I am a fairly traditional teacher. I believe that people learn by doing, and people learn mathematical processes by doing them.

However, doing a hundred questions is dull, so I’m always looking for ways to make a simple worksheet more interesting and involving. Here are a few ideas I’ve collected over the years and my thoughts on them:

Collect a joke

I’ve used and created a few of these before [click here for an example]. I like them. Student’s are often quite engaged finding the joke, however groan worthy it is and they’re kind of (whisper it) fun. Following the trail lends a puzzle element. ¬†However, there is a problem with them. Often, when students complete the joke, they can’t help but shout it out. This then removes the motivation for other students to complete the work. I’ve not managed a way around this yet.

Tarsia/Card Sorts

Tarsia [see here] is everywhere. Most people are comfortable using them, and theres a lot of material available on the internet. You can also test misconceptions by tweeking the questions and answers and if you do these one between two it can get students talking to each other (which is always good). However, I find that the larger Tarsia puzzles can often go on a little too long (even with interruptions to keep students on-task) and they are not actually that different from a normal list of questions.

The other problem is that once a Tarsia puzzle is finished there’s the issue of what you do with it. There’s no greater way to irritate students than to ask them to put all the cards away and back from where they came, but asking students to stick it down and keep a record can be a waste of time.

Thoughts and Crosses

Thoughts and Crosses is, as you would expect, a take on naughts and crosses [see example here]. I’m keen on gamification in my classroom, so the idea of a worksheet as a game really appeals to me.

There’s also a nice twist in that students have to push themselves to win, and there’s quite a good self checking mechanism in place, where students are invested in checking their answers.

However, the problem here is that if both students have misconceptions, the mistakes can often go unchecked but it’s obviously fairly easy to go through the answers.

Quiz, Quiz, Trade

Want to know what this is? Click here. I like this idea of students coaching each other, however it’s difficult to let go. It may be good practice for some with a good grasp of the concepts, but I often use questions as a tool for learning. I expect students to get things wrong, to be corrected and learn from their mistakes. Maybe quiz, quiz trade allows this and I need to let students be more in charge of their own destinies, but I’m not quite convinced yet.

What things do you use to disguise a worksheet? Should we be disguising worksheets or should we doing tasks that are inherently different and more engaging? Leave a comment a join the debate.

The current Mathematics GCSE is quite a difficult subject to learn and a very difficult subject to teach, but I often feel that people don’t quite appreciate the subtleties of why this is.

The subject is broken up into lots of different, discrete skills (sometimes these skills are related to other skills, sometimes they’re not) and each individual skill needs quite a few approaches in order to target as many people as possible.

I can’t think of another subject that works like this.

Most other subjects, let’s take English as an example, have a few main skills which are constantly refined with new knowledge and applied to new situations. In English Literature it might be critiquing a text. Students do this their whole school career, moving onto different texts, but still using the same base processes on each one. Hopefully after doing this numerous times, their ability to critique a text becomes better and better.

This isn’t how the Maths GCSE works. Each lesson, or series of lessons, students are introduced to a new concept that they have to understand and apply to new problems. These concepts can link back to earlier concepts (which can create a chain of misunderstanding if you’re not careful) or they could be entirely new concepts unrelated to other things for students to get their head around.

This creates a problem, which I think why ‘I don’t get it’ can be so prevalent in maths. In other subjects students usually go into the lesson with an understanding that they are working on skills they’ve been using their entire school careers. In mathematics students come in and it’s likely they’ll be immediately hit with something they’ve never done before.

This difference between maths and other subjects also crops up in something that I’ve been thinking about recently.

In most subjects, a single question can be answered at many different ‘levels’, but in mathematics, it’s very rare that this is the case. This creates a big problem for maths teachers to think about when it comes to hitting the objectives, or at least heavily signposting hitting the objectives, in lesson observations in regard to differentiation and personalised learning.

Often we want to teach a skill, or have a student discover a skill, and then apply that skill. In maths each skill tends to have it’s own level assigned so it’s not really possible to teach that skill at numerous levels. Differentiation becomes harder.

I’d love to hear other people’s comments below, on how they get around this. Or if people think this is something that needs to be taken into consideration more on observations.

A lot of maths is done at desks, in rows. I am guilty of this (I often find that if students are sat in groups of four, there is a little too much room for them to ‘hide’). However, going out of the classroom and into the real world is often really powerful.

I was recently trying to get my students engaged in the idea of distance time graphs. These can often be tedious, especially when phrased as an exam question.


My students where also getting confused. Especially when looking at a situation that was impossible, or a situation where the subject of the graph is on a return journey.

So I created this.

It’s a really simple resource, just a couple of graphs. However, the idea is the students have to recreate those graphs using a stopwatch, a marker and a trundle wheel.

This really engaged my students, and made them think about exactly how these graphs work. Once they’d practiced on a graph they would come and show me the finished product, we’d talk about how accurate their version of the graph was, and we’d talk about any misconceptions.

I recommend you give it a go and get outside.