50 things effective teachers of maths do

How long is a piece of string?  No really, get your rulers out…

Successful teaching relies on your ability to coordinate the mathematical content with the teaching methods that can bring about successful learning of that content.

The following is a collection of observations that provide us with clues as to what effective teachers of maths do.

This doesn’t mean that a skilled teacher does all of these things, but they definitely do a lot of them. They are characteristics to think about and aim for.  When you’re next lesson planning, why not ask yourself which of these you’re doing? And give yourself a pat on the back!

50 Things Effective Teachers of Maths Do.


1. act as nets, not spoons – they don’t dish out and feed maths knowledge but give pupils the time and space to learn for themselves, to unpack and explore
2. promote dialogue and set up various opportunities for children to express their ideas and engage in argument, reasoning and learning conversations
3. take every idea, question and query seriously and offer children help to find out for themselves and let children teach one another
4. promote endless curiosity and never stop asking questions and never stop wondering why or how one thing is connected to another
5. ‘build the team’ by creating a collaborative group of learners who support each other in their learning – a maths community
6. do not pretend that they know everything or find everything easy
7. teach from the edge – they teach by not taking over but standing and watching and facilitating when needed
8. act as devil’s advocate – they throw a few spanners into the works by questioning and presenting counter-examples to create cognitive conflict
9. are not hooked on labels but on need – they don’t see children as ‘low’ or ‘high’ ability but focus on growth
10. consider learning needs but don’t become slaves to learning styles but sensitively design different tasks for different pupils with the same learning objective
11. develop expertise and promote self-mastery by reading in and around the subject
12. feedback and feedforward ensuring there is a range and healthy balance of formative responses to challenge, clarify, correct, confirm, redirect, refocus and upgrade
13. teach with precision and insist that pupils work with an attention to detail
14. are mavericks who look for new opportunities to present ideas in exciting and out of the box ways
15. ‘teach like a pirate’ by looking for hooks to help make content memorable
16. model resiliency and a growth mind-set to create independent, resilient and skilful learners
17. inspire children to see maths in everything everywhere they go and to stop, think, act and reflect
18. make maths fizz, bubble, playful, zany and extraordinary
19. avoid ‘beige’ lessons but aim for rainbow ones instead filled with diversity
20. inspire creative thinkers with a penchant for problem-solving
21. help children to see themselves as effective learners with ability that is fluid and forever changing
22. provoke children to think for themselves and make links rather than accept everything at face value
23. are relentless in their pursuit of super-sizing children’s maths confidence by reducing the fear factor of maths
24. establish mistake-making as a healthy and productive way to upgrade knowledge and understanding
25. make maths shine by making maths work interesting, accessible and challenging for all
26. link maths to children’s own lives but don’t teach fractions using pizzas! They search for new ways of teaching
27. always aim-high and set challenging work and don’t shy away from presenting children with difficult and complex maths
28. help children to hop, skip, jump, dance, stumble, trip and fall – taking risks is important
29. offer children a range of mathematical experiences and a varied menu of maths moments
30. go off-piste and teach maths magic tricks, hacks, short-cuts and surprises
31. help children see there isn’t always a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer
32. get children moving – maths is active and interactive, hands-on and minds-on
33. take maths outside to exploit the opportunities for bring maths alive in the real-world
34. combine maths with other subjects rather than allow children to see it as a distinct subject but richly interconnected
35. help children to challenge themselves and make some choices about the work they do
36. expect children to give reasons (to answer ‘why’ questions), and to explain (to answer ‘how’ questions)
37. challenge misconceptions and false generalisations and underpin procedural knowledge with conceptual understanding
38. give children breathing space to think and don’t expect immediate answers
39. tell maths jokes, e.g. A talking sheepdog gets all the sheep in the pen for his farmer. He comes back and says, “All 40 accounted for.” The farmer says, “I’ve only got 36 sheep!” The sheepdog replies, “I know, but I rounded them up.”
40. set purposeful homework to reinforce something children have already learned and avoid giving too much of it either
41. challenge correct as well as incorrect answers
42. use technology only if it enhances learning, not to jump on bandwagons or impress parents
43. allow children to articulate their ideas, and accept these, reserving judgment so that all responses are valued as contributions to a fuller understanding
44. plan next steps in learning based on what children know, partly know, and don’t know
45. don’t mindlessly follow bullet-pointed plans but adapt and edit a lesson continually to reflect children’s actual real-time learning
46. move children around so that they work with a range of peers and don’t get into comfort zones
47. use a lot of games, puzzles and fun activities that absorb children in maths work
48. use a range of tools and appropriate models of maths to support imagery
49. listen to evidence-based research about what works and what doesn’t
50. hold children accountable for their own learning but see maths as a partnership

The list is certainly not a complete one and you will probably have many ideas of your own to add to it.

There is one thing though that is common to all effective maths teachers and that is passion – they teach from the heart, they are super-interested in their subject and they whet children’s appetite to learn.

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Author: John Dabell

John DabelJohn is an ex-primary school teacher and Ofsted inspector who has spent the last 20 years working in the education industry as a teacher, national in-service provider, project manager, writer and editor. John’s specialist area is primary maths but he also loves teaching science and English. John has written a number of educational and children’s books and contributed well over 1,000 articles, features, reviews and curriculum projects to various bodies, magazines, journals and institutions. John is Eteach’s school leadership and Ofsted advice guru – sharing monthly insights on best practice for motivating and enriching a school team, as well as sharing savvy career steps for headteachers and SLT.



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One thought on “50 things effective teachers of maths do

  1. Nothing wrong with using models to teach. ‘Pizza’ or cake, as it was in the olden day’s, is an ideal way to teach fractions. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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