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Using Pattern Activities to Teach Young Students Math

written by: Patricia Gable • edited by: Trent Lorcher • updated: 7/29/2014

Did you ever stop to think that patterns can be comforting? When a child knows that everyday he will have lunch at 11:30 followed by recess, he feels a sense of security. Math activities with patterns work on skills that are taught to very young children and built upon at every grade level.

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    The Importance of Patterns

    Teaching patterns is important because it allows a child to predict what will come next and practice problem solving skills. Patterns abstract-1074765-m by Ilco on provide a sense of order. Something as simple as the school bus coming everyday at the same time, saying the Pledge of Allegiance during the morning school routine or going to lunch at 11:30 is predictable and comfortable. It is a pattern.

    Young children should be provided with lots of practice in sorting and grouping things before they are ready for pattern activities. Use socks, blocks, buttons, coins or other items. Sort items by similar properties.

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    We're Ready for Math Pattern Activities!

    When you feel the students are ready to explore patterns there are many math pattern activities you can do. Increase the level of difficulty according to the abilities of your students.

    1. Create a pattern - Use pattern blocks, coloring opportunities, building blocks, etc. to have students create a pattern. Allow time to play with manipulatives or they will be distracted and unable to understand your direction.

    2. Copy a pattern - Make a pattern for students to copy. You can also use pattern cards for students to copy. Clap your hands or stomp your feet in a pattern for students to copy.

    3. Extend a Pattern - Make a pattern. Students will predict what comes next. Red, blue, green, red, blue, ____?___.

    4. Find the Missing Piece in the Pattern - Create a pattern. Cover up or remove an item in the middle of the pattern and have students decide what is missing. Red, blue, green, red,___?___, green

    5. Recognize patterns around them - Use teachable moments to point out patterns in the classroom. It might be the same number or color of chairs at each table, calendar numbers, boy-girl-boy-girl line up at the door,etc.

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    Morning Math Activities with Patterns

    I always like to have something on the board for the students to do while we are taking attendance, getting the lunch count,etc. Often Daily Oral Language sentences are written on the board and the students need to write them on paper correcting mistakes in capitalization, punctuation and grammar usage. Why not have a pattern for students to solve? Here are some examples. Use the ideas appropriate for the skill level of your students. Remember that students need to explain their answers!

    1. Number pattern using addition: 2,4,6,8,____ (+2) 12,24,36,48,_____ (+12) Can you students identify another pattern in this number sequence? (ones digit goes 2,4,6,8 and tens digit shows 1,2,3,4,)

    2. Odd numbers: 9,11,13,15,____

    3. Multiplication: 4,8,12,16,20,_____

    4. Subtraction: 96,92,88,84,80,_____ (-4)

    5. Coins: penny,dime,nickel,penny,dime,_____

    6. Find as many patterns as possible on the calendar.

    7. Roman Numerals: I,II,III,IV,____,____

    8. States/Capitals: Columbus, Ohio, Phoenix, Arizona, Lansing,_______

    9. Famous Names: George, Washington, Abraham, Lincoln, Barrack,_______

    10. Alphabetical order: anteater, baboon, cat, deer,_______,_______

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    Short on Time and Long on Value

    Children who can identify, complete or create patterns will begin to understand how things work together. They will begin to look around for patterns in their surroundings. Math activities with patterns can be incorporated into your daily routine. It takes very little time or preparation and the benefits are amazing. Plus it is a fun activity.


  • Ideas come from the author's twenty-five years of teaching in elementary school settings.