Maths - Talking triangles

2nd November 2012 at 00:00
Make key concepts memorable through song and dance

As maths is taught in a modular way, pupils regularly forget key concepts if they have not been revisited for a while. I often find it a struggle to keep what has already been taught at the forefront of pupils' minds.

Searching for a way to make concepts more memorable for children, I began characterising key elements in maths. But anyone passing my classroom might wonder what sort of holiday camp-esque audience participation was going on. When teaching 3D shape, I gave triangles personalities - and tried to make sure they were all nice to each other.

The equilateral triangle, for example, spoke in a gentle voice: "I like everything equal. My sides must all be equal in length and my angles must all be 60 degrees, no more, no less." The scalene triangle, on the other hand, took on a mischievous tone: "I like everything different, all my angles and all my sides." The more I elaborated and encouraged pupils to join in, the more the concepts stuck.

An inspirational maths coordinator and a maths adviser suggested that I back this up with visual reminders. So I printed out images of the triangles, hung them from washing lines in the classroom and referred to them regularly.

Next, I began to involve the pupils more, adding actions, jingles and snappy slogans. To tackle the common mistake of misplacing the decimal point in the answer of a column addition or subtraction sum, we invented a dance routine. I would draw the sum with a decimal point and ask where it should go in the answer. To indicate that its position in the answer was directly below the one in the question, the children would call out in unison "get down James Brown" and take on a John Travolta pose pointing to the floor.

Later, we used the All Blacks rugby team's haka routine in coordinates. After singing and slapping our thighs three times, we would shout "x axis" and make our left arm into a horizontal line, then shout "y axis" and make the vertical side of the coordinates with our right arm. The pupils never forgot that x was horizontal and came before y in the brackets.

Using humour, rhyme and actions helps to engage pupils. Visual prompts keep concepts "simmering" and the multisensory approach helps concepts to stick. Pupils also feel a sense of ownership over what can sometimes be abstract concepts.

None of the pupils forgot the concepts, and the results they achieved last year reflected this. They also found a new way to have fun with each other.

Jon Makepeace is a Year 4 teacher in West London


Test pupils' knowledge of shapes and angles using MrBartonMaths' interactive "shape jungle" quiz. bit.lyShapeJungle

Encourage children to remember the angles of different triangles with rach6ye's hat-making maths. bit.lyHatMaths.

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