Math Wheels for Note-taking?

First Day of Math Class Activity – Free Pentomino Exploration


Simple but Challenging Activity for the First Day of Math Class - and Any Day After!!

First Day of Math Class

The first day of math class is an exciting time! Getting to know the new students, giving them an opportunity to get to know each other…a new beginning together:-)

For several years now, I have used this pentomino activity on the first day of math class in 6th grade math. (Most of the teachers who have used this activity are teaching 5th – 8th grades.)

I’ve written a few posts about it (on my old blog), because each year I find more benefits to using the activity.  

great first day of math a class activity

It’s a seemingly simple activity, and when I first explain it, students think it’ll be a piece of cake. BUT, they find it to be quite challenging.

And I find it to be an excellent way for students to start working cooperatively on the very first day of the math year!

How This Pentomino Math Activity Works

Students work in small groups of 3 or 4 to create a rectangle using all 12 of the pentominoes. This rectangle should fit in the given frame.

That’s it – make a rectangle, with no gaps or overlaps and with no pieces going outside the frame.

As I said, it sounds pretty simple, but if you’ve attempted it yourself, you know that it’s not as easy as it sounds.

It takes the groups quite a while to complete this math activity…and honestly, some never finish if I don’t give some hints.

It’s great that it takes so long, because students are really thinking, talking to each other, sharing ideas, speaking their thought processes, working together, and being persistent. In the years that I’ve been doing this, I think I had one student who wasn’t really engaged. 

This is the type of activity that allows all students to persevere, regardless of their background knowledge in math. All students can manipulate the pentomino pieces and offer suggestions; and while some students are strong in certain areas of math, others are stronger spatially. This math activity allows them all to have success.

What Math Teachers Can Learn/Observe Through This Activity

While this activity is a great first day of math class experience for the students, it’s also great for me!
It gives me the opportunity to observe my new students and start learning about them immediately on the first day of class. I learn things like:

  • How they approach tasks
  • How they interact with others
  • Who will try to take charge
  • Who will sit back and watch/listen

It’s a fantastic learning time for me!

set of pentominoes
3 sets of pentominoes are in the free download

Pentomino Math Activity Materials

In my classroom, I only had 12 x 5 inch frames for the pentomino activity, which I inherited from someone along the way. 

I decided, though, that I wanted to make frames with different dimensions (10 by 6 and 15 by 4), so I made those on the computer (on 8.5 x 11 pages).

So that the pentominoes would fit into these frames, I had to make the pentominoes smaller. So, now I have 3 different sizes of pentominoes.

3rd pentomino set

Having the different sizes and different frames allows me to give groups slightly different tasks, if I choose. 

It also provides a new set for students to try if they complete the initial challenge and want to start another. 

These pentomino sets are also excellent for fast finishers, indoor recess, or study hall time…my students were always asking if they could use them because they had never figured out the initial challenge and they really wanted to figure it out! 

If you’d like to try using these pentominoes, click the button below. 

For more ‘first day’ or ‘first week’ ideas, check out this post about classroom routines.


Not Ready to Use This Math Activity Yet?

Remember to pin this post to your favorite back to school or math activity Pinterest boards!


Welcome to Cognitive Cardio Math! I’m Ellie, a wife, mom, grandma, and dog ‘mom,’ and I’ve spent just about my whole life in school! With nearly 30 years in education, I’ve taught:

  • All subject areas in 4th and 5th grades
  • Math, ELA, and science in 6th grade (middle school)

I’ve been creating resources for teachers since 2012 and have worked in the elearning industry for about five years as well!

If you’re looking for ideas and resources to help you teach math (and a little ELA), I can help you out!



Select to see on TPT

Select the image above to learn more!

Select to see on TPT
Select to see on TPT
Select to see on TPT
Select to see on TPT
truth or dare math games
Select to see on TPT
Select to access the free toolkit
Select to see on TPT
Select to see on TPT