Maths Planning in the Classroom | An Easy to Follow Planning Strategy

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Paul (Teach Starter)

Written by Paul (Teach Starter)

Teaching and planning maths in the classroom can be a challenge for teachers, mainly due to the amount of content that needs to be taught. Every teacher understands the importance of developing numeracy skills but the sheer breadth of the curricula and the limitations on time, often lead to a concern that concepts aren’t given enough opportunity to be fully consolidated. This often means that the new concepts aren’t retained. If concepts aren’t being retained, they need to be revised, which takes away time from teaching new concepts and a vicious cycle begins!

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This was a very real concern for me in my classroom and I soon realised that I needed to teach smarter, not harder.

I constructed a teaching sequence that allowed me to develop a concept, revise it, apply it to a real word setting and assess it over a five-week period, whilst still teaching one concept per week on average.

And now, I would like to share that with you…

How to Successfully Plan a Term of Mathematics

Colour coding at it’s best featured in this 5-week plan of how I would plan my mathematics concepts in my class! By including the curriculum code in your timetable you can easily search on Teach Starter using that code to instantly see what resources we have available to help you teach each concept!

I have used concepts from Year 4 Mathematics to model the structure on the table below.

Take a look and then I’ll explain the mechanics of how it works. Follow ‘Number – Ten thousand’ to best see how each individual concept progresses.

Overview of Mathematics Term Planning

New concepts are taught on three consecutive days, preferably at the start of the week, when young minds are most productive.

That concept is then revised on the fourth day of the following week.

I liked to use mathematics worksheets or something similar so that I could have a work sample at the end of the lesson that I could then use to review and assess how each student has progressed (our Pre and Post Tests may be suitable for this).

This concept is then left for a week. On the fifth day of the next week, the previous concept is touched on again, this time as an applied learning situation.

This could be a mathematics problem-solving activity, a hands-on task, inquiry-based lesson, multiple intelligence rotations or a mathematics investigation. This lesson is usually half the time of a normal session.

Then, five weeks after the concept was introduced, it is assessed on the fifth day, in the other half of the session that is shared with another concept’s applied learning lesson.

Clear as mud?

It gets easier – utilise our editable Timetable templates to plan out your term. So you know what you’re teaching on what day!

Teaching Mathematics Concepts in an Effective Way

The temptation when teaching these content heavy subjects is to punch them out as quickly as possible: introduce, develop, consolidate, revise, apply and assess, all in one or two weeks.

This approach will give you a nice recency effect for your testing i.e. the students remember more of the work because it has been recently studied. However, learning concepts over short periods of time sacrifices knowledge retention which, given the progressive nature of the curricula, is not ideal.

My sequence still teaches each concept in five days, plus an assessment, but the learning experiences are spaced out.

The breaks in between are deliberate and cognitively beneficial as they give the brain time to process the information before applying it again. It also helps develop better connections between new and existing knowledge.

Furthermore, stretching out the learning creates a primacy effect i.e. what is learned first is recalled more easily, hence the concentrated teaching at the start of the sequence. Knowledge learned in the middle of a sequence is recalled less readily, hence the week off at this stage of learning. Revisiting and elaborating on the concept later in the sequence helps consolidation and does give a recency effect, but with a more solid base underlying it.

Finally, by extending the teaching sequence and creating a primacy and recency effect, you have provided the perfect foundation for the new concept to be retained, the very goal of all knowledge acquisition. Boom!

What are the Benefits?

I found there were several advantages to using this planning approach.

  1. Students appeared to retain new learning more readily which led to better and more consistent results on assessments.
  2. They became more engaged in the lessons, perhaps because of the variety of activities and concepts in one week.
  3. The students, and I, became more mentally flexible and more willing to take on new learning challenges.
  4. The class was more organised, which in turn helps with behaviour and time management.
  5. By breaking up the concepts, you are afforded more time to check-in and assist your students. I used the revision task as a piece of formative assessment. Students who were struggling were identified early and then, in the ‘week off’ after revision, I arranged for a support staff member to go over the concept with them again. The applied learning session then allowed me to have another look at those students and implement more support in the week leading up to the assessment if required.
  6. Assessment anxiety was reduced as tests were broken down to small, manageable tasks. I also had a several work samples, collected over time, which helped me with report cards and parent-teacher interviews.

This approach also worked well for English. I broke the subject into four parts: reading, writing, grammar and spelling. I then applied the same structure to teaching concepts within these strands and found it was also successful.

Identifying the Challenges

Adopting a new approach to anything will always be a little difficult at first. Hopefully, by identifying some of the potential challenges, you will be able to head them off before they even become a problem!

Firstly, there is more planning required ‘up-front’ with this approach so you will definitely need to be organised. However, once it is set up, the process flows quite nicely. The system is also quite flexible. If I found that I needed to teach a concept earlier or later in the sequence, it was simply a matter of moving topics around. This process is much easier if you are using a digital resource for your planning.

You may like to check out our editable timetable resources all available in Microsoft Word.

Deciding on the sequence of topics can be difficult. In my experience, this was usually decided by the collective teaching team in planning times but, if that wasn’t available, I found textbooks quite useful. Assuming they have been written to your specific curriculum, they will have been sequenced accordingly. Just looking at the contents page usually gave me enough guidance!

The sequence also may need some tweaking at the start and end of a teaching cycle. At the start of the year, I would include topics from the previous year that I found needed refreshing after the summer break. These topics would be taught in the revision, applied learning and assessment slots until the new topics worked their way through the sequence. Coming up to reporting deadlines and end of terms, I again structured the sequence so that easier/lighter concepts were at the end and could be taught and assessed in less time if needed. Where there were reporting and assessment deadlines during the year, I just organised the sequence so that the assessments required would be completed by that time.

Finally, I did encounter a few occasions where my school insisted on one, whole assessment or test at the end of the term. I found the sequence still worked quite well and I still incorporated the assessment lesson but I simply counted this as a formative assessment. I also created a revision week prior to the test. Again, having several work samples helped identify particular areas for consolidation and allowed me to give targeted feedback to the students.

Final Words from Paul

I put this structure together using my background in psychology, teaching experiences, input from some great mentors and a good dose of trial and error! I wanted to share this approach as I believe it will actually buy you time in the short term, save you time in the long run and help make your classroom buzz.

Teach Starter has a multitude of worksheets and teaching resources that can be used in any part of the learning sequence. We are adding new lessons and unit plans regularly so keep an eye out for these as well.

So why not try this idea at the start of the next term, or even right now?! We’d love to hear how it works for you. Feel free to tell us or even ask a question in the comment section below.

It’s a tough gig being a teacher so, as I said before, we have to teach smarter, not harder.

Better yet, teach smarter with Teach Starter!

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Comments & feedback

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Cherie Evans

Hi Paul..thanks for this. I was going to make some changes to the way I taught Maths so this might be something to try. I was planning on playing Maths games on a Friday as I am a big believe that students learn through games. I’m mot sure how I could regularly play maths games. Also you mention about multiple intelligence rotations. I was wondering if I could please have some info on this .

Cherie Evans · Sep 10th, 2020

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Cherie,

Thanks for your comment! I often used games for my rotations within the teaching sequence as well!

Multiple intelligences refers to the practice of allowing students to demonstrate their learning in different ways e.g. visual/spatial, music, kinesthetic. I would choose activities that elicited these different areas of understanding. I recommend typing ‘multiple intelligences’ into your preferred search engine and looking at the various ideas on offer. I think you’ll find that many of your maths games will already be incorporating multiple intelligences.

If you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m more than happy to help!

Paul (Teach Starter) · Sep 14th, 2020

Cherie Evans

Thanks so much Paul. So on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays you would do the rotations and include the games?

Cherie Evans · Sep 14th, 2020

Natalie A

This was such a great read. As a casual teacher, blogs like these give me insight on how to program and stay organised when I eventually move on to full-time teaching. #worksmartnothard

Natalie A · Jan 29th, 2020

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Natalie,

Thank you for your lovely feedback! If you have any questions about this approach, please feel free to get in touch.

Paul (Teach Starter) · Jan 30th, 2020

Debbie Kelland

Oops I hit the wrong button! Hi thanks for sharing I am starting at a new school with a new year group and will use your planning idea, it looks great.

Debbie Kelland · Jan 23rd, 2020

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Debbie,

You’re most welcome and thanks for your feedback! Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.

Paul (Teach Starter) · Jan 23rd, 2020

Debbie Kelland

Hi Paul,

Debbie Kelland · Jan 23rd, 2020

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Debbie!

Paul (Teach Starter) · Jan 23rd, 2020

Olle Cooper

Hello, this is a brilliant idea and I cant wait to try this planning out. . See how I go.

Olle Cooper · Jan 21st, 2020

Janeen

Hi Olle
Thank you for your kind comment! I am so glad you are feeling inspired by this and I wish you all the best as you try it in your classroom.
Cheers
Janeen

Janeen · Jan 22nd, 2020

Jo Noy

I really like this idea and am planning to have a go at mapping it all out over the holidays, but I do have a question. You mentioned in one of the comments that this probably works best with 45-60 minute lessons. We are a K-12 school so work with 75 minute periods; do you have any suggestions of how best to adjust this to work with 75 minute lessons.

Jo Noy · Dec 12th, 2019

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Jo,

I believe this method would still work with 75 minute periods. If you still have five maths lessons per week, you would have the opportunity to simply take more time with the instruction and/or the learning activities.

At 75 mins per lesson, it may be the case that you only have four lessons per week. If so, perhaps teach the new concept across the first two lessons, revise last week’s topic in lesson three which might include a twenty minute revision of the previous week’s lessons followed by a ‘lesson’ that further applies the concept (one could perform an activity or activities that could be an introduction to similar ones to be used next week), then split lesson four in half to do some applied learning activities or rotations for the concept first studied three weeks ago and the assessment for the topic first studied four weeks ago.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Paul (Teach Starter) · Dec 16th, 2019

Sue Devlin

How many lessons per unit are you teaching in total? Three lesson in the first block, then a revision lesson?

Sue Devlin · Sep 19th, 2019

Kristian

Hi Sue,
I am fairly flexible with the units as length will depend on year level, prior knowledge and differentiation. For an average year 3/4 class I would teach a 6 to 8 lesson unit culminating in a knowledge check. I would not always present the entire unit in a block, however, so your suggestion would be more apt. Present the basics in a week of 3-4 lessons and a revision lesson, then revisit the concept at a later time, revise at first, then 3 lessons and a knowledge check at the end to gauge where the students are.
Thanks for your question, if there is anything else I can assist you with, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kristian · Sep 23rd, 2019

Lindsay Hannah

Hi!

We are trying out this approach in our level and LOVE it! Only thing we are finding tricky is the ‘applied learning’ part for place value. Any suggestions on how you would see this in your classroom? We are specifically looking at ‘Recognise, model, represent and order numbers to at least 10 000 and
Apply place value to partition, rearrange and regroup numbers to at least 10 000 to assist calculations and solve problems’

Thank you!

Lindsay Hannah · Jun 7th, 2019

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Lindsay,

I’m glad to hear that the planning model is working for you! For applied learning sessions, I liked using a multiple intelligence approach. I have sent an email to your registered address with some suggestions for your specific query. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Paul.

Paul (Teach Starter) · Jun 7th, 2019

Sarah Fogwill

Hi
I work 4 days a week and are interested in trying this method. How would you recommend doing it? should I do ‘teaching topic’ for 2 days instead of 3 or should I just keep rolling days over each week?
Thanks for any help 🙂

Sarah Fogwill · Apr 10th, 2019

Kristian

Hi Sarah,
I would try to stick to the weekly plan. That way you aren’t carrying over a concept which may be forgotten over the weekend before you assess it. I think your idea of ‘Teaching Topic’ over 2 days would be ideal. Perhaps you could extend your ‘Teaching Topic’ lesson time if you find the concepts are more difficult to teach in two regular lessons. If there is anything else I can assist you with, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kristian · Apr 11th, 2019

Bruna Doro

I love your idea – a great way of ensuring your cover all of the curriculum and checking that students are consolidating new learning. I only teach 3 days and teach Number and Space outcomes while my job share partner teaches her own program for Measurement. I would love to know how you would apply this to a 3 day week.

Bruna Doro · Jan 12th, 2019

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Bruna,

Thanks for your comment! I have just sent an email to your registered email address detailing some options. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

Paul.

Paul (Teach Starter) · Jan 14th, 2019

Holly Andrews

This is great! I’m going to use this method for my mathematics program so I know I’ve covered everything!
Can’t wait to see the English planning based on this method!

Holly Andrews · Jan 8th, 2019

Kristian

Hi Holly,
Thank you for your lovely comment. I am so glad you are enjoying our resources. The English version should be out sometime next week.

Kristian · Jan 9th, 2019

Renee

How long would you teach each session for? Are they 45min lessons or would they be double that?

Renee · Jan 6th, 2019

Kristian

Hi Renee,
We envisage that these sessions would last from 45 min to an hour.
If there is anything else I can assist you with, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kristian · Jan 7th, 2019

Jackie Barrett

Any chance on doing one of these to cater for the NZ Maths curriculum?

Jackie Barrett · Jan 4th, 2019

Kristian

Hi Jackie,
This would work for any curriculum, we’ve just used the Australian Curriculum as a template. Just choose your topics and apply the planning strategy.
If there is anything else I can assist you with, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kristian · Jan 7th, 2019

Gabrielle Richards

Awesome! I look forward to reading it in the new year.

Gab

Gabrielle Richards · Dec 19th, 2018

Gabrielle Richards

Would love to see the same planning template with an example for English.

This approach also worked well for English. I broke the subject into four parts: reading, writing, grammar and spelling. I then applied the same structure to teaching concepts within these strands and found it was also successful.

Gabrielle Richards · Dec 16th, 2018

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Gabrielle,

Thanks for your comment. I’m currently preparing an English version of this blog. We plan to publish it early next year, well before school starts again. Stay tuned!

Paul.

Paul (Teach Starter) · Dec 19th, 2018

Margie Laviano

Excellent suggestions which I will love to start with in the new year. Thanks!

Margie Laviano · Nov 6th, 2018

Paul (Teach Starter)

Hi Margie,

Thanks for your feedback! We would love to hear how it goes in the new year!

Paul

Paul (Teach Starter) · Nov 6th, 2018

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