Playing with number

I always like to give my class a chance to have a play around with number and apply their learning in different ways. There are so many fun ideas kicking about out there and sometimes it’s nice to give children a chance to just explore numbers and how they relate to each other. Here are a few ideas that I’ve put together which I’ve tried with various different classes that I’ve add over the years, ranging from year 1 to year 6. Hopefully some of them will be useful!

Explode a number (or fraction or shape)

With ‘explode a number’, I put a number in the middle of the whiteboard/ page and we annotate with facts about that number. This also works for fractions and shapes as there are lots of facts/ pieces of information to recall and apply.

What could the question be?

This is one of my favourite challenges, and it’s so simple! Similar to exploding a number, I write the number in the middle of the whiteboard/ page and the children then write questions that would have that answer. Here is an example that we did earlier this week:

I find this particularly useful to sometimes give a restriction to, e.g. it must involve adding fractions, it must involve square numbers, etc.

Different ways to represent the number:

I used to do this activity a lot with a class that I had a few years ago, and then remembered it again recently. I give either the whole class or different tables a number and they have to use any maths materials or classroom objects to these numbers. When I did this most recently, I gave different tables the numbers 12, 14, 16 and 18. Here are some of the ways they created those numbers: I used to do this activity a lot with a class that I had a few years ago, and then remembered it again recently. I give either the whole class or different tables a number and they have to use any maths materials or classroom objects to these numbers. When I did this most recently, I gave different tables the numbers 12, 14, 16 and 18. Here are some of the ways they created those numbers:

Four fours
This is an old favourite! Can you make the target number using four numbers fours? e.g. for the number 15 you could do 4 x 4 – (4 divided by 4).

I start with a number…
I particularly like this activity as it makes children think carefully about the inverse operations. I would give the class a number, such as 15, and they would then create their own question like this:
I start with a number. I multiply it by 5, then subtract 8. I then divide it by 2 and finally add 4. I end up with 15. What number did I start with?

Number riddles
I started off with creating some of these for my last year, and then realised that they could definitely write their own! For example, I might have this riddle for the number 49: I am a square number. My tens digit is even and my ones digit is odd. My digits add up to 13.

Number manipulation
I’ve seen lots of different variations on this, and I like to change around the categories, e.g. to find 25% or to write in Roman numerals, etc.

Word problems
I like to do this by adding a unit (e.g. making the number £15) and having children write word problems that match that answer.

Can you make this number?
In a Countdown manner, you could give your target number and a selection of other numbers and task the children to create that number. e.g. target number: 20
5 2 3 7 1

Odd one out
Another old favourite here! You could give children a set of 3 or 4 different numbers and task them with finding as many ways as possible that one of the numbers could be the odd one out, e.g. the only odd number, the only number with the tens digit smaller than the ones digit, etc.

One activity I’ve used a few times is to give a number (e.g. 5) and challenge them to find as many sets of numbers as possible that have a mean of that number, e.g. 3, 4, 8 or 11, 5, 2, 2


Maths vocabulary and steps to success

Strangely, maths is my favourite subject to teach. I say ‘strangely’ as I really hated maths at school, and really struggled to see the connections between numbers.

I’m a big fan of having clear, concise steps to success (usually colour-coordinated) as I feel that it would have helped me when I was a child if I’d had them. I had a set of these that I hand-wrote and scanned into the computer last summer, but they quickly became tattered and the scanned-in version wasn’t the clearest- so I’ve made new ones! These can be used in any way that you like, but personally I’ve found them most useful as guides to have on the board/ working wall during a lesson to refer to or as concept book guides ( ) for each child. Obviously, more conceptual teaching would be needed alongside them, but these are just a quick reminder for how to complete different problems. The steps to success (most of the year 5 and 6 objectives) can be found here:

Also, I’ve made these ‘star word’ posters which have key vocabulary for each topic which I also find useful t have on display to refer to.

Note: There are some topics that different teachers teach differently. These are my personal preferences, but I’m more than happy to make a different method if you drop me a message. Also, I do apologise if there are mistakes- I am only human! Again, just let me know and I can edit and re-upload them.

Here are a selection of the steps to success that I’ve made so you can see what they look like before you download them if you like.

As always, it would be great to hear what you think and get some feedback!

Etymology of science vocabulary

Something I’ve always been interested in is language. I studied it at university and now have quite a range of language and grammar books on my shelf! I’ve been doing a lot of work on spelling recently, including making spelling prefix, root word and suffix puzzle pieces and spelling teaching guides. One thing I’ve now started exploring is using etymology to increase understanding of key vocabulary. I’ve started with science by taking a piece of vocabulary and listing the etymology, scientific definition and how the word has been formed using prefixes, root words and suffixes.  How you use these is completely up to you! You could display them, ask children to predict what the parts might mean, or even cut up the 4 sections and have them match them up.

Here you can find the Dropbox link for the ones I’ve made so far. I’ll keep adding to it as I make more, but if you find any mistakes or think of vocabulary I could include, then please feel free to drop me an email!

Using a bullet journal for teaching

I’ve been using bullet journals for a few years now (both personal and work ones) and I LOVE them- mainly because I adore coloured pencils, pens, fancy handwriting and washi tape! What I’ve done here is shown how I use bullet journals for school purposes. Hopefully if you’re thinking of trying using a bullet journal or you are looking for fresh ideas for an existing one, then this will give you some ideas! I always prefer dotted paper, but any type of paper will work. I also have a mix between hand-drawn boxes, etc. and ones which I create on the computer, print on to A4 sticky labels and then stick into the bullet journal.

Termly pages:
I start each term with one of these pages where I can add in the termly events as I go and get an overview of the coming weeks. I also have a general termly to-do sticker as I’m quite forgetful and this helps to remind me what to do each term.

Weekly pages:
For every week, I have a double page spread. On one side, I have a timetable with space to add how each day changes or which events I have. In the version here, each of the sections can be divided into 15 minute sections so I can divide up mornings or afternoons. I also have a weekly to-do sticker to again jog my terrible memory. Also, it’s pleasing to be able to tick things off a list! On the opposite side of the page, I have 3 boxes for the three meetings we have each week which will have information applying to that week. I have a separate meetings section which I’ll come on to later!

In the books section, I write the name of books that are in my to-read pile, and then colour them when I’ve finished. This gives a nice record of books that you’ve read and helps to avoid forgetting books that have been recommended!

Recording pages:
I’m cheating a little with these as they don’t actually go into my bullet journal- I have a separate little folder for these which I keep in my desk drawer as I like to keep them handy for all adults in the classroom to use. They’re just trackers for things like weekly certificates, homework and spellings to keep track of different scores, etc.

Planning mind maps:

I have several of these, but the ones I use most regularly are the termly pages where I can add my ideas across the year rather than having a great idea in November and forgetting it by June!

Meeting notes:
I have a lot of these pages in the back of the book where I keep meeting notes from whole staff meetings, conferences or inset days. The bonus of this is that everything I need is in one book so I always have all the information to hand!

Ideas pages:
I like to keep several pages for just general ideas, such as sketching out displays, noting down things to try or interesting ideas that I’ve seen on Twitter, etc.

Forward planning:
The last few pages in the bullet journal are kept for planning for the next school year, such as book labels, ordering new supplies, etc. I also tend to keep a page for planning out what I want the next bullet journal to look like, based on how well the current journal has worked out for me.

Creative pages:
Just because I’m a big fan of doodling and arty stuff, I also have some pages designated for being creative, such as having decorated monthly pages and yearly pages just to brighten things up!

I’d love to know how you use bullet journals for education!

Spelling lessons

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been putting together a range of resources covering the year 3/4 and 5/6 spelling rules. You can find the Dropbox link here:

Below, I’ll explain how I would use each of the resources. Use however much or however little you find useful for your class!

Diagnostic spelling tests
Each of these tests features one word from each of the spelling tests. I’ve provided an overview so you can see which words are in which test, and then there are 14 tests laid out in the same style as a SATs test, complete with a script for the adult to use. I’ve also made a QLA to assess children’s confidence over time and see where the gaps are in the class.

Diagnostic spelling tests

Spelling rule resources
Each spelling rule comes with these resources (although a few may not have some of them if they are not applicable…or if I’ve not finished some of them yet!)

Spelling powerpoint
This introduces the spelling rule through a variety of different challenges and activities, finishing with a task setting slide.

Spelling activities to complete independently or in small groups
These activities involve exploring the meanings of words following the spelling rule, choosing the appropriate spelling and finding mistakes. There are also crosswords for most of the spelling rules, and I’ll try to update any missing ones. Here are a few extracts of these activities:

Spelling rule posters and challenges
I’ve made a poster for each spelling rule, which explains how it is used. The challenges go alongside the posters so can be used almost like reading comprehension questions. I’ve used symbols that I’ve made to show which type of challenge it is. Most of these appear in powerpoints, although some could be used as extensions or group discussions.

Spelling lists and scaffolded tests
Although some schools do not use spelling tests, and there is often debate about how useful they are, many schools still use them. The way that I tend to do spelling tests is that I send a list of 10 spellings which each contain a ‘top tips’ section explaining the rule to send home with children. When I then do the test, there will be three scaffolded options for children to choose from, which enables children of all abilities to access the spellings. Less able or confident children can have a word frame sheet to guide them, average ability or confident children can have a sheet with lines showing how many letters the word has and more confident children simply take the test in their books. Once I have tested them on their ten words, I also give 2 mystery words to see if the children can apply the rule to unseen words.

Spelling list overview with mystery words
Spelling list with ‘top tip’ guide
Scaffolded spelling test. The grids should fit a standard small spelling book!

Weekly spelling activity powerpoint
Each spelling rule also comes with a ‘spelling activity’ powerpoint with the aim of helping children to learn the words. I would personally use these as morning work or for times when you have a spare 5 minutes, where I’d display the slide and. I’ve created symbols to show which spelling activity is which and there is also an explanation at the top of each slide.

I’ve also made a wordsearch template that can be used as an extension for children after the spelling lesson or as an extra activity during the week.

Finally, I’ve also included spelling posters/ sheets to stick into spelling journals for the the year 3/4 and 5/6 exception words and brief overviews of the spelling rules.

I’ve tried to make everything fully editable so you can add and change whatever you want to!

Hopefully some of this is useful for your class! I’d love to hear any comments or feedback about what I’ve done so far or what would be good to see added or changed. If you have Twitter, you can follow me at @SarahFarrellKS2

Teaching spelling

Today’s post is all about the teaching of spelling. I’ve divided up the way that I would teach spelling into 5 chunks which I’ve explained fully below:

  • Predict the rule
  • Introduce the rule
  • Investigate the rule
  • Challenges with the rule
  • Embed the rule

Hopefully, something in here may be useful to you! I’d love to hear from you with any thoughts, comments of suggestions 🙂

Predict the rule

Before teaching a spelling rule, I’ve found that giving children time to explore the words and try to find a rule themselves is a useful technique. After exploring several rules, the children will become better at looking for patterns in word endings, consonants, vowels, etc. and may begin to make their own theories about the spelling rules for themselves. I would introduce this in one of two ways: firstly, you could ask children to generate their own words within a criteria (e.g. words that end with a ‘shus’ sound); or secondly, you could provide children with a list of words that fit the criteria. It may be useful to give prompts for children to look at certain patterns, e.g. vowels/ consonants if they are not used to this.

Introduce the rule

Once they’ve had a go at predicting what the rule is, I would then introduce the rule by looking at two different examples (e.g. a word that ends with –cial and a word that end with –tial) and get the children to discuss what is different between the two words. If need be, I’d then explain the rule if it hadn’t been discovered already. At this stage, I would introduce the spelling poster along with a few examples of words which fit the rule. Here is the link to my Dropbox folder of spelling rule posters and an example:

I would usually at this point give children the chance to have a go at explaining the rule in their own words using the poster as a starting point. I would also then explore the rule using whole-class challenges such as this:

Investigate the rule

Next, I would give the children time to independently complete activities to investigate the rule and related words further. The point of these activities is firstly to ensure that children know the rule, but also to make sure that they know what the words mean. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some ideas:

  • Provide the start of words for children to add the correct ending to
  • Cloze procedure with a word bank for children to add the correct word to the correct space
  • A sentence with a missing word and two or three potential spellings for the words to choose from (e.g. You should pay ______ when someone is speaking. attention   attenssion    attension   attencian
  • A crossword where the children are given the definitions of words and they find the word that is being defined and add that to the crossword
  • Writing own sentences using the words in context. This could be linked to a grammar activity by stipulating that the sentences should be questions, speech, exclamations, include a subordinating conjunction, etc.
  • Providing sentences with some spelling mistakes relating to the spelling rule for the children to find and correct (although I do also add some other mistakes in to see if they notice them!)

Some examples of activities can be found in the Dropbox link below, which I’ll continue adding to over time.

Challenges with the rule

Next, I would give the children some challenges to complete independently, in small groups or as a whole class. These are all to do with explaining their learning, finding mistakes or finding exceptions to the rule but all require more depth of understanding. Here are some examples of the kind of challenges that I might give:

Embed the rule:

It’s important to make sure that a spelling rule isn’t just taught once and then forgotten; therefore, I would revisit the spelling rule for a few minutes every day across a week after teaching it in order to make sure that it embedded. For this, I may use some similar activities to the ones already used, such as the challenges, but just use them as a warm-up to a literacy lesson or for a few moments after lunch or at the end of the day.

In terms of testing, I don’t personally think that sending home a list of words to learn is the most useful way of learning a rule. If testing was required, I would prefer to test knowledge of the rule by sending home the spelling rule poster and then testing how the rule is used. For example, if the spelling lesson had been about adding –ing to words, I might send home the relevant rule poster with examples and then the next week provide children with the words hop, poke, jump, skip, limp and hope to add the suffix to. By doing this, the knowledge of the rule is tested rather than whether children can learn a list of words.

Reading challenges

I’ve posted before about reading challenges that I’ve been using in my class to extend more able learners, but I thought I’d update what I’ve done! First of all, here are the different symbols and what they mean:

Rank these answers

For these challenges, I would provide a question (usually a more detailed one) and several different answers. The children then rank the answers from best to worst, based on how well they answer the question.

Find the mistake

For these challenges, I will give the children an answer which is wrong and they have to decide what is wrong with it. It may be that they’ve spelt it wrong, not followed the instructions or it is just plain wrong! I tend to base these on similar mistakes that have cropped up before in the class.

Write your own

For these, I would provide some words and some question stems and the children would then use them to write their own questions. I will usually be specific with which type of questions to write (e.g. word meaning)

True or false?

For these challenges, I will give the children an answer to a question and they will have to prove whether it is right or wrong. Alternatively, I may present them with a statement from the text which they will either have to back up or disprove.


Sometimes, I will give the children an answer to a question and tell them that it is right. They then need to find the evidence in the text to back it up. I would most commonly use this for tick box questions as they are more cut and dried and easy to guess. This way, I can choose trickier questions for them to find the evidence for.

I have made several sets of these reading questions, mostly for some of the SATs reading texts (as they are widely available to download) and also for Egyptian Cinderella. The Dropbox link to these can be found here:

Here are some examples:

Hopefully they’ll be useful! I’d love to hear how you plan to use them and whether they were successful. Also, if you have any further ideas for texts that I could make questions for, please let me know!