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Oral /mental Starter Ideas Please


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Can anyone suggest a lively oral and mental starter for reception children that worked well? I have a choice of a number or shape focus so I was thinking of a game of some sort involving counting and number recognition but I can’t think of an inspiring idea.

I realise I need to build a bank of ideas so any you are willing to share would be most appreciated. Thanks!

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The DFES have a pack for mathematical activities which is split into Nursery and Reception and also large, small activity groups. You can order it from DFES Tel no. 0845 60 222 60 and the ref no is 0188/2002

Hope this is of some help i have only just got mine but it does look quite good :D

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Hi Matilda,


One number recognition activity which I do involves writing part of/ whole number on the whiteboard/ hands up for who knows number. Then we record the points on a tally chart as Miss*** and 'children' ( I get points if they get it wrong, they get points for correct answers) at frequent points we can guess who has the most/ least points, count the tally marks (counting items that can not be touched for some children). Over the weeks the children have really enjoyed this mental starter as 'Miss' frequently loses!!! I began with numbers 0-9, then increased the range of numbers used over the weeks and differentiate accordingly. Children often use the whiteboards to play this game independently.


Also have made telephone numbers (3-5 numbers on a card) for individual children to use. I dial a number (place numbers from a selection on the whiteboard and then make a ringing noise when I'm ready to dial the number) and the child with the matching number has a turn to dial a number (ususally in small groups) would take too long with my class at the moment to carry out as whole class activity. But as we get quicker with the activity I'm sure we will use it as a whole class activity.


Can also have a selection of shapes for each child (again small/ large groups) I describe a shape and children decide if their shape matches by putting it into a hoop in the middle.


Lots on number rhymes and games, missing numbers from customised number lines (I often make topic specific number lines) etc (Simon says clap three times etc).


Will keep on thinking of any other number activities which we do (we do lots but hard to think of on the spot).



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They are really good ideas Lisa,


I have a music book - called 'Tom Thumbs Musical Maths' which I have found to be really useful as it has lots of simple nursery rhyme tunes which have had their words changed which link them to numbers, shape and space.


We have a feely bag which I often use where children come out and 'describe the shape' to the rest of the class.

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Hi Matilda, you say you have a choice of a number or shape focus, so is this for an interview activity or just as to extend your own repetoire?

I often use songs and number rhymes at the start of the school year and in fact always start all maths sessions with counting, 1-5, 1-10, 1-20 etc and backwards and often some flash cards for numeral recognition, depending on the nature of the teaching focus. This can be followed by another short activity if the focus is not number based.


"Tom thumbs musical maths" is a worthwhile investment and the Kinderscope book " More and Less" which comes with a CD is also excellent (this has been reviewed and you can find mention of it in the book review section) although I found it harder to teach the children the song and gain mathematical knowledge.


Abacus maths is also an excellent maths resource and has some good ideas for starters which you can easily adapt and these can be found at Hamiltontrust.org.uk


Good Luck.

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Thanks very much for all the ideas; I wanted them for my new teaching practice placement in a reception class. Next week will be my first teaching session with them so wanted something to impress. Lisa, I like your idea of the competitive game, I’m sure they would love that.

Wow Catma, just had a quick look at the link and there are loads of great ideas, thank you!

I will go to the library today and look up the books you suggested, as I will have many lessons to plan in the coming weeks!


Thanks again to you all



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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Sorry Sue, only just saw your message.

The oral mental starter went well and I am now beginning to think about my planning for my block practice after Christmas. I must admit I feel really tired at the moment with assignments, dissertation and planning – roll on Christmas!


Out of interest do you all do medium term planning? I only ask cause the school I am in said they do not work that way. I appreciate you need to plan on the children’s interests but I find this a difficult way of working. I can’t really understand how you can ensure you are giving equal coverage to all areas when you are just planning day to day like this.

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