as teacher or with my private students as their tutor, the process of putting words onto paper can quickly become a painful experience. I do not want to heap just boys into this category, for fear of gender stereotypes. However, I have come across this issue more often than not with boys who couldn’t care less about your typical fairy tale story line.

In fact, I was once asked as a trainee teacher, when offering help to another teacher’s class, to work with three boys from her class outside the classroom so that they could re-write a rather gory piece of fiction. Each of them had written about conflict, explosions and general action packed storylines. Nothing short of what you could find on Netflix. Obviously, the boys had to re-write the whole story and take out all the gruesome parts as their plot line had somewhat veered off of the learning intention.

Even though the experience of writing has been a painful process, the boys I have taught are far from short of ideas. They have all had broad imaginations and could sometimes map out an exciting plot, but feel the boredom begin to set in when the prospect of writing it all down arises.

Perhaps working with such a prescriptive curriculum where 30 children must write about the same storyline, with slightly different characters or settings isn’t enough to inspire creativity amongst young writers. Creativity comes from a place of limitless possibilities and should empower children to think in all directions. With this in mind, I’ve put together 10 ways to inspire creative thinking and motivate reluctant writers:

  1. Act it out

Playing and acting has such an important role in the learning process. When working in reception, children are often filled with genuine joy at the prospect of playing and exploring their environment. Sadly, this occurs less and less as children move up the school into the upper years. However, acting out stories can still have a huge benefit for reluctant writers in the classroom. Being able to imagine and act out their storylines in this way can help some writers to formulate their plot before putting anything on paper.

  1. Why don’t they like writing?

What is it about writing that reluctant writer X wants to avoid at all costs? When working with children one on one, it’s easier to discover some of the beliefs that children have already formed about themselves in relation to writing. At a glance, reluctant writer X might protest, “It’s boring”, “What’s the point?” “I’m going to be a footballer anyway”. These are some of the reactions I’ve had from boys who have tried to divert, distract, anything other than writing their ideas down. But when spoken to one on one, the reality is that many young writers have already decided that they are no good at writing. Looking over their shoulder at the star writer in the class, they think it’s impossible to write as well as somebody else, so what’s the point? Whether your reluctant writer thinks that they’re not good enough or that it has to be perfect, there is almost always a reason as to why somebody has decided to give up at trying. It’s important to understand these issues better and find ways to support reluctant writers to believe in their own abilities and find a way to enjoy the process.

  1. Use creative prompts

Creative prompts are a great way to open the mind up to possibilities. By carving out some time at home to explore different learning prompts, children can exercise their creative thinking skills. Creative prompts can be used as a game. What if a dragon flew down from the sky and landed on this street? What would you do? What could the dragon look like? Rather than feeling the pressure to instantly start writing, children can use these prompts as a starting point to create stories in their minds and imagine the impossible. Creative writing prompts can be useful at home in spare moments or as an extra challenge at the end of a literacy lesson to stretch their creative thinking skills.

  1. Read more stories

“A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair” – Katrina Mayer.

Reading stories can widen their imaginations. Listening to stories, reading stories at home with parents or reading independently are all fantastic ways to ignite creativity. Asking questions and furthering children’s understanding of stories is a great way to get children thinking about their own. If the ending didn’t turn out as a hoped, how else could the story have gone? What do you think happens after the story has finished? Could you write the next part? By reading through different stories and seeing which genre appeals to different children, you are setting them up for writing success.

  1. Pass the story along

Playing games as a whole class is great way to take the pressure off one individual answering all the time and prevent passive learners. By playing a creative story game, you are taking the pressure off having a right answer. The reluctant writers in the room are creating stories without experiencing the resistance towards writing. Each child could say one word to contribute towards the story and as a class see where the story goes.

  1. Story in a box

Another idea to ignite creative story telling could be using props. Fill a box with unusual items. The items could relate to each other e.g. a magical theme with wands, hat, cards etc. As you reveal the items, the children can talk about how to relate all of the items together to make the story. Equally, the box could belong to somebody and as a class, everybody could work out who the box belonged to and why it was left behind.

  1. Take the pressure off writing

Perhaps some of the reluctance stems from a sense of competitive spirit. Whether tables are named by colours, shapes, authors etc., children have a way of working out which table is the top table and which table is the bottom table, even if some schools have begun to move away from such strict grouping. Children who are sensitive to where they are placed in the class might have already conceded to the possibility of getting any better. For a change, taking the pressure off of fantastic writers and putting more emphasis on great storytellers can put a spin on the priorities of learning. If a child is a reluctant writer, but can tell a story well, perhaps this merits just as much encouragement and praise.

  1. Forget about SPAG for a day

With the mounting pressure to make sure children can write effectively with accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar, the soul of writing is being drained out of the curriculum. Even though it’s hard to escape within mainstream teaching, perhaps make the creativity of a story, the plot line, interesting characters the focus of a piece of creative writing. When a child has put in their heart and soul into a piece of writing to receive feedback that they haven’t included a complex sentence or enough interesting openers, it’s demoralising and offends the creative spark in their writing. Indeed, it is vital to receive feedback and develop your writing style so that less and less errors are made. However, sometimes it might be beneficial to just put all of that grammar to one side and just focus on the storytelling.

  1. Empower children to decide for themselves

The creative process is different for everyone. Some children enjoy drawing their ideas whilst others prefer to plan their story in minute detail. By offering a one size fits all planning template to every member of the class, children are given limited options for their creative process. This isn’t meant to indulge children to draw for half an hour before any writing takes place, but instead could be a healthy 10 – 15 minutes planning time to jot down ideas in an independent way that suits the individual. Giving more ownership over to the children can help them to feel more empowered to plan and write stories that inspire them.

  1. How creative are you?

The last point to make is about challenging your own creativity. Do you relish opportunities to be creative or feel a sense of dread about your own creative thinking skills? As all teachers and people who work with children are aware, children are quick to pick up on what you find comfortable and uncomfortable to teach. By challenging yourself to think more creatively and allowing yourself to consider the impossible, you are helping your students or children to think more creatively for themselves. The hardest part of becoming more creative is letting go of more prescriptive tendencies and wanting to get things right. The creative process is enjoyable because it is just the opposite of absolute perfection and control. It’s the ability to create something from nothing and can be one of the most enjoyable processes and lessons you can teach.

As a final note, I’ve included a few writing frames and creative thinking questions based on the ‘magical’ theme to get started with writing. Hopefully, these writing sheets can be used in conjunction with creative thinking activities so that those reluctant writers can begin to find enjoyment in creative writing.

Click the link for the free workbook: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Creative-Writing-Workbook-3130940


Free 11 + Challenge Cards

For free 11 + Challenge cards, click the picture below and it’ll take you to my TPT store where you’ll be able to download the cards for free. There are 54 challenge cards included in this pack. These flash cards have challenging words that regularly appear in the 11 + entrance exams and can be useful for verbal reasoning tests also.

Apart from using these cards in preparation for 11 + exams, they’re also a great way to get your students to expand their vocabulary.

11 + cards page 1

Here are some examples of the vocabulary cards included in this pack:

cards example 2cards example


Lesson Planning Ideas

  • Can you re-tell the events from the perspective of the bumblebee?
  • Draw an emotions chart to show how the boy in the red shirt could be feeling.
  • Pause the video at 3:48, what do you think will happen next?
  • Create a comic strip, detailing the events of the video clip. Change 1 aspect of the story e.g. how else could the story have ended?


  • Can you give the bully advice? How should he behave? What suggestions could you give the bully to improve his behaviour?
  • What would you say to the boy in the red shirt? How could he be feeling?
  • Why do you think the bully is behaving in that way?
  • What do you think the boy was drawing?
  • What makes somebody a bully?
  • What should you do if somebody you know is being bullied in this way?
  • Are there any other ways that somebody can be bullied? What can you do to help the situation?


5 ways to have fun while learning early maths skills

Getting maths off to a good start can have positive benefits in years to come. Early maths skills in young learners can set the foundations for their attitudes towards the subject later on down the line. Studies have shown time and again that children learn best through play, especially when starting out in school. Learning early maths skills needn’t be a chore. There’s nothing better than seeing young learners really get the best of educational activities, either within school or a home learning environment. Here are 5 ways that children aged 4 – 6 can start exploring their maths skills:

1. Get outdoors

Children can begin counting using a whole host of different products outside. big numiconBig numicon is a great way to get children used to counting with this medium.

Even without purchasing mathematical games like these, there are plenty of ways to find objects at home or from local shops and begin using them as a way to get children involved with their learning. From counting objects that children can find out in the garden or playground, like leaves, sticks and flowers, to going on an adventure ‘number hunt’, there are loads of creative ways to get children off to a great start.

2. Use manipulatives

Before chidienesldren can begin to visualise adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, using manipulatives are a fun way to begin associating different numbers with physical amounts. Using colourful manipulatives, like dienes, can help children to begin to differentiate between units, tens and hundreds before applying this to the trickier maths later on.

3. Use every day opportunities

As well as having set times during the day to teach maths, it’s also a good idea to incorporate learning into little moments during the day. Asking children to help you with basic tasks helps them to become more aware about using maths outside of the classroom. In the classroom, asking children to count how many pencils, toys, paintbrushes, paints etc. are in a pot, can help you to see their counting skills in action and helps them to apply what they’ve learnt so far.

4. Use colourful and creative resources

When sitting down to learn, it’s easy for young learners to become restless quickly. Having some colourful resources that involve colouring, games and a fun way to recap their maths skills can help to consolidate what they’ve learnt. I’ve included a 20 page Maths skills pack below which is suitable for Grade 1 or Year 1 learners. This pack has engaging activities and is easy for children to use independently

grade 1 comboPS: If you’d like an editable version to swap some questions around, just send me an email through my contact page and I’ll send you an editable version.

Last, but not least…

5. Stay positive and use rewards.

Using rewards can be one of the most effective strategies for developing positive attitudes in young learners. Using reward charts, as a class or at home can help children to see the benefit in staying motivated even when a task might become challenging. Intrinsic motivation is also very important. And with the right support and nurturing, I believe that children will begin to internalise the positive feelings from learning something new. However, rewards, like stickers, marbles and certificates can give children a goal to work towards, whilst developing positive attitudes towards early maths learning.