Back to school Maths: 16 start of term Maths activities for KS2 to tackle summer brain drain
Need some back to school Maths ideas? We have 16 stellar start of term Maths activities that are so much fun they're almost Maths games. Motivate your primary Key Stage 2 class with these KS2 Maths activities and help make Maths more exciting for pupils  who said coming back to school wasn't fun?
Summer brain drain. It’s real, it’s here and it can happen to even the best pupils. Sometimes referred to as "the summer slide", it is officially known as the loss of knowledge and skills which were acquired during the previous school year over the summer holidays. Primary Maths seems to be the subject which is hit the hardest, with industry experts suggesting “2.6 months of Maths skills are lost over the summer.” Yikes!
Back to school and back to Maths lessons
Your new pupils' retention of last year's Maths may not be as strong you hoped. But wait! There's hope. Here at Third Space Learning, we’re experts at engaging primary pupils in Maths. So, to get you and them back into the swing for their Maths lessons, we've trawled the internet to compile a list of the top 16 (coincidently happens to be a square number!) engaging, fun and effective back to school Maths activities to shake up your pupils and clear out those cognitive cobwebs. Lots of emphasis on problem solving and reasoning as usual with us!
And like all the primary Maths resources we produce and share, they are all free! We had Year 6 in mind when we created this list of back to school maths activities, but we reckon most of them can be adapted and used in other KS2 years  Year 3, Year 4, or Year 5.
In fact they're suitable for any day of the week and any stage of term, but right now, at the start of term, we recommend you use them to help pupils to overcome their summer brain drain, develop depth and justify their reasoning. These activities are teacher approved and bonus: your pupils won’t even realise that summer holiday is over and you’ll be the coolest teacher in your school with these Maths games. Winwin!
As an added bonus we've also got a free Year 6 Back to School Maths Quiz for you to download and help diagnose your pupils principle gaps in Maths.
1. How Many Squares and How Many Triangles?
Pupils use a quick online activity to find as many squares and triangles in the diagram as possible, requiring them to think outside the square. Or triangle!
Time:  10  20 mins 
Why we chose it:  Great for a starter on the first day back. Pupils love counting the objects when you press the play button! 
Our suggestion:  Make it into a competition  closest person wins a prize! Get pupils to commit to an answer  back of books. 
How to support:  Ask them to work in pairs. Or you could ask of an example of another square other than the individual ones. 
How to extend:  When asking for results, ask pupils to think of an efficient way to record the data. 
Link to activity:  How Many Squares? How Many Triangles? 
Original source:  Transum.org 
2. Here’s The Answer, What’s The Question?
Give pupils a complete calculation and ask them to write their own word problem.
Time:  10  15 mins 
Why we chose it:  It's open ended! Just think of the responses, some pupils may even surprise you! 
Our Suggestions:  Ask pupils to copy the calculations in their books. Perhaps you could ask them why you have set your workings out in that way? 
How to support:  Ask pupils to come up with an example in pairs first so that they are having to verbalise their reasoning with one another. Then ask them to come up with another example all by themselves. 
How to extend:  Make it a 2 or multiple step calculation. 
Free Download:
Back to school Maths Gaps Quiz
3. Education Estimation
Estimate the number of pens/pencils/books etc needed for the class/year group/whole school in this fun and informative activity.
Time:  20  25 minutes 
Why we chose it:  Estimation is a key skill to practise and a nice way to link Maths to real life context. Plus, maybe they will be more respectful with your stationery? 
Our Suggestion:  If you are brave enough, get out a whole box of pencils at the start so that (as a whole class) pupils can manipulate/visualise how many would be need. Again, only if you’re brave. 
How to support:  Use simpler numbers such as smaller containers, larger items or provide a comparison first. e.g. Here's one cup and it has ten pencils in. Now how many do you think are in this cup? 
How to extend:  Add in a cost per item. "What if I had 10, 20, 15 of these pots/packs?" "What if I had twice as many?" "What if I gave a third of them away?" 
4. BINGO!
Get pupils to chose from a list of numbers on the board (or they can make them up). Then display a sequence of prepared numbers on the board and pupils cross them off on their grid. When pupils cross off all of their numbers they shout “BINGO!”
Time:  1520 mins 
Why we chose it:  You can do so much with them! Easiest way is to get the pupils to draw their own bingo grids on their mini whiteboards and fill in numbers e.g. "Choose 9 of the numbers from the list on the board." or "Write down 9 multiples of 10 between 100 and 500." 
Our suggestion:  Do not reinvent the wheel  there are loads of bingo cards out there for you to use for free! Also, write down the answers to the questions (in order of course) before and this makes it easier to check. 
How to support:  Create cards with easier numbers. If in a mixed ability class, try to use a variety of questions, some easier than others. 
How to extend:  Create cards whereby the numbers are calculations/times tables (eg instead of 64 you could put 8 x 8). 
Link to activity:  TES has a plethora of them (you willl need to sign in/create an account.) 
Original source:  TES resources 
5. Grid Multiplication
Pupils have to use their times table knowledge to find the missing numbers.
Time:  10  15 mins 
Why we chose it:  Great for practising times tables and looking at the inverse and how they link with one another. 
Our Suggestion:  Do one as an example with the whole class. Then get pupils to create one for their friends to answer. They can do this by creating one on their whiteboards then just rubbing out some of the answers. Nice way to get pupils practising multiplication. They obviously will make it as hard as they can for them. What are friends for eh? 
How to support:  Pair work or possibly a times table grid. 
How to extend:  Create a grid that requires a two step solution like the example above. 
Link to activity:  Flash Maths Grid Multiplication 
Original source:  Flashmaths.co.uk 
6. Countdown
Choose six cards, you are then given a target. You have to make that target with the cards you have using the four operations. You can only use a card once. You do not have to use all cards.
Time:  1020 mins 
Why we chose it:  It requires pupils to use the four operations and they really see it as a great challenge! Let’s play countdown! 
Our Suggestion:  Two from the top and four from the bottom is the easiest. 
How to support:  Give them an extension of time (say another 10 seconds?). Or ask a pupil what they would do first so that those struggling can have a start in the right direction. You could also provide struggling pupils with list of a key number facts e.g. 2 x 75 = 150. 
How to extend:  Four from the top and two from the bottom of course! 
Link to activity:  Nrich Coundown activity (plus many more great Maths activities to enrich learning) 
Original source:  Nrich.maths.org 
7. Coded Hundred Square
This 100 square is written in code. It starts with 1 and ends with 100. Can your pupils build it up? Visit the link below for a full size version.
Time:  2030 mins 
Why we chose it:  One of the longer ones in time we know, but this exercise can be so powerful. The activity allows pupils to see links between the place values of units, tens and hundreds. 
Our Suggestion:  Print it out and get pupils to work in pairs while they cut out the parts so that pupils can manipulate and talk through their reasoning with their partner. 
How to support:  Give pupils a 100 square so they can visually make links 
How to extend: 
Ask pupils to make their own versions with their own code 
Link to activity:  Coded Hundred Square 
Original source:  Nrich.maths.org 
8. Flash Maths Number Grids
Pupils have to fill the grid with numbers following the rules they are given.
Time:  10  15 mins 
Why we chose it:  A great starter that develops pupils problem solving skills whilst revising the special types of number. 
Our Suggestion:  Have a quick run through of the types of numbers before pupils attempt the grid. Perhaps you could have a glossary on a table for pupils to share? 
How to support:  Reduce the number of grids to two by two. 
How to extend:  Increase the number of grids to four by four. 
Link to activity:  Flash Maths Number Grids 
Original source:  flashmaths.co.uk 
9. Tell Me About It
Pupils are required to put their own definitions to the terms and the numbers.
Time:  10  15 mins 
Why we chose it:  It’s a great way of getting literacy in Maths! 
Our Suggestion:  Before they write it down, get pupil to tell each other in pairs what they think each means. 
How to support:  This could be done as a matching activity whereby pupils are given the terms/numbers and then they have to match it up to the relevant description. 
How to extend:  Include harder numbers. Possibly a number that matches multiple terms, for example 64. 
Link to activity:  Credit for this goes to samang25 and it can be found on the TES website. 
Original source:  TES resources 
10. Odd One Out
Two tens and four ones 

Pupils are required to spot the odd one out. You could do it so there is only one odd one.The example here has many and is based on place value but you can use it for almost anything.
Time:  5  15 mins (depending on how many you do!) 
Why we chose it:  This starter is great for gauging how much a pupil has retained about a topic. And do you know the best thing about this? There is no wrong answer as long as a pupil can justify their answer! 
Our Suggestion:  Do this activity as a class as the conversation could just take off! 
How to support:  Have a combination where there is no wrong answer (like the one above). 
How to extend:  Design a combination where 3 (or 4) are the same and only one is the odd one out. Great for simplest form! 
11. Guess My...
Teacher to think of a number/shape/angle etc. Then, pupils are to ask questions to the teacher where the answer can only be yes or no. Challenge pupils to guess within a set number of questions.
Time:  5  15 mins 
Why we chose it:  It requires pupils to be thinking about the questions they are asking. They are also required to use key terminology and remember previous answers too! 
Our Suggestion:  Do not break the rules! Responses like ‘kind of’, ‘hmmm’ and ‘’nearly’ are not yes or no responses! 
How to support:  Increase the number of questions pupils can have. 
How to extend:  Decrease the number of questions pupils can have. 
12. Find 5 Different Ways To Make 24
Make 24 in 5 different ways whereby all four of the operations are used.
Time:  15  20 mins 
Why we chose it:  Order of operations, number fluency, problem solving, need we say more? 
Our Suggestion:  Do an example first. Perhaps include one with a misconception that does not follow the order of operations. 
How to support:  You could decrease it to three ways to make 24. 
How to extend:  Include variations such as square numbers, square roots, only odd/even numbers must be used or even must use all different numbers in each equations. 
13. Fizz Buzz Game
Decide on the multiplication table you’re going to chant. In turns, pupils list the multiples in order, but are not allowed to say numbers that match with a rule (eg numbers that are divisible by 2). Instead, they have to replace that number with a word that you have come up with.
Time:  5  10 mins 
Why we chose it:  It gets them on their feet, improves their times tables and we bet you will end up in fits of giggles! 
Our Suggestion:  Go crazy with the word! We came up with pickle, brolly and trifle! 
How to support:  Make the rule easier. 
How to extend:  Have two rules to keep them on their toes! 
14. Macaroni  Proportion Starter
Pupils are given a picture like the one above (or you can use real macaroniI) and then a set of questions whereby you have to find the value of each piece of Macaroni.
Time:  20  25 mins 
Why we chose it:  It involves bar modelling! 
Our Suggestion:  Do not do this one right before lunchtime. 
How to support:  Make numbers and problems easier 
How to extend:  Make the numbers harder and include two step problems, e.g. if Q=6, what does K equal? 
Link to activity:  Credit for this goes to BW_2012 and can be found on TES 
Original source:  TES resources 
15. Fractangle
The rectangle above is shown on the board. Pupils have to figure out what fraction of the rectangle is shaded black.
Time:  5  10 mins 
Why we chose it:  It requires pupils to think outside the box. Also, watch their faces as the answer is revealed. 
Our Suggestion:  Give it time. They may not get it at first but then there will be an ‘oohh!’ and then watch that spread like wildfire! 
How to support:  Pupils could work in pairs. 
How to extend:  How much of the shape is not shaded. Can you write an equation for this? Also, create your own fractangle! 
Link to activity:  Fractangle 
Original source:  Transum.org 
16. Place Value Charts
Pupils practice making a number from either a number represented by digits or by words.
Time:  10  20 mins 
Why we chose it:  If you are lucky enough to have tablets, then it can be more interactive! 
Our Suggestion:  Get the pupils to speak out the number before they answer the questions. 
How to support:  You can select easier place value option. 
How to extend:  You can set it so it can go into tenths and hundredths. You could ask pupils to round answers to the nearest whole number/tenth. 
Link to activity:  Place Value Charts 
Original source:  topmarks.co.uk 
Hope you liked these 16 back to school maths activities. Do let us know how you got on @thirdspacetweet and don't forget to download our 25 question Year 6 Back to School Maths Quiz to pinpoint your Year 6 gaps. It includes an answer sheet and lesson slides to go through the questions after as a class, ideal for peer assessment.
Find out more about Third Space Learning's 1to1 Maths specialist intervention by visiting our Year 6 SATs foundation page, and for more information on earlier years, see our Year 3, 4, & 5 catch up programme.
Further reading:
The Science of Forgetting: A primary teacher's guide to beating the summer brain drain
13 Outdoor Maths activities for Early Years to Year 6 (plus a bonus for all ages)
Sports Day Maths Activities for Key Stage 2
9 easy ways to engage every parent with their child's success before the end of term
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