Effective Lesson Starters

‘If the hook is weak, there may be trouble ahead.’ LOtoya Patrick-Taylor​

Planning a lesson is very similar to planning a speech or a presentation; there are three main parts – the introduction, the body and the conclusion. Similarly, in our lessons, we have the starter task, the main explanation or activation of the main concept for the lesson and finally the plenary.

Some key features of an effective lesson starter are the ability of the starter:

  • To get students settled – an effective starter gets the vast majority of students engaged in the task. This can be an excellent behaviour management tool.
  • To get students thinking – an effective starter uses a variety of questions to allow access but also to stretch and challenge pupils. This is especially useful when teaching mixed ability groups.
  • To diagnose – an effective starter seeks to assess what students already know about the topic of the day in order to inform the teaching of that topic.

One of the things to remember about lesson starters is to use the concept of ‘less is more’ – to give less questions for students to complete in the starters. This will allow pupils to complete the starter within a 5 minutes time frame.

As an example:

Below, I have attached a starter booklet I created for my middle set year 9 mathematics students using GCSE past paper questions as well as questions from https://www.piximaths.co.uk.

Click to access year-9-do-now-spring-ht-1-2.pdf

– Each page represents the starter (Do Now task) for a separate day.

– Each page has three questions. A fourth question, my diagnostic question, is written or projected on the board. Students are required to copy the fourth question in their booklet. I always use a question from https://diagnosticquestions.com/)

Do Now Format

Below is the format that I generally use and have also promoted due to the significant impact it has shown to have on students’ performance over a period of time:

Do Now / Starters (maximum time = 10mins including feedback): 

–       Aim for 3 to 4 questions per starter task:

a. Students should not need more than 5 minutes to complete the questions

b. Teacher should not take more than 5 minutes to feedback to the class on how to answer the questions.

–       Questions should be of the format:

  • One or two questions that test Previous knowledge to help with recall and long term retention of concepts (does not have to be the immediate knowledge learnt in the last lesson – could be something learnt in the previous term or two weeks prior to current lesson) – preferably one of these questions should connect the previous knowledge to the new concept you will be teaching.
  • Diagnostic question to assess what students already know about the concept you will be teaching. This could be done by using questions which highlights common misconceptions in the specific topic. See https://diagnosticquestions.com/ for some really good multiple choice questions that highlights common misconceptions.
  • An extension question that allows for much deeper thinking – this does not have to be labelled ‘extension’ and does not have to be the last question. It should be obvious from the amount of thinking requires / difficulty of the question.

Additionally, it is important that the first or at least the second question is accessible to all students (hopefully all J ). This is crucial since this early success usually motivates students to at least attempt the other problems.

Finally, as much as possible, it is important to circulate (walk around) to ensure that all students are on task.

What about you?

Is there a format you use consistently in your lessons which have produced great results? If yes, this is the perfect place to share those ideas so that we can better our best and get better results from our students.

Published by lotoyalpt

Passionate, driven and called to be a teacher. My name is Lotoya Patrick-Taylor, a sister, a wife, a mom, a friend and a teacher. I was trained to be a teacher in Jamaica, where I received my Teaching Diploma in Mathematics at Church Teachers' College and my BA in Mathematics from Southern New Hampshire University (Hons) in the U.S.A. I have been teaching high school mathematics for just over eight years. Taught for four years in Jamaica, worked as a mathematics coach and delivered workshops to various maths department. I am currently in my fourth year in the United Kingdom, where I am the Lead teacher of Maths at my school. In addition to being a classroom teacher in the U.K, I am a maths coach and I also deliver training sessions at my school and to a network of schools. Roles I thoroughly enjoy - I love people and I love collaborating, sharing and learning (hence, the reason I decided to start this blog).

7 thoughts on “Effective Lesson Starters

  1. I am a teacher of mathematics in the UK and I will be responsible to create Do Now Task for Year 7 for the next school year. Therefore this information is very helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing Kelvin. I am happy that you found this helpful. The link for pixi also has some very useful and organized set of questions for all grade levels. Another website I found increasingly useful is whiterosemaths.com which also has some great resources for years 7 to 8.


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