# Encouraging primary children to work systematically

We may well find ourselves saying to children "Be systematic!", or words to that effect.

However, we cannot expect learners to work systematically without articulating what it means and why it is such an important mathematical skill.*What does it mean to 'work systematically'?*

In the context of problem solving, we could think about working systematically as working in a methodical and efficient way which could clearly show others that we are using a pattern or system.*Where do we start?*

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When asked to find all possibilities, rather than working on something they have been

*given*(as is the case with sorting activities), children are required to

*generate something new*. At first they are likely to do this in a random way. If you help them to sort their randomly-generated possibilities, then they can see which ones are missing. This helps children understand what working systematically means so they can begin to generate systematically too. In this way, sorting activities are very valuable in laying the foundations for systematic approaches.

*When is being able to work systematically useful?*

__Finding all possibilities__

A good place to start with children is problems which entail finding all possibilities. These are

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It is then useful to show children how they can use the skill to help them solve other types of problems.

__Ordered Ways of Working__

i) Structuring a method for solving a problem

Systematic working is a useful tool for tackling many other kinds of problem. For example in Growing Garlic, a challenging lower primary activity, trying out possible answers in a methodical way gives you insight into the situation and reveals patterns which could ultimately lead to a full solution.

ii) Working in an order to reach the solution

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*Going further*

For activities which provoke systematic working at secondary level, see the Developing Systematic Approaches feature.

*In summary*

This article has hopefully helped you to think about how to structure the experiences that you could give children to support them in developing the important mathematical skill of working systematically. If they start young and have 'themed' experiences, as suggested above, then they will be more confident at applying this approach.

This article was published as part of the Working Systematically feature.

There are many more NRICH activities that offer opportunities for you and the children to work systematically. You can find them in our Working Systematically collections. Enjoy.

*Here is a PDF version of this article.*