How we use the starter in a maths lesson will nearly always determine the level of success of learning and achievement that follows. However, what might the kids have experienced five short minutes before. Might they be coming in from a break time in the cold, rain, heat, wind or even worse the snow? If it was lunch, had they managed to eat or drink anything but sugary treats, chocolate bars or other assorted junk foods? Come to think of it, had they managed to eat anything at all? Have they just had the most physical of PE lessons or arduous exam?
Bearing all these factors in mind it is a minor miracle that we teachers are brave enough to expect an engaging start to the lesson. The fact the kids live up to and often exceed these expectations is no less of a fete.
For me, the start of the lesson, has to meet the following criteria.
Understanding what a student knows about a topic early on is key to success and if while figuring this out we are able to create a calm and purposeful environment, we, as teachers, must be on the right track. However, creating an activity to achieve such a task is not always easy.
When planning, I ask myself what do they need to know before we begin the main phase? For instance, if the lesson is about multiplying and dividing by tens the prerequisite knowledge would be using the place value table to identify the value of a digit. If it was solving linear simultaneous equations, can they generate and solve simple linear equations using the balance method? The activity would be to attempt a couple of problems to review the prerequisite knowledge.
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How to begin
Rather than have the students line up outside the room I welcome them in as and when they arrive either with a slip of paper detailing the task or having the work presented, with instructions, on the board. This way there is no build up outside the room and the lesson begins the moment they walk through the door.
Somewhere between five or ten minutes into the lesson once everyone has had time to make progress we discuss the answers. Providing feedback in this way is crucial to adding value to the starter so students know they are being successful and beginning to learn from the very start of the lesson. I then go onto to address how the intended learning objective will build on or extend the skills that were just covered.
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