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16 engaging start of term KS2 Maths activities to tackle your pupils’ ‘summer brain drain’

By Sam Bennett 

Summer brain drain. It’s real, it’s here and it can happen to even the best pupils. Sometimes referred to as "the summer slide", it is officially known as the loss of knowledge and skills which were acquired during the previous school year over the summer holidays. Primary Maths seems to be the subject which is hit the hardest, with industry experts suggesting “2.6 months of Maths skills are lost over the summer.” Yikes! 

Get back into the swing

Your new pupils' retention of last year's Maths may not be as strong you hoped. But wait! There's hope. Here at Third Space Learning we’re experts at engaging primary pupils in Maths. So, to get you and them back into the swing, we've trawled the Internet to compile a list of the top 16 (coincidently happens to be a square number!) engaging, fun and effective problem-solving KS2 Maths activities to shake up your pupils and clear out those cognitive cobwebs.

In fact they're suitable for any day of the week, but right now, at the start of term, we recommend you use them to help pupils to overcome their summer brain drain, develop depth and justify their reasoning. These activities are teacher approved and bonus: your pupils won’t even realise that summer holiday is over and you’ll be the coolest teacher in your school with these Maths games. Win-win! 

As an added bonus, at the bottom of this post, we've also include a free Back to School Maths Quiz for you to download.

1. How Many Squares and How Many Triangles?

Pupils use a quick online activity to find as many squares and triangles in the diagram as possible, requiring them to think outside the square. Or triangle!

Time: 10 - 20 mins
Why we chose it: Great for a starter on the first day back.  Pupils love counting the objects when you press the play button!
Our suggestion: Make it into a competition - closest person wins a prize! Get pupils to commit to an answer - back of books.
How to support: Ask them to work in pairs. Or you could ask of an example of another square other than the individual ones.
How to extend: When asking for results, ask pupils to think of an efficient way to record the data.
Link to activity: How Many Squares?
How Many Triangles?
Original source:

2. Here’s The Answer, What’s The Question?

Give pupils a complete calculation and ask them to write their own word problem.

Time: 10 - 15 mins
Why we chose it: It's open ended! Just think of the responses, some pupils may even surprise you!
Our Suggestions: Ask pupils to copy the calculations in their books. Perhaps you could ask them why you have set your workings out in that way?
How to support: Ask pupils to come up with an example in pairs first so that they are having to verbalise their reasoning with one another. Then ask them to come up with another example all by themselves.
How to extend: Make it a 2 or multiple step calculation.

3. Education Estimation

Estimate the number of pens/pencils/books etc needed for the class/year group/whole school in this fun and informative activity.

Time: 20 - 25 minutes
Why we chose it: Estimation is a key skill to practise and a nice way to link Maths to real life context. Plus, maybe they will be more respectful with your stationery?
Our Suggestion: If you are brave enough, get out a whole box of pencils at the start so that (as a whole class) pupils can manipulate/visualise how many would be need. Again, only if you’re brave.
How to support: Use simpler numbers such as smaller containers, larger items or provide a comparison first. e.g. Here's one cup and it has ten pencils in. Now how many do you think are in this cup?
How to extend: Add in a cost per item. "What if I had 10, 20, 15 of these pots/packs?" "What if I had twice as many?" "What if I gave a third of them away?"


Get pupils to chose from a list of numbers on the board (or they can make them up). Then display a sequence of prepared numbers on the board and pupils cross them off on their grid. When pupils cross off all of their numbers they shout “BINGO!”

Time: 15-20 mins
Why we chose it: You can do so much with them! Easiest way is to get the pupils to draw their own bingo grids on their mini whiteboards and fill in numbers e.g. "Choose 9 of the numbers from the list on the board." or "Write down 9 multiples of 10 between 100 and 500."
Our suggestion: Do not reinvent the wheel - there are loads of bingo cards out there for you to use for free! Also, write down the answers to the questions (in order of course) before and this makes it easier to check.
How to support: Create cards with easier numbers. If in a mixed ability class, try to use a variety of questions, some easier than others.
How to extend: Create cards whereby the numbers are calculations/times tables (eg instead of 64 you could put 8 x 8).
Link to activity: TES has a plethora of them (you willl need to sign in/create an account.)
Original source: TES resources

5. Grid Multiplication 

Pupils have to use their times table knowledge to find the missing numbers.

Time: 10 - 15 mins
Why we chose it: Great for practising times tables and looking at the inverse and how they link with one another.
Our Suggestion: Do one as an example with the whole class. Then get pupils to create one for their friends to answer. They can do this by creating one on their whiteboards then just rubbing out some of the answers. Nice way to get pupils practising multiplication. They obviously will make it as hard as they can for them. What are friends for eh?
How to support: Pair work or possibly a times table grid.
How to extend: Create a grid that requires a two step solution like the example above.
Link to activity: Flash Maths Grid Multiplication
Original source:

6. Countdown

Choose six cards, you are then given a target. You have to make that target with the cards you have using the four operations. You can only use a card once. You do not have to use all cards.

Time: 10-20 mins
Why we chose it: It requires pupils to use the four operations and they really see it as a great challenge! Let’s play countdown!
Our Suggestion: Two from the top and four from the bottom is the easiest.
How to support: Give them an extension of time (say another 10 seconds?). Or ask a pupil what they would do first so that those struggling can have a start in the right direction. You could also provide struggling pupils with list of a key number facts e.g. 2 x 75 = 150.
How to extend: Four from the top and two from the bottom of course!
Link to activity: Nrich Coundown activity (plus many more great Maths activities to enrich learning) 
Original source:

7. Coded Hundred Square 

This 100 square is written in code. It starts with 1 and ends with 100. Can your pupils build it up? Visit the link below for a full size version.

Time: 20-30 mins
Why we chose it: One of the longer ones in time we know, but this exercise can be so powerful. The activity allows pupils to see links between the place values of units, tens and hundreds.
Our Suggestion: Print it out and get pupils to work in pairs while they cut out the parts so that pupils can manipulate and talk through their reasoning with their partner.
How to support: Give pupils a 100 square so they can visually make links
How to extend:

Ask pupils to make their own versions with their own code

Link to activity: Coded Hundred Square 
Original source:

8. Flash Maths Number Grids

Pupils have to fill the grid with numbers following the rules they are given.

Time: 10 - 15 mins
Why we chose it: A great starter that develops pupils problem solving skills whilst revising the special types of number.
Our Suggestion: Have a quick run through of the types of numbers before pupils attempt the grid. Perhaps you could have a glossary on a table for pupils to share?
How to support: Reduce the number of grids to two by two.
How to extend: Increase the number of grids to four by four.
Link to activity: Flash Maths Number Grids
Original source:

9. Tell Me About it

Pupils are required to put their own definitions to the terms and the numbers.

Time: 10 - 15 mins
Why we chose it: It’s a great way of getting literacy in Maths!
Our Suggestion: Before they write it down, get pupil to tell each other in pairs what they think each means.
How to support: This could be done as a matching activity whereby pupils are given the terms/numbers and then they have to match it up to the relevant description.
How to extend: Include harder numbers. Possibly a number that matches multiple terms, for example 64.
Link to activity: Credit for this goes to samang25 and it can be found on the TES website.
Original source: TES resources

10. Odd One Out 

Two tens and four ones

Pupils are required to spot the odd one out. You could do it so there is only one odd one.The example here has many and is based on place value but you can use it for almost anything.

Time: 5 - 15 mins (depending on how many you do!)
Why we chose it: This starter is great for gauging how much a pupil has retained about a topic. And do you know the best thing about this? There is no wrong answer as long as a pupil can justify their answer!
Our Suggestion: Do this activity as a class as the conversation could just take off!
How to support: Have a combination where there is no wrong answer (like the one above).
How to extend: Design a combination where 3 (or 4) are the same and only one is the odd one out. Great for simplest form!


11. Guess My...

Teacher to think of a number/shape/angle etc. Then, pupils are to ask questions to the teacher where the answer can only be yes or no. Challenge pupils to guess within a set number of questions.

Time: 5 - 15 mins
Why we chose it: It requires pupils to be thinking about the questions they are asking. They are also required to use key terminology and remember previous answers too!
Our Suggestion: Do not break the rules! Responses like ‘kind of’, ‘hmmm’ and ‘’nearly’ are not yes or no responses!
How to support: Increase the number of questions pupils can have.
How to extend: Decrease the number of questions pupils can have.

12. Find 5 Different Ways To Make 24

Make 24 in 5 different ways whereby all four of the operations are used.

Time: 15 - 20 mins
Why we chose it: Order of operations, number fluency, problem solving, need we say more?
Our Suggestion: Do an example first. Perhaps include one with a misconception that does not follow the order of operations.
How to support: You could decrease it to three ways to make 24.
How to extend: Include variations such as square numbers, square roots, only odd/even numbers must be used or even must use all different numbers in each equations.

13. Fizz Bizz Game


Decide on the multiplication table you’re going to chant. In turns, pupils list the multiples in order, but are not allowed to say numbers that match with a rule (eg numbers that are divisible by 2). Instead, they have to replace that number with a word that you have come up with.

Time: 5 - 10 mins
Why we chose it: It gets them on their feet, improves their times tables and we bet you will end up in fits of giggles!
Our Suggestion: Go crazy with the word! We came up with pickle, brolly and trifle!
How to support: Make the rule easier.
How to extend: Have two rules to keep them on their toes!

14. Macaroni - Proportion Starter

Pupils are given a picture like the one above (or you can use real macaroniI) and then a set of questions whereby you have to find the value of each piece of Macaroni.

Time: 20 - 25 mins
Why we chose it: It involves bar modelling!
Our Suggestion: Do not do this one right before lunchtime.
How to support: Make numbers and problems easier
How to extend: Make the numbers harder and include two step problems, e.g. if Q=6, what does K equal?
Link to activity: Credit for this goes to BW_2012 and can be found on TES
Original source:  TES resources

15. Fractangle 

The rectangle above is shown on the board. Pupils have to figure out what fraction of the rectangle is shaded black.

Time: 5 - 10 mins
Why we chose it: It requires pupils to think outside the box. Also, watch their faces as the answer is revealed.
Our Suggestion: Give it time. They may not get it at first but then there will be an ‘oohh!’ and then watch that spread like wildfire!
How to support: Pupils could work in pairs.
How to extend: How much of the shape is not shaded. Can you write an equation for this? Also, create your own fractangle!
Link to activity: Fractangle
Original source:

16. Place Value Charts

Pupils practice making a number from either a number represented by digits or by words.

Time: 10 - 20 mins
Why we chose it: If you are lucky enough to have tablets, then it can be more interactive!
Our Suggestion: Get the pupils to speak out the number before they answer the questions.
How to support: You can select easier place value option.
How to extend: You can set it so it can go into tenths and hundredths. You could ask pupils to round answers to the nearest whole number/tenth.
Link to activity: Place Value Charts
Original source:

So there you have it! 16 examples of how to tackle the summer brain drain. We hope you like them. Let us know what you think by emailing or giving us a call on 0203 771 0093. Have a great term.

Looking for more free resources? You're in luck! We have also created a 28 question Back to School Maths Quiz to pinpoint Year 6 gaps. It includes an answer sheet and lesson slides to go through the questions after as a class, ideal for peer assessment.

Free resource: Download Back to School Maths Quiz

Further reading

1. Long school holidays 'should end'

2. Back-to-school, resources, first day activities, games, assemblies

Pupil struggling with maths

Do your pupils struggle with Maths?

Our 1-to-1 Maths interventions help struggling pupils become confident mathematicians.

Year 3, 4 & 5 Catch Up
Year 6 SATs Foundation

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