Development of Patterning Skills

From a very young age, children tune in and look for patterns in their surroundings.  For example, a bedtime routine is a pattern of events children often recognize…bath, story time, and then bed. Another such pattern is when we eat…breakfast, lunch, and then dinner. As children begin to recognize such patterns, it allows them to make educated guesses, or hypotheses, about what comes next.

As you know, a pattern is a predictable sequence that results from correctly applying a rule. For example, if we look at the picture below, we see an AAB pattern:

Of course, there are many different types of patterns. The snacks above are an example of a repeating AAB pattern. But, there are other patterns, like increasing patterns, where the pattern “grows” (see image below of an increasing pattern that is growing by one block), or decreasing patterns (e.g., 50, 45, 40, 35. . .).

Source: iStock/kunjiang

Key Skills and Concepts

  • Students need to understand that in patterns there is always an element that should come “next” and that this element can always be figured out through the pattern.
  • Students also need to understand that because they will always know what comes next, the pattern will keep going on indefinitely.

Strategies to Support Development of Patterns

Reading the elements of the pattern

This strategy is about having students look at and say each element, or individual part of a pattern, from one side to the other (usually from left to right, just like reading words; although, patterns can also be “read” from right to left). Doing this helps support their ability to duplicate, extend, and create patterns on their own, especially when they get stuck.

Examination of spatial relationships between patterns

Instead of reading each element of a pattern to determine what comes next, such as orange, red, blue, yellow, orange, red, blue, ?, our second strategy helps focus students on what the last element is, in this case, yellow. Then, you can ask a student to find another place in the pattern where that element exists (visually point to the blue dot), and ask a question like “What do you see “after” this blue dot.” This often helps students see that the next symbol would be a yellow dot.


Integrating Patterns throughout the Day

Patterns are an easy math skill to integrate throughout the day.

Attendance: During attendance, create a pattern when calling students’ names. For example, boy, girl, girl, boy, girl, girl, and so on. Ask students to identify the pattern.

Transitions: When students are lining up for outdoor time, use things such as the color of their shirts to create a pattern. For a challenge, do not finish the pattern, but rather ask your students to help you finish (or extend) the pattern with the remaining students.

Literacy: Growing patterns can be trickier than repeating patterns for students. There are many books that provide great examples of growing patterns, where new characters are introduced on each page. When reading these types of books, encourage students to identify the growing pattern—and, use a pictograph to help them track the pattern throughout the book. Click HERE to see several examples of teachers encouraging students to describe a growing pattern in their books, and using pictographs to help them visualize the growing pattern!

When students develop early patterning skills in your classroom, they’re on track to continue developing these important skills into adulthood.

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