What Are Rich Tasks?

Age 11 to 18
Article by Charlie Gilderdale and Alison Kiddle

Published 2014 Revised 2015

This article is part of Enriching the Secondary Curriculum.

Rich tasks have a range of characteristics that together offer opportunities to meet the different needs of learners. On its own a task is not rich, it is how the task is used in the classroom that may make it rich. With this in mind it might still be useful to list some of the characteristics that make a task rich. 

Rich tasks:

  • are accessible to a wide range of learners
  • draw learners in with an intriguing starting point or intriguing initial discoveries
  • offer opportunities for initial success
  • challenge learners to think for themselves
  • offer different levels of challenge (low threshold - high ceiling tasks)
  • allow learners to pose their own questions
  • allow for different methods and a variety of responses
  • offer opportunities to identify elegant or efficient solutions
  • have the potential to broaden learners' skills or deepen their mathematical understanding
  • encourage creativity and imaginative application of knowledge
  • have the potential for revealing patterns or leading to generalisations
  • encourage collaboration and discussion
  • encourage learners to develop confidence and independence 
Not all rich tasks will do all of these things but they will certainly manage a number of them when used in a way which values discussion, insights and critical appraisal. It is for the teacher to look at a task and recognise its potential, and present it in a way that offers a rich experience for the learners.

Rich tasks and curriculum coverage are not at odds with each other. Rich tasks can offer the opportunity to explore and develop an understanding of mathematical concepts that are part of the normal curriculum.  The nature of rich tasks gives learners the opportunity to question and develop their understandings of mathematical ideas, and to gain the confidence to apply their knowledge in a range of contexts, even unfamiliar ones. 

To aid teachers in making decisions about what rich tasks to apply where, the NRICH website offers a number of support mechanisms:

  • we publish rich tasks and contexts
  • we publish teachers' notes and hints to help teachers to see the potential of the tasks or problems that we offer
  • we link all our problems to curriculum content

We are not telling teachers how to use the problems by giving detailed lesson plans. The nature of rich tasks involves "letting go" and taking account of the range of needs of your own learners, and preparing for where the task is likely to take them. Any suggestion that we can begin to second guess what best serves the needs of the learners in every classroom would be misplaced.

Rich tasks encourage learners to think creatively, work logically, communicate ideas, synthesise their results, analyse different viewpoints, look for commonalities and evaluate findings. However, what we really need are rich classrooms: communities of enquiry and collaboration, promoting communication and imagination.

This is an extract of key ideas from a longer article by Jenny Piggott. You can read the full version here.