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How do I make sure I am challenging high attainers in mathematics in my primary classroom?

Created on 03 November 2011 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 05 June 2013 by ncetm_administrator


How do I make sure I am challenging high attainers in mathematics in my primary classroom?


As a teacher in a primary school you may be looking for ideas about how to challenge all pupils in your class when you are teaching mathematics.

Mathematical high attainers, pupils who are gifted and talented mathematically and pupils who are naturally curious about numbers and mathematical patterns may all need different approaches to extend their learning.

The NCETM Portal has a variety of ideas for resources and teaching strategies. You will find just a few of them highlighted below. They include answers to questions such as:

  • How do I find the right activity to extend all the pupils who are interested in mathematics in different ways?
  • How do I know who the mathematically gifted and talented pupils are?
  • Where can I find practical ideas and resources for gifted and talented pupils in the classroom?
  • What should I do if the pupils ask me questions about something I’m not sure about?
  • What questions should I ask to extend pupils’ mathematical thinking when I’m not sure about the mathematics myself?<
  • How can I differentiate the activities we do in the classroom so everyone is included?


How do I find the right activity to extend all pupils who are interested in mathematics in different ways?

Extending activities for pupils who have an aptitude for mathematics in some way is a challenge for all mathematics teachers. The best sort of tasks, are often those that have clear starting points and then many different ideas that can be pursued at the next stage. A good source of these activities is in the primary magazine:

For example, Issue 36 looks at the idea of proof and there are also some links to different starting points you could try in the classroom, as well as ideas for working with your colleagues,

Another good way of asking questions to extend thinking is to use the ‘sometimes, always, never’ strategy suggested here:

Sometimes some secondary ideas are also useful for the primary classroom. Whilst some pupils will play the game, more able pupils could also be asked to create a game of cards, like this, for the rest of the class to use:

Another great way to engage high attaining pupils is to do mathematics in the context of a challenging ‘umbrella idea’ For example Issue 33 of the Primary magazine looks at the idea of Fair Trade which is likely to have an impact on all children across the world:

Pupils also enjoy knowing about the background detail to a particular topic. The ‘A little bit of history’ sections of the primary magazines contains good examples, such as this excellent information about weights and measures:

Read about some different projects that have been developed in primary schools to address the needs of the higher attaining pupils: For example, small schools working together to develop provision for the higher attainers:

Different teaching strategies for challenging those who find the work straightforward can be found here.

Discussion Point

Read about this school project for higher attainers: Then discuss with colleagues if a similar approach may develop opportunities for higher attainers in your school.

This discussion in the Primary Forum raises some interesting questions about whether all pupils (including more able pupils) like doing mathematics: Maybe you might like to think about asking pupils at your school what they like about learning mathematics and what they would like to change?

Issue 8 of the Early Years Magazine has some excellent links when you would like to discuss how to spot children who are gifted in different areas. This is useful reading for all teachers in Early Years, Primary AND Secondary schools. You might like to think about and discuss the strategies you are using in your school for finding out about the talents that individual pupils have.

Information about the KS2 level 6 mathematics tests can be found here.

Explore a piece of mathematics

When teaching gifted and talented pupils it sometimes helps if, along with a small group of other teachers you try to do the mathematical activity you are going to give them yourself. In this way you get a sense of the type of things you might find pupils do in the classroom.

There are some challenging games for primary pupils that have been highlighted in this Secondary Forum

It maybe that you ask your pupils to play the game and then discuss winning strategies. As a group of teachers you may wish to do the same thing.

Look at the teaching idea of asking pupils if things are Always, Sometimes or Never True. This idea is explored by teachers in the Secondary Forum. Ask colleagues to put similar ideas on an Always Sometimes or Never True notice board in the staff room.

You can also see the Primary discussion on the same topic.

Learning from each other

It has been said by some recently that ‘teachers learn best when they learn from each other’. If you know of another link to an activity or resource on the NCETM website that you think would be useful or appropriate for readers of this guidance, please use the comments box below to let us and them know of your idea.

Courses and Networks

We have many courses and networks available, search in our Professional Development Calendar to find a suitable course or network.

Personal Learning

“Activity by itself is not enough; it is the sense that is made of it that matters” (DRIVER, R. (1983) The Pupil as Scientist?, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

For the things you have tried out for yourself in your own classroom to become useful pieces of professional learning, there is a need to capture them, reflect upon them and remark on them. The NCETM Personal Learning Space (PLS) allows you to do this.

  • Use My Learning Journal to collect your thoughts and reflections as well as to log actions; documents can be attached to your entries. You could do this now by visiting your own PLS.
  • Use My Favourites and Notes to take note of and organise interesting things you have found (like this page) and want to return to easily in future.
  • Use the Sharing and Contacts facility to share elements of your PLS with colleagues, selecting them from your own list of contacts
  • Use the “Request a reminder” function

Find out more details of these and other functions of the PLS.



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19 March 2014 06:34
We asked our top Level 5 children if they wanted to do the Level 6 paper. Most wanted too, but some didn't after looking at a previous paper. I teach Level 6 as a "club" after school one day a week. The children enjoy what we are doing and it is great to see them work with each other.
By rwprimarysch
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11 April 2012 17:21
How are Y6 teachers approaching this year's optional L6 papers? How many pupils are they considering entering? Is there pressure to enter from parents, SMT, governors?Benefits versus drawbacks? Has huge implications and I've not seen much discussion about it
By coanem
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