Improving the Deciphering of Mathematical Word Problems through Starter Activities and a Guided Approach in KS1/2

with Jean Knapp (Dodwell), J. Knapp – Primary Mathematics Consultant & Specialist Teacher

Vocabulary is an important aspect of Japanese and Singapore mathematics classroom practices and underpins the five big ideas for Mastery. Vocabulary allows children to express their mathematical thinking, is a form of variation; for example, in word problems the words or numbers can vary whilst the rest remains the same to support understanding. Similar problems can be presented using the different vocabulary. Analysis of SATs papers over the year continually highlight the difficulties children have to decipher word problems compared with the standard arithmetic test. Reading test outcomes do not always guarantee a comprehension of mathematical text. Although many of the reading strategies can be applied, Mathematics is read and analysed very differently, vocabulary can have multiple meanings and contexts based in real and mathematical worlds.

Alex Quigley’s ‘The Vocabulary Gap’ has highlighted the increasingly growing word gap across the Curriculum from the EYFS onwards.

In autumn 2019 there will be a focus on a knowledge-based Curriculum; at the heart of knowledge, is vocabulary. At the heart of a word problem, knowledge of vocabulary begins the journey to understanding (although there are other considerations we will explore too).

The project aims to help enable KS1 & KS2 teachers’ to explore simple, daily approaches in the form of starter activities and a guided approaches to solving word problems to embed within main lessons. Throughout the project resources will be adapted/designed and case studies of effective practice produced.

What does the project involve?

The project will involve one full-day day of training and planning for the first lesson study, followed by seven half-days; x4 lesson studies (a.m.), x1 follow up sharing and refining approaches meeting (p.m.), x1 Training to Consider as an SL wider dissemination across the school and to TAs (p.m.) and x1 workgroup Presentation to Schools (a.m.) across the Autumn 2019, Spring 2020 and Summer 2020.  Between sessions there will be gap tasks involving trialling the use of the approaches explored in the training, discussions and lesson studies.  The workgroup lead will offer support in designing the sequences, demonstrating teaching and orchestrating the lesson study discussions. Participating teachers are expected to work collaboratively, teach a small group in their own and other schools, reflect critically on pupils’ learning and their own professional learning. Participants are also expected to host a learning study in their school for the workgroup. This requires allocating a space for the workgroup to gather and for the group teaching sessions to take place.

Refreshments will be provided except for the first full day of training where participants will be asked to bring a packed lunch (tea/coffee refreshments provided by the host school/s will be reimbursed).

The project’s aims involve supporting teachers to:

Schools can choose to send up two members of staff – Ideally, there would be the Mathematics Subject Leader/Team representative and another teacher from KS1 and KS2.


Friday 11th October 2019 – Project Preparation Day – 10:00a.m. – 2:30p.m.

Venue: St. Mary’s Primary Catholic Primary School

Tuesday 12th November 2019 – Lesson Study* 1 – 9:30 – 11:45a.m.

Gap Task

Tuesday 19th November 2019 Lesson Study* 2 – 9:30 – 11:45a.m.

Gap Task

Monday 13th January 2020 Lesson Study* 3 – 9:30 – 11:45a.m.

Gap Task

Monday 9th March 2020 – Sharing and Dissemination Meeting & Preparation for the Final Lesson Study – 1:30-3:30p.m.

Venue: St. Mary’s Primary Catholic Primary School

Tuesday 17th March 2020 Lesson Study* 4 – 9:30 – 11:45a.m.

Tuesday 28th April 2020 – Developing the SL Role – How do we disseminate the ideas to the wider school (inc. TAs and Parents)? – 1:30-3:30p.m.

Venue: St. Mary’s Primary Catholic Primary School

Gap Task

Monday 2nd June 2020 – Presentation Day – 9:30-11:45a.m.

Venue: St. Mary’s Primary Catholic Primary School


* Lesson Studies to be hosted by participating schools: Venues confirmed on the Preparation Day

In order to apply to be a part of this project, you will need to fill out an Expression of Interest Form.  The deadline to fill this out is Monday 16th September 2019

Contact or

*The London Central and West Maths Hub reserves the right to charge a £75 fee for non-attendance to the sessions or for cancellations to any of the sessions with less than 14 days’ notice.

Privacy Notice: Maths Hubs Programme

Who we are:

This work is being carried out by your Maths Hub Lead School, which holds a grant with the Department for Education (DfE) to deliver the Maths Hub programme.

For the purpose of data protection legislation, the DfE is the data controller, and the Maths Hub Lead School is the data processor for the personal data processed as part of the Maths Hubs programme.

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The Maths Hub Lead School collects and processes your personal data on behalf of the DfE for the following purposes:

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More information about this work is available at,, and

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The categories of your personal data that the Maths Hub Lead School will collect, process, hold and share for this project may include:

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We sometimes need to make personal data available to other organisations. These might include contracted partners (who we have employed to process your personal data on our behalf) and/or other organisations (with whom we need to share your personal data for specific purposes).

Where we need to share your personal data with others, we ensure that this data sharing complies with data protection legislation. For the purpose of the Maths Hubs programme:

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As such, personal data collected by Maths Hubs that is relevant to the successful coordination and delivery of the Maths Hubs programme will be shared with the DfE, the NCETM, and other Maths Hub Lead Schools. Such data may also be shared with an independent evaluator of the Maths Hubs programme and Teaching for Mastery programme.

The DfE reserves the right to share your personal data with new lead schools where additional Maths Hubs are appointed or where a lead school is de-designated and lead school status is transferred. The DfE also reserves the right to share your personal data with any organisation or consortium that holds a future contract with the DfE to coordinate and manage the Maths Hubs programme or with an independent body who will use the data to evaluate the work of the programme.

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Where we are processing your personal data with your consent, you have the right to withdraw that consent. If you change your mind, or you are unhappy with our use of your personal data, please let us know by contacting the Maths Hub Lead School and state the name of this project.

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Last updated:

We may need to update this privacy notice periodically, so we recommend that you revisit this information from time to time. This version was last updated: September 2023.

Contact Info:

If you have any questions about how your personal information will be used, please contact the Maths Hub Lead School and enter “Maths Hub privacy notice” as a reference. For the DfE’s Data Protection Officer (DPO), please contact us via and mark it for the attention of the ‘DPO’.