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Last updated on 11 July 2017
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School types: All · School phases: Primary

Are there 'mastery' activities for English and mathematics? In this article, we relay advice from two of our associate education experts on activities for pupils who are at 'mastery' standard in Key Stage 1. We also look at how one school teaches mastery in maths and reading.

Demonstrating 'mastery' standards of learning?

We asked one of our associate education experts, Maria Coles, to suggest activities where pupils can demonstrate 'mastery' standards of learning.

She told us that any activity that reflects the skills set out in the frameworks for teacher assessment for will help pupils demonstrate their mastery of a subject, but that no single activity is sufficient.

The performance descriptor for ‘working at greater depth within the expected standard’, applicable to some subjects, is designed to reflect that pupils have consolidated their past learning, built upon it, and can demonstrate this consistently and in a wide range of scenarios.

To achieve this, teachers should choose activities which allow pupils to practice the skills mentioned in the descriptors, and to extend their learning when they are comfortable with a topic.

Interim frameworks for teacher assessment

The Standards and Testing Agency (STA) published interim frameworks for teacher assessment at the end of Key Stage (KS) 1. These are intended to support teachers in making accurate judgements about pupils at the end of KS1.

The interim teacher assessment frameworks are for the 2016/17 academic year only.

Further information on the frameworks for the 2017/18 academic year will be published in the autumn term.

Maths activities

Sarah Searle-Barnes, another of our associate education experts, suggested the following examples of activities where pupils can demonstrate mastery in maths:

  • Verbal mental maths games led by the teacher where pupils can recite their 2, 5 and 10 timetables confidently
  • Pupils completing ‘filling in the gaps’ worksheets using mathematical signs such as ‘>’ and ‘=’
  • Role-play activities, such as ‘shop’ where pupils can confidently demonstrate the adding and subtraction of numbers
  • Online computer programmes, such as Minecraft, could be used when looking at 3D shapes and the properties of shapes
  • Pupils could complete simple class surveys to show they can total and compare categorical data


The National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM) has published guidance on teaching for mastery. The guidance includes examples of activities and questions to support assessment in each area of the National Curriculum programme of study for year 2. For example on page 15 it gives the following as examples of mastery questions:

  • Dan needs 80g of sugar for his recipe. There are 45g left in the bag. How much more does he need to get?
  • The temperature was 26 degrees in the morning and 11 degrees colder in the evening. What was the temperature in the evening?
  • A tub contains 24 coins. Saj takes 5 coins. Joss takes 10 coins. How many coins are left in the tub?

Specialists from Mathematics Mastery have developed resources including mastery lesson plans and activities for years 1 to 6. In year 2, resources cover topics such as:

  • Multiplication and division
  • Telling the time
  • Understanding pounds and pence
  • Rotation
  • Capacity, volume and temperature

The resources are hosted on the TES website. Access to the resources requires registration which is free.

Reading activities

Mastery in assessment

Some schools use ‘mastery’ in their in-house assessment systems to identify high-ability pupils.

In 2015, the Department for Education (DfE) published the final report from the commission on assessment without levels. The report says, on page 17, that ‘mastery learning’ is where learning is broken down into “discrete units and presented in logical order. Pupils are required to demonstrate mastery of the learning from each unit before being allowed to move on to the next, with the assumption that all pupils will achieve this level of mastery if they are appropriately supported”.

However, the report notes that ‘mastery’ is used in a “number of different ways and there is a risk of confusion if it is not clear which meaning is intended”.

Sarah suggested the following activities to demonstrate the mastery standard in reading:

  • A ‘predictions’ activity on what will happen to characters in a story. This could be based on looking at previous stories studied in class and recalling what happened at the beginning, middle and end of the story
  • A presentation activity where small groups of pupils prepare a formal presentation on something they have read in class. Pupils should be able to demonstrate appropriate intonation, tone and volume when presenting
  • Reading comprehension activities based on challenging age-related texts
  • A dictionary activity where pupils will record any words they don’t understand in a text. The teacher will then be able to test the pupil on these words at the end of the week

Writing activities

Sarah suggested the following activities to demonstrate mastery in writing:

  • Getting pupils to complete a long piece of extended writing. Pupils should concentrate on making sure that tenses, word choice, and grammar and punctuation are used correctly throughout
  • The teacher could read out a short story and ask pupils to write a summary of the main points from memory
  • Pupils could complete regular handwriting activities. Handwriting should always be legible at ‘mastery’ standard
  • An activity on drafting and planning an extended piece of writing

Teaching mastery: case study

At The Key's primary assessment conference in 2016, Diana Massa, assistant headteacher at Hiltingbury Junior School in Hampshire, explained how the school approaches teaching mastery in reading and maths. She said that the school focuses on practising the knowledge and skills they learn in different contexts rather than racing ahead. The school includes five key principles when teaching for mastery in maths:

Teachers also set 'apply your mind' activities to encourage pupils to use prior learning and apply it to an unknown situation

  • Mathematical thinking
  • Representation and structure
  • Variation
  • Fluency
  • Coherence

In order to develop mathematical thinking, pupils are encouraged to look for patterns and relationships through the problems and calculations set by the teacher. When setting and varying questions and problems, teachers will make careful choices to ensure that children are focused on learning new skills and making connections. For example, questions will be ordered and structured to follow a logical progression to ensure that pupils can identify a pattern in calculations.

Teachers also set 'apply your mind' activities to encourage pupils to use prior learning and apply it to an unknown situation. For example, pupils may have to apply a method to more complex numbers, carry out open ended investigations and engage in odd-one-out activities.

To support mastery in reading, the school uses high-quality, challenging texts and sets written questions to promote deeper learning.


Maria Coles has extensive experience of senior management in primary schools. She has worked as a headteacher, school improvement consultant and inspector. She also provides training and mentoring for school leaders.

Sarah Searle-Barnes is a school governor. She has extensive experience of primary headship and performance management of staff.

This article was updated in response to a question from a school leader at a medium-size rural primary school in the south west.

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