Lost Sheep

A Mathematics Lesson Starter Of The Day




n2 - 2n


n2 + 3n




Which is the lost sheep, the one without a partner?

Click on a button below to change the expressions. You are currently looking at level 3

Very simple expressions

Simple expressions with brackets

Slightly more difficult expressions

Topics: Starter | Algebra

  • Transum,
  • So the sheep move around! Annoying isn’t it? But in real life things move, mathematics can be dynamic rather than always presented in a traditional and expected way. In addition to understanding the algebra pupils will need to find a strategy for keeping track of the sheep so that they can put pairs together and find the odd one out. Did any of your pupils come up with a smart way of solving this problem?
  • Frustrated, Thailand
  • Doesn't seem to work. it's just sheep moving round a screen with no way of selecting the one you want.

    [Transum: Ah, I see your frustration! While many of the activities on this site are interactive, this one was not. However, thanks to your suggestion, it has been changed so that you can drag the sheep as you wish across the screen to pair them up. Thanks for the idea.]
  • David Payne, St Anne's Southampton
  • Love this. Thanks again!
    Did you notice the spelling mistake - espressions!

    [Transum: Thank you so much for taking the time to tell me of the typo. Much appreciated. I have now made the correction and hope you'll now love this Starter even more. Thanks again.]
  • David Payne, St Anne's Southampton
  • I liked it so much I am using it again today (with a different class). We are trying to work out why it is called Nincompoop.
    Is it just that the stupid sheep is the one without a friend or is there a deeper meaning?
  • Transum,
  • It is wonderful to hear that you are using this activity again David. Nincompoop was the favourite word of Mr Harris, my Primary school Year 5 teacher many many years ago. I don't know where the word comes from and most dictionaries play safe and list it as 'origin unknown'. It is a silly-sounding word for a foolish person but seemed apt for a sheep that had a unique algebraic expression. I suppose it makes a more memorable, intriguing title for an activity than 'Algebraic Expression Without An Equivalent'!
  • Nincompoop, Shay
  • Love this! I don’t think I would be permitted to have students play it becaof its name. In America that name would not be acceptable to in a classroom. Something like Lost Sheep would be acceptable, but we wouldn’t be allowed to call anything a nincompoop. Lo.

    [Transum: Many apologies if that word is offensive in your region. I have looked it up in many dictionaries, both American and British, and can only find references to it meaning silly or foolish (or similar). Having said that I think your suggestion for a different title is very good so I have changed it to Lost Sheep.]

How did you use this starter? Can you suggest how teachers could present or develop this resource? Do you have any comments? It is always useful to receive feedback and helps make this free resource even more useful for Maths teachers anywhere in the world.
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Laptops In Lessons

Teacher, do your students have access to computers such as tablets, iPads or Laptops?  This page was really designed for projection on a whiteboard but if you really want the students to have access to it here is a concise URL for a version of this page without the comments:


However it would be better to assign one of the student interactive activities below.

Laptops In Lessons

Here is the URL which will take them to a related student activity.


Student Activity


Curriculum Reference

See the National Curriculum page for links to related online activities and resources.


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