20 teaching techniques that we use every day to guarantee progress in KS2 Maths

By David Leighton 

Improve KS2 Maths progress in your primary school and support Mathematical learning at Key Stage 2 with 20 practical and tested teaching techniques that we use every day in our 1-to-1 interventions to accelerate progress and increase attainment.

Understanding the key ingredients to attainment in Mathematics is at the heart of what we do at Third Space Learning. As Maths specialists, the successes (and failures!) that we’ve had over the years have shaped our practice. We feel we've come a long way in developing and applying teaching and learning techniques that engage pupils, breed confidence and, ultimately, achieve results. 

In this post, we reflect on practical and tested teaching strategies that we use in our 1-to-1 Maths interventions to achieve double a child's original progress in Maths, and how you can embed them in your own practice. From the bread and butter of primary Maths teaching, such as engagement and questioning styles, to applying Mastery techniques like variation and bar modelling.

While we build our provision around 1-to-1 or a small group setting, many of these approaches are applicable to whole-class teaching. Taken from our guide on how to plan, manage and teach Maths 1-to-1 (or in small groups), here are the 20 techniques that we use every day to guarantee extra progress in Maths. 

1. Build interest and rapport

Nothing captures a pupil’s imagination more than their own interests! While learning your pupils’ hobbies and favourite pastimes can be time-consuming, it should happen naturally over the course of the year. You can then use this knowledge to personalise classroom explanations.

Our 1-to-1 Maths specialist tutors prepare for each lesson by thinking about how they can effectively engage pupils and relate content to their interests and use images related to these to personalise the session. It's simple, but it's also a great way to turn a new concept from ‘mundane’ to ‘memorable.’

2. Be familiar with resources

This should be the bread and butter of teaching for interventions (and in general). If you're not sure if a resource is pitched at the right level for your pupil(s), then you need to find out.

Before your intervention, look at previous session data or pupil profiles. Are there any areas you should be aware of, such as EAL, dyscalculia, 'struggles with times tables', etc?

Like our tutors, we advise you tally this against the intervention resources and make notes against any potential areas of difficulty, or likely misconceptions. Remember, forewarned is forearmed and avoiding speed bumps when time is limited is crucial to maximising learning.

3. Recap prior learning

Particularly in Maths, where learning needs to build upon previous learning and foundation concepts, recapping prior knowledge is essential. When teaching pupils through our specialist Maths intervention, our tutors always create a linking question from past lessons to kick-start learning in a new one.

This can save precious time and ensure you never try to teach a new concept to a class that they're simply not ready for. 

4. Share lesson objectives to improve Maths progress

Don't assume that just showing your class the learning objectives will make them understand them. Our tutors do this by; asking pupils to identify keywords they don’t understand, asking open-ended questions such as ‘what is the difference’ and ‘what do you think of’, and discussing how lesson objectives link to prior learning.

Discussing lesson objectives is much better for retention than just stating them.

5. Teach key vocabulary

If a pupil does not understand key vocabulary, it is important to get them up to speed before undertaking new learning. To address any misunderstanding before undertaking new learning, our tutors will often get pupils to describe keywords in their own words. Plus if pupils are struggling they will simplify keywords and, for example, discuss ‘sharing’ instead of ‘division’. 

6. Use AfL to adjust pitch and pace

Where possible, learning should be paced to the needs of the pupil(s). This is is why our tutors use AfL to adjust the pitch and pace of their lessons. This is as simple as moving quickly through content that the pupil understands, and slowing down to expand or explain a concept that they’re not getting.

The key element is not to move on from content that a pupil is yet to secure, regardless of how much time you spend on it.

Free Download:

Guide to Effective 1-to-1 Interventions

How to plan, manage & teach Maths 1-to-1 or in small groups


7. Personalise learning and link questions to pupils’ interests

Personally relevant problems are way more fun to solve. Posing a question in the context of the pupil’s name, or their favourite animal, is likely to increase their engagement.

To this end, our tutors often use the pupil’s name, favourite animal, or interests to create personally relevant Maths problems for them to solve. As familiarity and rapport with your class builds throughout the year, this should become easier and easier to do.

8. Create more opportunities for pupil talk

Finding time for pupil talk in a class setting is hard. But, wherever possible, you should encourage active learning and promote discussion rather than lecturing. Short attention spans are an ever-present hurdle and classroom discussion keeps students from zoning out. Plus it enhances metacognitive development.


Above: A Third Space pupil discussing a Maths problem with their tutor.

9. Use 'Concrete Pictorial Abstract' method

This is a staple of many Maths teachers' toolkit. Use real objects to build the pupils’ foundations for conceptual understanding, and follow up with pictorial representations that help them freely conceptualise a problem. This technique is tried and tested and using it enables pupils to grasp more challenging content quickly and effectively.

10. Use variation to improve Maths progress

This is a two-parter. Conceptual variation, which shows pupils different ideas that underpin a Mathematical concept, can be framed using questions such as 'what’s the same?' and 'what’s different?' between different representations. It helps pupils distinguish the essential and obscure characteristics of a Maths concept. 

Procedural variation, which is more useful for multi-step operations and comparing successive procedures (e.g. calculating two different sets of numbers), can be framed as questions such as 'what do you notice?' and 'is there a relationship between?'

11. Frame questions in a real world context 

Connecting topics to the real world makes them more memorable and engaging. This should be done as often as possible and our tutors are expected to connect all Maths learning to the real world, even in more abstract topics!

For example, if a tutor is teaching rounding up to 1 million, they make look at different populations in towns or cities or ask pupils to round up the total of people in their hometown. For a bunch of quick and easy topical Maths investigations to use in the classroom, download our KS2 Topical Maths Resource for Summer Term (2)

12. Vary approaches to questions 

There’s a big difference between learning a method and gaining real understanding.

Our tutors always teach multiple ways to approach the same problem. For example when teaching rounding tutors can use a number line, or ask pupils to simply use the relevant columns to inform their rounding. This is especially crucial for Year 6 pupils who need the tools to answer SATs questions independently.

13. Move from scaffolding to independent practice 

Learning should be structured with gradually decreasing support: from scaffolding to independent learning and finally to stretching. In our intervention, tutors always model answers and show pupils the steps to success before asking them to answer a question.

Moreover, when moving towards the plenary of a lesson, our tutors provide multiple opportunities for pupils to work independently and extend their own learning.

14. Use deeper questioning strategies to help pupils progress in Maths

We all know verbal reasoning plays a large part in improving metacognition, but it is the quality of a discussion is what counts, not the quantity!

Like our tutors, you can encourage quality pupil talk by asking questions like 'how did you get to this answer?' and 'how would I extend this question?' This also addresses the three main aims of the national curriculum: fluency, reasoning and problem-solving. 

15. Use bar-modelling techniques

Bar-modelling is taking the primary Maths world by storm for a reason. From routine calculations such as 4 + 3, to more complex multi-step SATs problems, they are a fantastic learning aid as they show the inner workings of Maths problems. Here are 25 word based problem solving questions with bar models to get you started.


Above: An example of our tutors using bar models to aid learning in a 1-to-1 Maths intervention session.

16. Nurture a growth mindset to nurture Maths progress

Research clearly demonstrates that, compared to other subjects, pupils are most likely to believe they won’t succeed at Maths. To build that crucial confidence our tutors always praise the effort a pupil puts in, rather than the pupil. We find phrases like 'you found a really good way to do that!', or 'I can tell you've been practising', really improve motivation and attitude towards Maths.

17. Provide a range of strategies and next steps

Just as linking from previous concepts gives pupils a sense of familiarity, linking to future concepts ensures that pupils don't get "lost" in learning. This is why our tutors always signpost the learning in any given lesson.

Signposting can be as simple as telling pupils that ‘we’re going to move on to a rounding numbers to a million, it’ll use the same strategies as rounding to ten thousand, but it’s more of a challenge’. This keeps pupils engaged and on track.

18. Encourage metacognition, encourage Maths progress          

Metacognition should be an integral part of lessons and pupils should frequently assessing their own learning. One way to do this is to focus the plenary on what was learnt that day and, more importantly, how it was learnt.        

19. Reward, praise and encourage the pupil

Praise is a great confidence-builder, and corrections can be incorporated constructively within praise. For example, ‘it’s okay that you’ve made a mistake but it’s important that you learn from it. This is especially crucial with pupils who may have less Maths confidence than their peers. 

20. Teach the teacher

To be effective, pupil talk requires proper structure and expectations. One technique we use is to ask a pupil to teach back to the tutor (towards the end of the lesson). It is the ultimate test of understanding.

It’s particularly effective in 1-to-1 settings, where the pupil is under less pressure than in a group. However, when used as a group activity (with more confident pupils doing the teaching) it can be effective in a classroom setting.

We hope you find our list of strategies useful. Tweet us @thirdspacetweet and tell us which strategies you already use or which you'd like to see used more in your school. You can also download our full, FREE guide to effective 1-to-1 Maths interventions here

Plus, if you're looking for Maths specialist support in your primary school, we're offering a free trial of our 1-to-1 Maths tuition for your pupils. They'll work online with their own Maths specialist tutor on a lesson selected by the class teacher. We think your pupils will love it, but we know you'll want to see it in practice before making any decisions.

Further reading:

'Concrete, pictorial, abstract' - an overview by Maths No Problem

How 1-to-1 tuition can help pupils develop a growth mindset

How to teach the bar model method to ace arithmetic and word problems in KS1 & KS2 Maths

Related resources:

Free Topical Maths Investigations - June to July

The Third Space Learning Guide to Effective 1-to-1 Interventions

Bar Modelling worksheet of 25 scaffolded word problems

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