Workshop Wednesday: What Is the Missing Element?

Use this worksheet as an example to make simple Missing Element worksheets for your children. No one should have to stop and sing the Alphabet Song from beginning to end, just to figure out what letter comes after P. The same concept applies to numbers and counting, just without the song. My young kids viewed little worksheets like this as a fun challenge. After a little practice, they could do these orally, asking “What letter comes after V?” any time we had a few seconds to fill: while standing in line at the store, waiting for a red light, any waiting, anywhere. It kept them mentally active, which made the waiting much more bearable for them. I used the same process for numbers, asking “What number comes after 19?” and similar questions. The worksheet itself is a visual method; the oral question and answer exercise is an auditory method.

These are good mental exercises for those students who already know letters and numbers, but who don’t automatically recognize a short segment of the longer series. This is also a good skill to build into those youngsters who are just mastering the ABC’s and counting—notice that I said mastering, not initially learning.

For those students who need a more tactile application, let them match alphabet blocks or letter tiles to the challenges on the worksheet, filling in the gap with the appropriate letter on a block or tile. Number tiles can be used to create the number challenges, using multiple tiles to produce multiple-digit numbers. Borrow letter or number tiles from games, or make your own by cutting 1-inch squares from cereal box cardboard and marking with a Sharpie on the plain side.

Be sure to allow your students plenty of free-play time with the Missing Element exercise, as they will be sure to want to challenge each other (or you) with more examples. When a child continually quizzes you for the answer, give the correct answer each time, knowing that he is learning from your consistent responses. When you are confident that he really does know the correct answer, you can give the wrong answer with a questioning tone of voice or say “Is it K?” to see if he will correct you!

For a young kinesthetic learner, spread out the letter or number series on the floor using Post-It notes or flashcards and let the child hop on each one as he reads them off and shouts out the missing element as he hops into the gap. Another method for energetic children is to have flashcards for the series in one room and extra flashcards for the missing element in another room. Challenge your little Tigger to run, hop, or somersault into the other room to search for the correct card(s) to bring back and fill in the gap in the series.

Combining all of these learning style methods will give your students practice at using more than just their preferred style of learning, which helps them gain a better understanding while also broadening their experiences. As your students get older and expand their knowledge base, you can adapt this Missing Element concept for other academic pursuits as well.