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Playing With Patterns

Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

Students use objects and symbols to make repeating linear patterns. They extend patterns and translate patterns from one modality (auditory, visual, and kinesthetic) to another. A Physical Education connection is suggested as an extension. This lesson is intended to take two class periods to ensure that all students have multiple opportunities to create original patterns.

Introduce students to the Shape Tool on Illuminations. Then demonstrate how to make a linear pattern with the shapes. As you demonstrate, you may wish to have the students copy the pattern with pattern blocks or draw it on paper. Call on volunteers to make a pattern with the shapes and read it to the class. Encourage the students to use the site during center or free choice times.

appicon Shape Tool 

Next show a pattern made with pattern blocks and ask the students to suggest an animal noise to correspond to each color. Then make the noises which correspond with the pattern. Ask them to create other visual patterns and translate them into the auditory mode. Have students name the pattern cores (e.g., AAB or ABCB). 

Note that it may require the investment of some time to show students how to use the Shape Tool, though this investment is well worth it. In addition to being useful for this lesson, the Shape Tool can also be used for teaching fractions, area, and other topics. However, note that using the Shape Tool in this lesson may require a fair amount of class time, so be prepared for this lesson to occupy two days of math instruction.

Then, name a pattern (for example, ABCB). Have students think of a pattern that fits that core using animal noises (for instance, bark-snort-meow-snort). Let students share their patterns with a partner. Then call on a few students to share with the class. Call out other pattern cores for students to Think-Pair-Share.

588 3 blocks 

To extend the concepts learned to this point in the unit, make a pattern with pattern blocks, and ask for volunteers to read the pattern and extend it for one more repeat. Tell the students they will use this same core, but show it using movement. For example, start with a pattern of green, red, blue, green, red, blue. Suggest physical actions such as jump, clap hands, or stamp feet to substitute for the colors. Then lead the students in a kinesthetic pattern using the movements. Now make another pattern with the materials and ask for volunteers to suggest movements to substitute for the colors. Record the suggestions on the blackboard. Then have the students translate the visual pattern into movement. Repeat with other patterns. After the students have translated several patterns from the visual to the kinesthetic mode, suggest that they translate from a kinesthetic mode (for example: clap, stamp feet) to a visual mode (for example: red, green).

To consolidate their learning, give the students time to draw a pattern, and then call on volunteers to read their pattern and tell into what new form (auditory, kinesthetic) they would like to have it translated. Have a volunteer translate the pattern as requested. Allow several students to take a turn.

Assessment Options 

  1. Audiotape students making auditory patterns. Write several pattern cores on slips of paper and drop them in a basket. Have students pick a pattern from the basket. Then record the children as they read the pattern core and create an appropriate auditory pattern.
  2. Working in groups of three, have students create kinesthetic patterns. They must think of a pattern with three elements (AAB, ABA, ABB, or ABC). Students will perform their pattern for at least three iterations and let the rest of the class guess their pattern. Use groups of four students for older children.


  1. This extension is a physical education activity. Have the students sing Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes (page 2). Then ask them what pattern they noticed. Engage the students in calisthenics by calling on a volunteer to call out a sequence of movements for the other students to follow.
  2. This extension is a cultural connection. Explain to students that children around the world play games for which they need little or no money. These games, sometimes referred to as "street games" in the United States, are played with objects children can easily get their hands on. One type of street game is hand-clapping. By playing hand-clap games, children learn patterns, rhythm, and cooperation. Share multicultural examples from Jane Yolen’s Street Rhymes Around the World. Then ask students if they know any hand-clap games. Have volunteers demonstrate the hand motions without the words, focusing students' attention on how these hand motions form a pattern. Teach the students two basic hand-clap games, found on the Song Lyrics resource sheet.

Questions for Students 

1. How would you read this pattern? (Display a pattern on the Shape Tool.)

[Answers will vary.]

2. What will come next in the pattern red, blue, yellow, yellow, red, blue yellow, yellow?

[This is an unfamiliar core for the students (ABCC), but students should still be able to discern the pattern. Red will be next.]

3. How would you make an ABC pattern you could hear?

[Answers will vary, but one possibility is bark-meow-oink.]

4. Suppose you want to make an ABB pattern with cubes. How could you do that?

[A possible answer might be using green, yellow, yellow, green, yellow, yellow.]

5. How could you make an ABB pattern you could hear?

[Moo like a cow, then quack like a duck, then quack like a duck again.]

6. How could you make one you can act out?

[Jump, squat, squat, jump, squat, squat.]

7. How would you tell a younger student to translate a color tile pattern into movements?

[Choose a movement for each color and do the movements in the same order as the colors in the pattern.]

Teacher Reflection 

  • How can I incorporate patterning practice into other classroom activities?
  • Can students recognize different patterns with the same pattern core?
  • When the students translated patterns, which students were able to do so with minimal help?
  • Which students are still uncertain about translating patterns? What additional instructional experiences do they need next?
  • What parts of the lesson went smoothly? Which parts should I change the next time I teach this lesson?

Order, Order


In this lesson students seriate objects and review the meaning of ordinal numbers. They describe orderings in words and in pictures. [This lesson gives you an opportunity to review or teach vocabulary such as before, after, and next.] At the conclusion of the lesson, students make an entry in their portfolios. A Science extension is suggested.


Sorting Time

Students sort objects and symbols and make patterns with sorted objects. They make Venn diagrams and use their sortings to create linear patterns. They extend a pattern created by the teacher. Students will begin identifying pattern cores and reading patterns. A Social Studies connection is suggested as an extension.

What’s Next?

Pre-K-2, 3-5
In this lesson, students make patterns with objects, read patterns and find patterns in the environment. They should be encouraged to classify patterns by type (i.e. AAB, ABC). They continue learning about patterns by extending a given pattern, identifying missing elements in a pattern, and recording a pattern.

More Patterns

Students extend their knowledge of linear patterns by recognizing and discussing familiar patterns. Students make auditory and visual patterns from names. An art activity is suggested as an extension.

Multiple Patterns

Students explore patterns which involve doubling. They use objects and numbers in their exploration and record them using a table.

Exploring Other Number Patterns

Pre-K-2, 3-5
Students make and extend numerical patterns using hundred charts. They also explore functions at an intuitive level. This lesson integrates technology.

Growing Patterns

Pre-K-2, 3-5
Students explore growing patterns. They analyze, describe, and justify their rules for naming patterns. Since students are likely to see growing patterns differently, this is an opportunity to engage them in communicating about mathematics.

Looking Back and Moving Forward

This final lesson reviews the work of the previous lessons. Students explore patterns in additional contexts and record their investigations. Students will rotate through center activities. Teachers may add other centers they feel will benefit the students.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Create and extend linear patterns.
  • Translate patterns from one modality to another.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Recognize, describe, and extend patterns such as sequences of sounds and shapes or simple numeric patterns and translate from one representation to another.
  • Analyze how both repeating and growing patterns are generated.