Home > Patterns > Good teaching > Abstraction and generalisation > Abstraction of repeating patterns

Abstraction of repeating patterns

Here is a typical repeating pattern made from cubes.

A line of nine cubes. The pattern of two red cubes and one blue cube is repeated three times.

Repeating pattern of coloured cubes.

Replace each blue cube with a tall red block (or two red blocks joined together) and you get the same pattern.

A line of nine red cubes. On top of every third cube is another red cube.

Repeating pattern of heights.

Or replace the blocks with beads and change the colours. It is still the same pattern.

A string of nine beads. The pattern of two green beads and one red bead is repeated three times.

Repeating pattern of coloured beads.

Or use drawings instead of objects. It is still the same pattern.

A hand drawn sketch of a pattern of two triangles and one square repeated three times.

Repeating pattern of shapes.

Even 'sit-sit-stand' repeated is the same pattern, as is this musical pattern.

A music stave, showing three repeating triplets of notes.

Repeating pattern of music notes.

To help students see that all these patterns are the same, describe the unit of repeat using initial letters — for example RRB for red-red-blue, SST for short-short-tall, and so on.

Eventually, students will see that the exact components or letters are unimportant and they will start to talk about an abstract 'AAB pattern' where the A and B can be literally anything.

Making an AAB pattern

By making the same pattern in different media, students abstract the idea of an AAB pattern.

When are two patterns the same?

Students explore the different repeating patterns they can make from 12 cubes of various colours.

Curriculum links

Foundation Year: Sort and classify familiar objects and explain the basis for these classifications. Copy, continue and create patterns with objects and drawings