Simple Patterns: Foundation Level

Indicator of progress

Boys in class counting coloured objects

The ability to recognise patterns is an important aspect of students’ mathematical progress. At this level patterns are made with objects such as attribute blocks as well as pictures. Objects used to develop patterns can have various attributes such as shape, colour, size and texture (smooth or rough).

Once students can successfully describe and extend patterns by varying a single attribute, the next stage is to vary more than one attribute. As students’ number knowledge develops, they will begin to recognise, describe and extend number patterns.


Illustration 1: Making and extending patterns

In order to make and extend patterns with shapes students need to recognise similarities and differences between shapes. They need to match the blocks according to particular attributes, (e.g. colour, straight or curved edges) and to learn and use appropriate language to describe these attributes. Once students can recognise these attributes, they can start to make and extend patterns.

6 blocks


Illustration 2: Describing patterns

As well as forming patterns, students need to use appropriate language to describe them. For example, they should be able to describe the pattern above as “these are all squares, and the pattern is red, yellow, blue, red, yellow, blue so the next one I would put down is red.”

Mathematics Online Interview logo

Examples of the types of tasks that would be illustrative of simple pattern concepts, aligned from the Mathematics Online Interview:

  • First year of schooling detour' Q II (b), (c), (d) - Identify, copy, continue a pattern of coloured teddies


Teaching strategies

These teaching activities develop students’ ability to recognise attributes, make patterns based on these attributes and to extend patterns. The activities below involve repeating patterns, but some students will be able to make growing patterns (e.g. 1 counter, then 2 counters, then 3 counters, etc)

Activity 1: Sorting provides opportunities for students to sort blocks or other objects, such as teddies, into groups according to a chosen attribute.

Activity 2: Forming and extending patterns provides opportunities for students to form a simple pattern with blocks or other objects, according to one or more chosen attributes. Students can then extend a simple pattern with blocks or other objects, according to one or more chosen attributes.

Activity 3: Recording patterns allows students to move from using three dimensional materials such as blocks to two-dimensional representations (for example, drawings) to record or extend patterns.


Activity 1: Sorting

Give pairs of students a set of about 20 objects. These can be collections of small toys (such as teddies or dinosaurs), attribute blocks or container lids. Ask students to sort the objects into groups according to an attribute of their choice. The grouping of toys may be based on colour, size or type, while the grouping of attribute blocks may be based on colour, shape, size or thickness. For the lids, the groupings may be based on material (e.g. plastic or metal) or shape (e.g. rectangular or round).

It is important that students are given the opportunity to describe the basis on which they sorted their objects. This helps to develop their language of attributes of shape (e.g. triangles, squares, circles), colour (e.g. red, yellow) and size (e.g. small or large).


Activity 2: Forming and extending patterns

Give students attribute blocks and ask them to make a pattern. Some students may choose a pattern based on shape (triangle, square, circle, triangle, square, circle …) while others may choose a pattern based on colour (red, blue, red, blue ...). Students should explain the basis on which they built the pattern. Encourage them to state the attribute as well as describe the sequence of blocks.

Now ask the students to make a new pattern, swap them and try to extend each other’s patterns. Students must be able to recognise and extend the patterns that other students created. Note that describing and explaining to each other is the key purpose of the activity.

For the pattern below, the student chose to focus only on shape (ignoring size and colour) and correctly said, “My pattern keeps going triangle, square, circle. I chose them because of their shape.”

6 coloured blocks

Some students may be able to combine two different attributes in their pattern. In the pattern below, the colours are red, yellow, red, yellow… and the shapes are triangle, triangle, circle, circle….

6 coloured blocks

If students have difficulty focusing on a stated attribute in a pattern, then give them a limited set of blocks. If the colour and the size are the same then students can focus on the shape. For example, “My small green shape pattern is a triangle, then a circle, then a triangle, then a circle.”

6 coloured blocks

If the blocks are the same colour and shape students can focus on the size. For example, “My pattern is a small square then a medium square then a large square”.

6 coloured blocks


Activity 3: Recording patterns

Give students a number of coloured circle shapes and ask them to make a pattern. This pattern can be recorded in one of three ways depending on the skills of the students:

  • pasting coloured circle stickers onto a piece of paper
  • colouring circle shapes drawn on paper
  • drawing and colouring their own circles.

This activity can be repeated using different shapes such as triangles and squares or combinations of shapes.

This activity improves students’ fine motor skills, emphasizes that writing conventionally begins on the left and moves horizontally across the page as well as strengthening awareness of pattern.


Further resources

Mathematics related interactive learning objects can be found on the FUSE Teacher Resources page.

To access the interactive learning object below, teachers must login to FUSE and search by Learning Resource ID:

  • Monster Choir – students help monsters in a choir to make animal sounds in order. Students make a sequence of up to four sounds. Students choose monsters so that their sounds match the sequence. Students repeat the pattern to make a song.
    Learning Resource ID:  MZ867K