Monday, 4 November 2013

Numeracy Across the Curriculum (ITT/NQT Session)

updated Nov 2016
I have been delivering a 'numeracy across the curriculum' session for my school's ITTs and NQTs for the past few years now.

For the session, I use the following Prezi and include a number of ideas for getting numeracy into other subject's lessons. These ideas I will explain further here to support the ITTs and NQTs at my school, and also for anyone else who is interested in those ideas that I presented...I hope they are of use!

*Feel free to flick through the Prezi I created for the session. Throughout the presentation: I reference the National Numeracy Organisation; briefly explained what numeracy was; give my colleagues a numeracy ninjas session to attempt and use this to highlight the different ways students will go about solving the same problems; suggest ways in which you could/should be using numeracy in lessons; provide examples of what could be used to help (data from SIMS and a guide to the levels in Mathematics and then present 12 ideas, all of which I will explain further here (due to having to whizz through them in the session)!*

Idea #1 - Scrabble Tiles
I wrote a blog post on these previously which can be seen by going to -->

The Scrabble Tiles can be used in any subject by getting students to find/create key words for the lesson. The numeracy element comes in by getting students to find the sum of the numbers on their tiles. They could then even multiply this by a 'number of the day'. You could get students to estimate the highest total score for a word in your subject, would it differ in other subjects? Why? You could award extra points to students if they come up with a key word for the particular topic you are teaching; you could even award a percentage of their score, for example students could get 10% extra if the word is related to the lesson.

Idea #2 - Use the Dates

This idea is particular useful in subjects like History and English where you have historical dates to refer to or historical figures/people to mention. Get students to work out how many years it has been since certain dates, since the death of historical people. In Geography you could ask students to find the number of years since an event happened. You could get students to work out the age of people who have died by giving them their year of birth/death; you could go as far as working out how old they were in years, months, days, hours etc and could discuss conversions between time here. You could ask students how many days it is until events in the future too. For example, in RE, religious festivals such as Divali, Christmas, Eid, Easter etc. In Design and Technology (or Art) you can get students to create Gantt Charts for their projects and work out the number of days allocated to certain aspects of their projects.

Here's an example of a Gantt Chart. These could be used for any subject where an extended project is used - or for revision purposes in terms of creating a revision timetable!

Idea #3 - Pie Chart of the lesson

This could be used to great effect as a plenary activity. Get students to draw a pie chart to sum up the lesson. This activity could be differentiated for students by either keeping the timings simple (i.e. half the lesson I...(half the pie chart), a quarter of the lesson I...(a quarter of the pie chart), an eighth of the lesson I...(a quarter of the pie chart) etc) or getting students to use smaller time intervals, i.e. I spent 4 minutes reflecting on my progress (so a 24 degree slice would be needed to represent this). In order to do this the students will need to divide the 360 degrees in a circle up accordingly; 1 minute of the lesson would be represented by a 6 degree slice of the pie chart.

Idea #4 - Graphing Progress

Again, as a plenary activity in a lesson, or perhaps even kept at the start of every new topic in their exercise books, students can create a suitable graph/chart to 'graph' their progress throughout a topic. Here they can practise their skills of drawing suitable axis, with a consistent scale, and plotting points on their graph across a given time period. You can discuss here with students the criteria that they'll put on their 'progress' axis, whether it be a grade, level or other scale. You could also discuss the benefits of one graph/chart over another.

Idea #5 - Top Trumps

I love top trumps cards and have used them in my lessons to help engage lower ability students in their learning. I have a particular set of 'animal substitution top trumps' cards that I use regularly when teaching the topic. How these can be used in other subjects is by using key people/events and getting students to create their own top trumps cards and assign people/events certain values based on some categories you/they decide upon. For example, in English, you could take all characters from a particular novel (lets say Of Mice and Men) and then get students to rate them on their: likability, nobility, strength etc. Students then assign each character a value for these categories based on what they have learnt about them by reading the novel and then they'd play the game of top trumps in the traditional manner. To make this even more numeracy related you could get students to create sums/calculations instead of just having a single number. This way students would have to first do the sum before deciding whose card was the winner. In Science, this can be done with the Elements, perhaps taking proton number, mass number, number of electrons etc as the categories.

Here's an example of the 'Animal Substitution Top Trumps' I use...

With these top trump cards you give students values for a, b and c to substitute into the expressions on the cards. I change the values throughout the activity (to negatives, decimals, fractions etc) and then award 'rewards'/'house points' for those students holding my favourite cards (the chicken, pig and hedgehog - just in case you were wondering).

You can download this resource on the TES by clicking on -->

Idea #6 - Line Ups (range, median etc)

This can be used in a number of subjects where your students have to measure anything. For example, if they need to measure their heights for a given activity, or perhaps their heart rates in PE. Get them to line up in ascending order and then ask the class to work out the range, median and mode of their heights, heart rates, hand spans, weights etc. In History, you could take this idea further to make a timeline out of students for a certain event, say World War I or II, hand out to them key events, or get them to create these themselves, and then get them to line up in ascending order. Then you could calculate time frames between certain events. I can see this working well in PE too for the speeds at which they complete certain events/tasks.

Idea #7 - Venn Diagrams

Venn Diagrams can be used to compare any 2 (or more) things. In English, they can be used to compare characters in a book. In Science, they can be used to compare elements, In PE, they can be used to compare sporting events. In History, they can be used to compare historical events. In Geography, they could be used to compare natural disasters. In Music, they can be used to compare songs/bands/artists. In Food, they can be used to compare recipes. And so on... . Venn Diagrams can be used as either a starter activity or a plenary. They can also be used for revision purposes if asked to 'compare and contrast...'.

I have a resource on the TES I use when introducing Venn Diagrams (or HCF and LCM) that acts as a starter activity to get students to compare...Batman and Superman or...Shrek and Donkey. Download and adapt them here...

Idea #8 - Calculator Stories
This idea stems from a resource I found on the TES, you can download that resource here -->

Here it is too...

As you can see by the image to the left, this involves using a calculator to perform certain calculations to which the answers can be read by turning the calculator upside down in the 'old school' fashion where kids would type 5318008 to spell out 'boobies'!

You can therefore take any piece of text, omit any words you can spell by typing in numbers on a calculator and then turning it upside down, and then create a sum for students to answer to reveal the word in the text. You could get students to create their own or prepare them for them as a short starter activity. This would get them reading some key information for your lesson whilst practising their calculator skills. Check whether your students have their calculators on them at all times or whether you'll need to borrow some; they should all have them with them in our school (as long as they have Mathematics on the same day as your lesson)!?

Idea #9 - Cash Reward/Behaviour Tax
an idea I recently read in @TeacherToolkit's #100ideas book...

The idea is that, perhaps as part of a behaviour management strategy, at the start of a lesson you give all students a certain amount of 'money'. I have some fake £10 notes printed out that I use with ratio activities, or you could use money from board games, print your own etc. Then, throughout the lesson, perhaps when giving out reward points or warnings (in line with your school's behaviour policy), you then issue a reward cash value or 'tax' to the students. This tax could be 10%/25% of the money they have at that time in the lesson, or could just be a determined amount, say £20; a discussion here about which would be the greater amount would be lovely! The students at the end of the lesson with the most money could then 'trade' them in for a small prize or even receive an additional reward point.
I have used raffle tickets in the past in this manner (give them out for good behaviour/work, take them away for poor behaviour) and then draw a ticket at the end of the lesson and that person wins a prize. Here you can discuss the probability of them winning, based on the number of raffle tickets they have!

Idea #10 - Bananas!
I have no idea why this activity is called 'bananas' but I love it is an idea I found through @TickTockMaths' '59 Starters' resource available on the TES. I blogged about it very recently at -->

Here's the idea...and this can be used in any subject...

You basically choose a few categories, related to your subject/lesson, and then pick any letter of the alphabet and get students to think of a key word for each category that begins with the chosen letter of the alphabet. How you get in some numeracy is that one of the categories could be 'a mathematical word' or 'a word to do with numeracy'. Get students to define their chosen word and say how/when they'd use it in their Mathematics lessons.

Idea #11 - Estimate the lesson

Estimation appears naturally in every day life. We estimate the amount of time it's going to take us to complete a journey, the amount of time we need to leave for certain tasks, the amount our shopping is going to amount to when we get to the check-out etc etc. For any subject there will be a number of occasions in your lessons where you can ask students to do some estimating. It could be the amount of time an activity is going to take them, a mark/score they believe they'll get on a test/assessment, the number of years since an event, the amount of an ingredient they will need for a recipe for a given number of people, an amount of liquid to use in an experiment, the length of wood to cut to make an object from etc etc. You could even, when asking students to estimate something related to your lesson, ask them to estimate the answer to a calculation i.e. estimate the answer to 34.98 + 23.1.

Idea #12 - Squares

I love squares. This is perhaps one of my favourite activities to do and there are so many variations of this activity that I probably need to write another blog post/book to explain them all...and even then they'll be other variations found too!

The activity 'squares' is based on a 6 by 6 dotted grid (or other square sized grid of your choosing) and players take it in turn to join two dots together, thus making 1 of the 4 sides of a square. The game continues with the other player taking their turn. Each time a square is created by having all 4 of its' sides complete the person wins that square.
How I make this more 'mathsy' is by having numbers in each 'square' prior to the start of each game, then, when a student wins a square they add that amount to their total. I've also done this when introducing algebra to get students to collect like terms (this would require letters and numbers to be placed in squares at the start).
This can be adapted for any subject by making a mega game of squares on the class whiteboard, or even better, on the IWB. Instead of writing numbers in the squares you can write questions for students to answer. So everytime they win a square they answer the question in the square they have won. The game is all about strategy and problem solving and is an enormous amount of fun!

Additionally, this can be done on a coordinate grid with a set of axes for students to call out coordinates before drawing their line (or their partners' chosen line). For example 'I want to join the points (2, 3) and (3,3). This variation could be used well in Geography when discussing maps and grid references.

Here's an extreme example of a 'squares' grid, write questions/numbers etc in the squares and each time a square is won the students answers that question or adds the number to their score!

So, that's all 12 ideas I present (briefly) in my numeracy across the curriculum session. I hope it gives you a better idea of each and ultimately, how you can build numeracy into your lessons (if you were struggling to find a way to do so). There are loads of ways you can adapt these ideas to suit your subject/students/lesson etc I hope I've given enough examples for specific subjects? If you try anything out do let me know by commenting below or tweeting me at @mrprcollins.


  1. Mr Collins - would be interested to talk to you about Numeracy across the Curriculum/Learning - how can you be contacted.

  2. Hi there, if you could send me an e-mail address by replying to this comment I'll get in touch (I have to moderate all comments so won't put the comment with your e-mail address live on here)? That ok? If not, you could DM me on Twitter @mrprcollins and I'll send you my e-mail address.

  3. Hi - this is amazing. Thanks. We are currently trying to implement a push with numeracy in our school. Could you possible send me the grade descriptor sheets? They look really useful. My email is

  4. Some fantastic ideas,
    I'm a newly appointed numeracy coordinator in a secondary school in Liverpool having worked for 14 years in primary schools. I have been asked to plan 15 minute numeracy lessons to be taught by form tutors in PSHE time. I've also got to do a talk to whole school on numeracy in their subjects and also to plan a way to improve basic skills throughout the school. Any help from yourself would be greatly appreciated. Do you have a scheme you use to teach numeracy by nine maths teachers? A numeracy policy? Presentation for staff? My email address is thank you

  5. Hi

    You have some great ideas. Could you also send me the grade descriptor sheets? My email is


  6. Great presentation - will be using some of the ideas for my own presentation for Monday. Do you have the the grade descriptors posters - I've seen them at work but can't find a copy on our system! I'd like the level 5 one and if possible a grade C GCSE one if you have an equivalent! Thanks Amanda (

  7. Would love the grade descriptor posters too please.
    Some FANTASTIC ideas on your site, thank you so much!

  8. Great blog, the link to the Prezi isn't working can you send me the link please I'd like to update the presentation I do for trainees and would welcome fresh ideas