Fantastic ideas for engaging learners

We had a fantastic INSET day this week which included a session by an AST about activities to engage learners and raise motivation levels. I’ve summarised the key ones relevant to maths below for your interest. There are some wonderful ideas in here that I’m definitely going to experiment with. I haven’t any specific maths-related resources made for these activities yet but will naturally share them on Great Maths Teaching Ideas when I do…

Starter ideas


Get your pupils to all stand up and to choose a number between 1 and 100 which they keep to themselves. The pupils are ‘skittles’. You stand at the front of the class and make the motion as though you are bowling a skittle ball at them whilst saying something like “your number is a multiple of 5” or “your number is a prime number” or “your number is a square number”. If the statement is true then the pupils are “bowled over” and they sit down, out of the game. The winner is the last skittle standing. Good for number facts but can be adapted to shape properties, angle facts, circle theorems and many more!


Prepare a list for yourself beforehand of a list of key things you want pupils to know on a topic. For example, if you were teaching angle facts you’d have a list of them all written down. You then give the class 45 seconds to shout out as many angle facts as they can and you tick them off your list as you go. Can the class collectively remember all of them?! A good game for vocabulary, formulae and theorems recall etc!


Split the class into two groups and get each group to select a ‘player’. You give them a statement like “I can name … types of quadrilateral”. Each player then takes it in turn to say “I can name 1”, “I can name 2”, “I can name 3” etc and they keep going until one of them says “name them” which sets the challenge to the other person to name as many as they claimed they could. If the player names as many as they said they could their team gets a point, if they fail the other team gets a point.

Letter Prompts

If there are key facts/phrases that you want your pupils to remember then put just the first letter of each word up and see if they can recognise the phrase. For example, if you were teaching angle facts you might put on the board:


Can the pupils decipher this?! (Angles on a straight line add up to one hundred and eighty degrees)

Thinking Skills Box

Put a four by four grid containing numbers on the board. Ask the pupils to group the numbers into four groups and to state their reasons. For example, they might group them into groups with one factor, two factors, three factors, four factors etc. If the pupils seem to be struggling to get started you might like to ‘help’ them get going by writing some words like factors, multiples, square numbers, cube numbers etc around the table.

Main activity ideas

Spider Diagram

Pupils each get a sheet of paper and write their name at the top. They then write something in a bubble in the centre that is guided by you, for example “write down a type of graph/chart”. They then draw three spider legs going away from the bubble in different directions. They pass their papers to someone else. With the paper they received they write down a question at the end of one of the spider legs. This could be “what do they look like?” or “what would be the most common mistake people could make?” or “what kind of data could you use this for?”etc. Pupils pass the sheet on again to someone else who writes a different question on another spider leg. The sheets get passed on one more time with a final question being written on the last spider leg. The sheets are then returned to their owners and they have to answer the questions on the sheet! As a plenary the sheets can be passed around between people to read and discuss.

Running Dictation

Create a sheet of paper which contains information you want pupils to remember. This could be text, formulae, diagrams or anything you like. Split your class into groups of two or three and photocopy the sheet by as many times as groups you have. Blue-tack the sheets to the walls around the room spread out with the information facing the wall. One person in each group is the ‘scribe’ who starts with a blank sheet of paper. The idea is that the other members of the group have to run between the scribe and the paper on the wall transferring information so the scribe can produce an exact replica of what’s on the sheet on the wall. What makes it tricky is that the information is facing the wall so the runners have to ‘peek under’ the sheet to see the information. The team whose scribe is first to complete an exact replica of the information sheet is the winner.

Follow Me Cards

This activity is excellent for encouraging whole class participation and listening skills. Create a set of ‘follow me cards’. These are like dominoes where one side starts a statement like “angles in a triangle…” and the answer appears on another domino “add up to 180 degrees”. That second domino then contains the start of another statement, the answer to which is on another domino etc. Give each pupil a domino and get one to read out their first statement. All the other pupils have to listen and then if their domino contains the answer they read it out. They then start the next statement and someone else finishes it off etc. You will end up going right round the room with every pupil participating and having to listen to what all the others said. Great!

Plenary ideas

Word Box

Get a small box and at the end of each lesson on a topic get the class to suggest things that you should write on a small piece of paper to post in the box. This could be key vocabulary or concepts etc. Then, when you get to the end of a topic take all the pieces of paper out of the box and use these to guide a class discussion of key things to remember about the topic.

Go For Five

Don’t give out your lesson objectives at the start of the lesson! Get the pupils in the plenary to guess what your lesson objectives and things you wanted them to learn were. Tell them to go for five! Brilliant as an AFL tool for finding out what they actually did learn rather than what you wanted them to. You can be open with them and then share your lesson objectives which can lead to interesting discussions if they were different to what they suggested!

5 Responses

  1. Dave Gale says:

    These are great ideas.

    I particularly like all the starters and the word box.

    Who was the AST and Attlee they on twitter?

    AST maths

    • Hi Dave,

      The AST was a lady called Mrs Biddle. Don’t think they do Twitter unfortunately. I’ll ask her when we get back and let you know if she does have an online presence.

      I totally agree they are awesome ideas. I use them a lot.



  1. 02/01/2012

    […] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } – Today, 2:40 […]

  2. 10/01/2012

    […] We had a fantastic INSET day this week which included a session by an AST about activities to engage learners and raise motivation levels. I’ve summarised the key ones relevant to maths below for your interest. There are some wonderful ideas in here that I’m definitely going to experiment with. Fantastic ideas for engaging learners | Great Maths Teaching Ideas […]

  3. 20/01/2012

    […] jQuery("#errors*").hide(); window.location= data.themeInternalUrl; } }); } – Today, 2:27 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *