Crafty Starter Activities

I’ll start by laying my cards on the table: I’m a big fan of starter activities!  No matter how much my lesson planning has changed over the years, the starter activity has always remained constant.  To begin with, they were just a way to settle classes down by using interesting tasks, games or puzzles from resources such as ‘Starter of the Day’.  Back then, I didn’t really think about how the questions related to the lesson.  However, well-chosen questions can make starter activities so much more powerful than mere settlers.  They can allow pupils to rehearse previously acquired skills, equip them for what’s coming up and provide a means to connect what they are about to learn with prior knowledge.

Although there are many purposes for starters, this post will look at two:



1.  Using starters to reactivate relevant prior knowledge and pre-load worked examples.

Starter activities can prepare pupils for what they are about to learn.  It’s like laying out all your tools before you start to build a piece of furniture.  There’s nothing worse than getting half-way through a job and realising that you’ve left your Allen key somewhere deep in a cupboard!

This can be done by planning the worked examples for the main part of the lesson first. Then pick them apart to consider all the smaller facts, skills or procedures that are needed to solve them.  Are there any that pupils might struggle to remember midway through the first worked example?  Even if they only learned something yesterday, they’ve slept since then!  Therefore the starter could include a question on each skill or fact so that pupils have them primed and ready.

Let’s say for example that a class have previously learned how to factorise quadratic expressions and they are about to learn how to solve quadratic equations by factorising.  What things will pupils need to think about while learning this?  Here are some:

  • how to factorise a quadratic expression;
  • how to solve a small linear equation with zero on one side;
  • if the product of two numbers is zero then at least one of them must be zero;
  • how to substitute values into quadratic expressions (to check the answers).

So, a useful set of starter questions could be the following:

Starter 1

This gives pupils a chance to practise each tiny step separately before they try to combine them all together while learning something new.  However, to be a little craftier, we could pre-load the first worked example by making the numbers match:

2 Quad Starter and Worked Example

This means that while the class are working through the first worked example, most calculations for each step will have already been done.  If the starter is still on the board, then they can refer back to it when needed.  This allows for discussions at this time to remain focused on the process of solving quadratics, without being punctuated by brief moments of working stuff out.  Furthermore, it emphasises to the students, “We are combining things that we already know to learn something new.”  Once they have got their heads around the process, then they could try a second worked example where more things have to be worked out from scratch.

Here’s another example:  let’s say that a class have recently learned how to add like fractions and are about to learn how to add related fractions (where one denominator is a multiple of the other).  The following combination of starter questions and worked examples could be used:

Starter 3

When the class start discussing the first worked example, the teacher can point to the first starter question and say, “We know how to add together fractions like these.  What makes this new question different?  So if we don’t know how to add fractions with different denominators, how could we make this question easier for ourselves?”  Hopefully question 2 from the starter will nudge them in the right direction.  Then questions 3 and 4 can help when they are trying the follow up example for themselves.


2.  Using starters to highlight connections between different mathematical topics.

My last post looked at how similar methods can often be used across many topics, especially when it comes to proportional reasoning.   Crafty combinations of starter questions and worked examples can help shine bright lights on these connections.

For example, in this scenario the class had previously learned what it means for shapes to be ‘similar’ and were about to learn how to calculate missing lengths on similar shapes.  They had also done lots of works on fractions, ratios and proportion earlier in the year.  So the following combination of worked examples and starter questions were used:

Starter Acticity 5Starter 4.1

At first glance, the starter could look like an eclectic mix of fairly easy questions.  However, when comparing each worked example with each starter question it becomes clear how these topics are connected: they’re pretty much the same questions dressed in different clothes!

This wasn’t made explicit to the class until after the fourth worked example when the teacher asked, “How are these questions similar and different to the ones that we did in the starter?”  A key strategy for emphasising these similarities was in how the solutions were modelled on the board using different colours.  More importantly, what went on the board stayed on the board for the entire lesson so that pupils could look back and forth to make those precious mathematical connections.


If you would like to use or share any of the images from this blog, feel free to use this Power Point to help you: ‘Crafty Starter Activities’

If you found this post interesting, then I would also recommend the following:

Previous blog posts:

This series ‘Making Connections’

‘What I Learned From Shanghai’ Series:

‘Planning Thought’ Series:



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