The Jenga Effect

How can a firm foundation be built?

  • Lookout for maths difficulties; simply by identifying difficulties at an early stage of a child’s numeracy development means you will be better placed to support them.

  • Assess where the child really is with their knowledge and understanding – use an assessment such as The Dyscalculia Assessment by Emerson and Babtie to identify strengths and area to improve (requiring intervention)

  • Begin intervention just before the level of breakdown; don’t be afraid to peel right back to foundation areas if that is not secure- intervention often needs to go much further back we might initially realise

  • Provide concrete resources – for secondary school students too! By starting from the concrete, you can ground a child’s understanding of a new maths concept

  • Use the Concrete, Pictorial, Abstract (CPA) approach. Remember the most important part, not always mentioned, is verbalising thinking. Model by verbalising your own thinking and encourage children to explain what they are thinking out loud – how and why

  • Scaffold learning – always start with questions which the child can complete easily and independently and gradually build up – this helps keep maths anxiety to a minimum

  • Celebrate each small success – there can never be too much praise! Target your praise don’t just say ‘good work’ say ‘I really liked how you explained your thinking for 9+6 =15 what a great strategy’


  • Provide lots of practice opportunities – these enable children to feel supported as they progress- don’t be tempted to move too quickly

  • Play lots of games! Games are a great opportunity to actively practice, talk about numbers and encourage comparing and ordering. Children often learn through games without even realising they are learning – this can really help to reduce maths anxiety.

  • Revise, repeat, and circle back to reinforce every step. This helps pupils to gain a deeper understanding and develop automaticity – don’t expect any pre- skills or knowledge/understanding taught to be still there when you move onto another skill- always check first!

The Jenga Effect


The Jenga effect is when the foundations of maths aren’t secure and so this impacts every ‘layer’ of maths learning that follows it.


When a pupil doesn’t have secure foundations or there are foundations missing altogether the more maths knowledge and understanding that is attempted to be  added without filling these gaps the more the pupil will struggle.

The tower becomes more wobbly as more blocks are added. without the secure understanding the child starts to feel anxious – the Maths Monster begins  to lurk.


By the time the child is  9/10/11 + they start to become overwhelmed and the more maths that is added the LESS secure they become as everything feels unsure.

Then there is great danger of the TOWER COLLAPSING… and the pupil refusing to engage with maths at all…


It is VITALLY important for pupils with Dyscalculia and Maths Difficulties to have the early foundations of maths put in place – no matter how long that takes.


No matter how old the pupil is… 6 /16/ 60 going back and finding out where they first got stuck and re building from there up is the key to a stronger maths tower and a pupil who changes from I can’t do it and I hate Maths to I love maths and I can do it! 


Look out for The Jenga Effect Part 2  ‘How can secure foundations be built? next week!’


Christmas Tree Data Handling 


A set of data handling worksheets with three levels – tally chart, bar chart and pie chart based on bauble colours on a Christmas tree.


The Christmas Tree Template 

The Dyscalculia Network – Tree Template


Level 1- Tally Chart 

The Dyscalculia Network – Christmas Tree Tally – Level 1


Level 2- Bar Chart

The Dyscalculia Network – Christmas Tree Tally- Level 2


Level 3 – Pie Chart 

The Dyscalculia Network – Christmas Tree Tally – Level 3


Create a Gingerbread House 


Using a net to build a 3D shape is a great fun and helps develop spatial maths skills.


Download the template to make a Gingerbread House here- 

The Dyscalculia Network – Gingerbread House Template A


The instructions are – 

Carefully cut out the house and the roof

Fold along the lines – fold inwards so the lines are hidden on the inside

Decorate the outside of your Gingerbread House – look up gingerbread houses on -line for inspiration- you could use paint, pens, pencil crayons or stickers!

Glue your gingerbread house together using the tabs – do the house first and then add the roof

If you wanted to create a tea light holder you could cut out a window on each side and add a battery operated candle! (no real flames!)