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The Five Part Maths Lesson

A groundbreaking new approach or style over substance?

Back in January, my school’s maths coordinator introduced an idea which she claimed would practically revolutionise our approaches to teaching mathematics across the school. The idea, apparently imported from Shanghai by the local maths hub, would see the traditional lesson structure overhauled to include 5 distinctive elements that would deliver on the dream of ‘mastery’ for all. Read on for an overview of the 5 part lesson structure as we put the Five Part Maths Lesson under the microscope.
  1. Counting

It stands to reason that a maths lesson would include counting, right? But how often do crucial skills like skip counting end up being forgotten about as your wrestle with teaching your pupils about symmetry or coordinates? Fairly often for many teachers.



Routinely making counting the first activity in your lessons prevents this from happening and it’s an effective way of keeping those basic skills on the boil. It’s best done with a tangible or visual reference point such as a counting stick or a set of bead strings of course.

2. Review and Do

This is exactly as it says on the tin – review what was taught in the previous lesson and offer children the opportunity to respond to your marking. This is where common misconceptions can be quickly addressed or where previous learning can be consolidated.

3. The Hook & The Input (Initial practice)

The so-called ‘hook’ is simply a mathematical problem (relating to the curriculum content to be taught) that provides children with an opportunity to apply their knowledge to a problem or to reason mathematically. The more open-ended the better.

The teacher presents the hook to the children as a challenge which they must tackle in any way they can without intervention from an adult. This, of course, takes some training to create a can-do culture devoid of the cacophony of “I don’t get it”.

Once the children have attempted the hook, the teacher then elicits ideas across the ability range of pupils and notes them on the board or on a Smart Notebook page for later reference.

At this stage, having established children’s levels of prior knowledge and understanding, the teacher begins teaching the new skills towards achieving a particular curriculum objective. Interestingly, this can be done by dynamically differentiating groups of children who allocate themselves to a group according to levels of confidence with the hook. This is intended to facilitate a structure where the teacher delivers the input to the less able students whilst the teaching assistant (if available) delivers to the others or vice versa.

4. Practice

This is the part where students apply what they have learned during the previous stage to a range of questions which ought to include ‘varied fluency’ and ‘reasoning and problem solving’. It is expected of course that the teacher differentiates activities by strategically deploying resources such as manipulatives as well as supporting adults.

5. Plenary

This takes the form of revisiting the hook from part 3. At this stage, there should be an observable difference in how the children tackle the hook now to how they attempted it earlier.

The Verdict

Having employed this structure within the vast majority of maths lessons for two terms, I feel well placed to offer insight into whether or not it improves on the way we were typically teaching maths in the past. Does it improve outcomes for pupils in relation to attainment in mathematics? The data would appear so with a substantial number of children making age-related expectations with some even reaching the lofty heights of ‘greater depth’.

What about the Five Part Lesson boosts attainment in a cohort? I’d argue that it is an effective way of keeping on the boil basic skills and serves as a means of constantly using formative assessment to plan next steps.

However, the jury is still out on how effective it is for SEND pupils as some students simply lack sufficient prior knowledge to access objectives for their year group. I suspect that the maths teachers of Shanghai do not have this problem of huge disparity between the most and least able members of a class which is commonplace in Britain. It has been said (perhaps controversially) that classes in Shanghai are less varied in terms of children’s abilities because the culture there is not necessarily one of inclusion.

A notable bugbear of mine about the Five Part Maths Lesson is that it is intended to be used daily and this makes it somewhat repetitive. On numerous occasions, I found myself along with the children longing for some variety to maths lessons and I of course would occasionally indulge in a game or activity to break the monotony for everyone in the class.

Furthermore, resourcing these lessons is difficult if you do not have a scheme of work geared towards Five Part Maths Lessons. Creating hooks or printing worksheets or writing questions on the board was extremely laborious and this fed into the feeling of boredom mentioned earlier. If you’re not enjoying it, will the children enjoy it?

So there you have it. The good, the bad and the ugly about the Five Part Maths Lesson. Let us know in the comments below if you’re using it or if you intend to use. We’d love to hear your thoughts about any developments about primary teaching.

By | 25 July, 2019 |

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