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Do your pupils do maths in silence?

Fortunately, working in silence during maths lessons is not the normal mode of working within primary schools. So why is this fortunate?

Well, talking about maths clarifies pupils’ ideas and means that they have to justify their reasoning, which helps to embed concepts. Of course, there are times when allowing some silent time for individual work is important. When working in pairs or groups, pupils often process ideas at different speeds, and this can vary between different topics.

Also, pupils often need some time to work through their own ideas before being bombarded with thoughts from more confident pupils and allowing discussion would clearly not work when carrying out assessments!

However, despite my pleasure when pupils come and ask me to arbitrate during a (sometimes noisy) maths debate that they have initiated, I am a fan of silent maths. By this, I mean an activity that I have frequently used with all ages in those moments when your pupils need to be calm and quiet but you still want to engage them in some maths such as while waiting to enter an assembly, or queuing of any description. It can also be used while pupils are collecting their things to go home or putting their things away (if this is carried out by a couple of groups at a time).

Calculations are great for this: pupils show the calculation with their fingers and hands and the pupil who provides the answer uses their fingers and hands to answer. It is best to agree beforehand how the numbers will be represented: we represent twenty by holding up ten fingers, closing them and then showing them again. One hundred can be a middle finger and two zeroes formed by joining the thumb and forefinger on each hand. The four operation symbols should also be agreed at the start. Pupils need to really concentrate on the calculation that is being represented because they cannot rely on their hearing.

Another idea for a silent queue of young pupils is for one pupil to write the word form of a number on another child’s back, using their finger. The child then writes the numerals for that number on their partner’s back. Older pupils can draw an angle on a partner’s back, and the recipient writes the angle in degrees in return. These activities can be performed in threes so that one pupil is the arbitrator who monitors whether the approximate angle measurement is close enough to the drawn angle in their opinion.

There are of course many other applications, depending on your maths focus or what you would like to revisit. So have a go at changing those intervals of quiet queuing and waiting (which can often turn to noisy waiting within a remarkably short time!) into a productive part of the day by trying out some silent maths.