18 September 2021

Worksheet Upgrades

I was going to call this blog post ‘pimp my worksheet’ but I realise then unless you’re familiar with MTV programmes from the mid-noughties, you won’t get the reference and you’ll think I’m just weird.

The point I want to make in this post is a simple one:

Instead of spending ages hunting for challenging activities, you may be able to quickly and easily increase the challenge level of an existing exercise.

Take this example, created last week by my excellent colleague Sarah. She made this for her top set Year 10 class. I borrowed it. I like that it starts with scaffolding and, with a simple tweak to the question style, ends with challenge.

At both the White Rose Secondary Maths Brunch in January and the MA Conference in April, I talked about the use of ‘working backwards’ in tasks to get students thinking. I shared examples of tasks which feature elements of working backwards, such as 'fill in the gaps’ activities. Here's an example from Kyle Gillies

And here's an example from Andy Lutwyche.

You can read more about tasks like this in Paul Rowlandson's excellent blog post "This Way, That Way, Forwards and Backwards".

After Sarah shared her resource with my department last week, I realised that it’s pretty simple to convert a standard drill exercise into a ‘working backwards’ task that requires more thinking. It’s just a case of editing a few questions.

Here’s an example that I used yesterday in Year 10's first lesson on surds. Notice how they’re not just simplifying, they’re also ‘unsimplifying’ which I think might help build depth of knowledge.

It's a simple idea to combine scaffolding and challenge in a single task. Many resources like this already exist, but it was probably quicker for me to make my own rather than search for one. It took only a few minutes to create.

Note to new teachers: once you become a pro at using equation editor shortcuts, it's super quick and easy. Press the alt button and equals at the same time in Word or PowerPoint to insert an equation, then follow this guide from Jamie Frost. You'll get the hang of it quickly and won't have to keep referring to the guide.

My lessons often combine short 'drill' exercises (i.e. practise a procedure) and longer 'thinking' tasks (i.e. use reasoning). The former normally come from screenshotting from Corbett Maths or CIMT. The latter are typically MathsPad or Don Steward. I draw on many other sources, normally going via my own resource libraries to save time. For example, in my next surds lesson I've taken an extract from an old Solomon worksheet that I found in my surds listings.

Note to new teachers: screenshot using the snipping tool to easily insert tasks into your lessons. You don't need to write exercises from scratch when they already exist.

Incidentally, in the same Solomon worksheet I spotted these questions:

I will be using these with Year 8 in a few weeks! Their first topic of the year is index laws, and then they move onto expanding double brackets. This task neatly combines the two topics. A lovely bit of interweaving.

Anyway, I've digressed. Back to my original point:  

You can add more challenge to a straightforward exercise by tweaking it slightly. Blank out some of the questions and provide the answers instead. Getting students to work backwards makes a task less procedural and gives opportunities for reasoning ("if this is how it worked going forward, how must it work going backwards?"). Even if it's just a tiny tweak it may be a worthwhile one, to avoid mechanical repetition and make students pause and think.



  1. You've just changed my life with the first 'note to new teachers'. I'm not a new teacher, but I am a new numeracy teacher - and the equation mode has just blown my mind a bit. Many thanks!

  2. This is helpful, thank you