Top tips to manage behaviour during maths lessons in KS1

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Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a blog post published on December 18, 2018

Managing the behaviour of a Year 1 class is no walk in the park. Trying to keep the interest of 30 easily-distracted five-year-olds can feel daunting, and at times, impossible.

Having taught Year 1 for two years now, we’ve developed some tactics to manage behaviour during maths lessons. We hope they help!

1. Start each day with an ‘In Focus’ question

Our lessons begin with the children sitting on the carpet discussing the ‘In Focus’ problem as a class. During this part of the lesson, we ensure that the children understand what is being asked of them.

The challenge here is to balance time spent discussing the problem with time spent on the carpet. If pupils of this age sit for too long, they lose interest and become disruptive. Ensuring that children have engaged with the problem from the start keeps them motivated for the rest of the lesson.

2. Maintain concentration

Teaching in short bursts helps pupils maintain focus and stay on task as they learn new concepts. Giving pupils follow-up time to discuss and explore the ideas with their peers deepens their knowledge and understanding.

3. Establish routines to create order

It can be difficult to keep children’s concentration when teaching new ideas. It can also be a challenge to keep children on task when they are working at their desks. A structure of ‘teach, do, teach, do’ keeps pupils focused and minimises disruption. We keep our transition times short and structured so we don’t lose the flow of the lesson.

When we want the children to return to the carpet, we play a noise and they know to stand behind their chairs.

4. Discuss and listen

Pupils can struggle to sustain concentration when listening for an extended period. You need to find a way to break this habit. We choose pupils to come to the front and explain their ideas. This is a great way to shake things up and we’ve found that children engage better when listening to their peers.

5. Link problems to the pupils’ experiences

If pupils aren’t interested, they’re less likely to listen and more likely to misbehave. When we show pupils the ‘In Focus’ problem we always try to ask questions that link it to the pupils’ experiences.

For example, if a problem is about sandwiches we ask:

“What flavours could the sandwiches be?”
“Why might the sandwiches have been made?”

This encourages the children to discuss the problem further and work out how many there were.

6. Use concrete resources

In our Year 1 class, there’s one child who becomes disruptive when he is required to listen. Sound familiar? We’ve found that giving this child relevant concrete resources keeps him focussed during class discussions.

It might take some trial and error before you figure out which children in your class will benefit from the use of concrete resources during class discussions. But that’s okay, it’s all part of the process.

7. Pair carefully when sharing resources

Discussion and paired work play an important role in any classroom. Carefully considering pupil-pairings helps minimise time spent arguing over cubes!

And don’t worry too much about making sure everyone has a partner. In some cases, providing an individual with their own resources will be the best solution for your classroom.

We’ve found that changing the pairings every half term helps reduce issues. Having a different partner also develops children’s ability to work with different personalities.

It’s a challenge to maintain the interest and focus of a Year 1 class to minimize disruption. Adapting your teaching to the specific needs of your class makes it possible to help children achieve mastery.

taught Year 1 at St. James in London, and are contributors to the blog.
Originally published on