Set the classroom alight

Want an easy and versatile way to motivate your primary pupils?Try matchsticks, suggests John Dabell

Matchsticks are a modest, effective and easy-to-use kinaesthetic resource, ideal for helping to develop children's visualisation skills and for improving their knowledge and understanding of two-dimensional shape. They are suitable for children in key stage 2 and beyond and can make a positive impact on their mathematical learning.

Matchsticks are a highly practical resource and there are many good reasons why they should be incorporated into your maths planning. They can be used:

* independently, or collaboratively in focus groups; * as whole-class session activities or as part of a mentaloral starter or plenary; * as part of an enriched curriculum or accelerated curriculum; * as challenge or extension activities, eg learning algebra;

* as an activity in a maths club; * as a homework activity to reinforce and extend learning; * as part of a maths display.

Matchsticks can be used to scaffold children's learning, offering a physical model of mathematical concepts. Using them can help children to become self-reliant.

In addition, they are cheap, ideal for building mathematical talk and collaboration, and suitable for a wide range of learners; they can also be easily differentiated. They are also highly motivating, cultivate problem-solving and investigative skills and provide useful tools to develop shape skills, creativity and understanding.

Research conducted by Specific Diagnostic Studies of Rockville, Maryland, revealed that, in any class in any subject in any school, there are an average 29 per cent of students with a visual dominance who prefer to learn by seeing, 34 per cent with an auditory dominance who prefer to learn by hearing and 37 per cent with a kinaesthetic dominance who prefer to learn by doing.

These findings show the importance of teaching maths using each of these preferences to include all learners. Matchsticks lend themselves to all three, and offer a balanced multi-sensory approach to learning.

When doing the matchstick activities, children are actively engaged at all three levels. They are looking at the matchstick templates, listening to your instructions and scaffolding comments, and solving puzzles by doing.

We remember 20 per cent of what we see, 30 per cent of what we hear, 40 per cent of what we say, 50 per cent of what we do - and 90 per cent of what we see, hear, say and do.

So matchsticks really are a perfect resource because they encompass all three learning preferences and offer practise through fun and challenging activities.

John Dabell is the author of Maths on Fire: Matchstick Maths which comes with a CD-Rom and is published by Millgate House, price pound;34.80 (including pp).

Tel: 01270 764314 Email:

* Note: the matchsticks referred to in this article are safe headless matchsticks that can be purchased from art shops.

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