What Comes Next?

“What comes next?” is a deceptively simple question. Identifying a series and predicting what comes next is a critical thinking skill that lets us test comprehension of a wide range of math concepts — and one which we use as adults in reading, planning, and decision making as well.

Use craft sticks and chart stickers to create “What Comes Next?” games or centers customized for your classroom, or have students make “What Comes Next?” puzzles for each other.

It’s very easy. Use stickers on one side of a craft stick to establish a pattern. End with a question mark. Turn the stick over and add the next item in the series so the puzzle will be self-checking.

pattern puzzle

Here we have groups of pink stickers in simple patterns: one sticker, two stickers, one sticker, two stickers… Other sticks show [one, two, one, one, two] and [one, two, three,one, two, three], and so on.

themed pattern puzzles

You can use chart stickers to match your current classroom theme, or put all your leftover chart stickers into a box and pull it out for this project.

Use numbers of items, colors, right and left facing stickers, different items, or any concept or pattern you’re working on in class.

number puzzles

Stickers make this fun for younger students, but you can also create puzzles with numbers or expressions. Have students work out puzzles for one another. The steps are simple:

  • Decide on an action that can be taken on any number. This could be “add 3” or “multiply by 2 and add 1” or “subtract the preceding number” or “multiply by the final digit of the preceding number” — anything at all.
  • Choose a beginning number and write it on the left of the stick.
  • Apply the action to that number to create the next number in the sequence. Repeat this step several times.
  • End with a question mark.
  • Flip the stick and write the next number in the sequence. You could also give the rule, such as “n-3,” and write that on the back (answer side) of the stick.

When students have completed their puzzle sticks, have them trade and work to figure out one another’s puzzles. Add an element of competition by allowing students to keep the puzzle sticks they solve and return those that stump them.

puzzle sticks

Alternatively, keep the puzzle sticks in a pencil cup, pocket chart, or shoe box for fast finishers to solve — and let them create more, too.


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