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How do you teach the unit of repeat?

Here are some ways to help students learn to identify the unit of repeat in one-dimensional patterns.

  • Do not spend a long time making and drawing alternating AB patterns.
    The alternation often distracts students' attention away from the unit of repeat.
  • Use hands-on materials such as interlocking cubes.
    Patterns made from manipulable materials can be easily pulled apart and the pieces compared.
  • Use examples that have only complete units of repeat.
    But occasionally make a 'deliberate mistake' and see if students can spot what is wrong.
  • Ask students to make a repeating pattern using a unit of repeat that you have given them (or one they have created themselves).
  • Frequently ask students to use the unit of repeat to find the total 'length' of the pattern.
  • Challenge students to fill in the gaps in a repeating pattern where you have removed some of the pieces.
    These challenges can range from easy tasks to more difficult tasks.


Colour in the missing square in this repeating pattern: Find the missing letters in this repeating pattern:
Nine squares in a row: coloured yellow, blue, red, yellow, blue, blank, yellow, blue, red. The student fills in the blank.
A  B  B  ?  A  B  ?  ?  A  B  ?  C
An easy task. A more difficult task.


Always stress that the unit of repeat must be identical throughout the pattern.