Six steps to better working walls in primary maths

With the help of his pupils, this teacher set out on a mission to improve his maths working wall. Here's what he found out

“Are the maths walls really working or are they just wallpaper?”

I asked my class this question and the responses were brutally honest. The children explained that while they interacted with the English working wall, with its success ladders and word banks, the maths wall was “a bit rubbish”.

I decided to explore more structured approaches to our maths displays and, with the children’s help, I set about making our maths wall as amazing as it could be.

Here are the six working wall essentials that have worked for us:

1. Vocabulary

The children need to be completely surrounded with the correct terminology. On a Monday, I always discuss the vocabulary for the week with my class. We consider what they already know and introduce any new words. I then pin the words to the wall and praise the children for using the “fab vocab” during the week. When I was working on shape with a Year 3 class, I attached a bell to the working wall. Every time the word “perimeter” was used, a child would ring the bell and share their learning with the class.

2. Examples

It is paramount that we remember that the purpose of a working wall is to facilitate learning rather than simply to display children’s work. We all know that modelling is essential. So, I now have a "what a good one looks like" (WAGOLL) book attached to the working wall, which contains examples of the methods we will use during the week. The children love it if their work is added to the WAGOLL book.

3. Objectives

I set the objectives for the week out on our display so the children can clearly see what they have achieved and "what's next". It is important that your objectives are progressive and the children can see this. In my Year 4 class, I had a ladder, whereas in a key stage 1 class I had aeroplanes taking off. As the children made progress through the week they moved onto new objectives and were able to move their name to the next aeroplane or ladder rung. This made the learning fun and exciting as well as motivating the children to reach the next step.

4. Purpose

Children need to understand why mathematics is important and how it can be applied in day-to-day life. When looking at estimation we talked about working out how much money you have spent on a weekly food shop or roughly how many bricks you would need to build a wall and added our findings to the learning wall. Once the children understood how a skill could be applied they were more motivated to learn and apply the skill themselves.

5. Steps to success

I attach steps to success to the working wall with a view to encouraging children to become more independent and help themselves before interrupting an adult. These steps to success give clear guidelines as to how to follow a method, before providing an example. These are detachable from the wall so that the children can take them away and use them to support their learning.

6. Resources

In order to further promote independence, I provide resources scaffolds on the learning wall to support the children. Like a word bank in literacy, I provide a multiplication grid or a hundred square that the children can take away from the wall to help them. Treasury tags are a godsend: they mean that any laminated resources can be attached to the wall and the children can remove them easily.

Jack Horwell is acting deputy headteacher at Tregadillett Primary School in Cornwall.

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