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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Counting to 120 and bridging the decade

If you teach Kindergarten or first grade math, you probably spend a lot of time on counting.  Me too.  Lots and lots of time.  At this point in the year in first grade I want my students to be fluent with their forward counting within 120 starting from any number.  The most challenging part for students is going from one decade to the next.  Here are some easy, low prep routines I use with my students to address this issue and work on a slew of other K and first grade skills.  Much of what I am going to show you took place this week  in a first grade classroom but I do many of these things with Kindergartners as well, just with a smaller set of numbers.

Ordering Number Cards and Counting Forward and Backwards

If I am working specifically on counting through a decade, I will pull out some number cards for kids to put in order that begin on one side of a decade and end on the other.  

Here are some first graders who received number cards and had to put themselves in order from least to greatest.  These number cards are large sturdy and were found at the back of a filing cabinet.  They are from some assessment from 1966. There is probably a set like this in the back of a dusty cabinet in every school. 
Once I have the students up and they get themselves in order, we start from the smallest number and read to the largest to check if the cards are right.  This also gives us a chance to start counting from some number that is not 1 and count through a decade.  Then I might have the kid who is holding 38 start counting and we count to the end.  We also count backwards starting at the highest and going to the lowest. 

After doing some of this as a whole group, I send the kids to work with partners and then eventually independently. When we do this activity with partners or independently, I like to use base 10 number cards that not only display the number but also have pictures of base 10 pieces as well.  The kids who need the support of the visual image have it and the kids who don't tend to ignore the picture and focus on the number.

Here a student has ordered the numbers from 67 to 72.  When they are done I have them read them to me counting forward and then counting backwards. 
Here a student works with cards from 99 to 107.  I love how I can differentiate this activity to meet all the needs in the classroom.  
This is how I get the deck ready for this activity.  I put it in order by decades and then mix and match so each kid gets 6-12 cards in sequential order.  In this case I was making sure they had some below a decade number and some above.  Then I paper clip them together and put them in a baggie and they are ready to go.  I used a yellow deck and an orange deck of these cards.  That way I know what deck each card belongs to and I had 24 sets of cards which is enough for all the students in this class and a few extras.   

As kids get more and more fluent with this, I find that if I want to keep doing it as a whole class activity, I need to recruit some helpers.  Kids who are particularly fluent with the full range of cards will sometimes get to help me and check other students ordering as they finish.  They do a great job of saying exactly what I say and makings sure kids are reading these forward and backwards.  I also will use this activity as a quick time filler when students finish before others.  I have also added it to my rotation of math centers.

I also use this free app to do a similar activity and further differentiate for my students.

I use these cards over and over again in the classroom.  When my students are fluent with this skill, I will remix these decks and use them for other things.

Crossing the Decade Concentration

Most first graders and many Kindergartners are familiar with the game concentration so this is a quick and easy one to get started with.  I pull the cards that are one less than a decade number (59, 79, etc) from a deck of one color and the decade cards from a deck of another color.  I place them in two rectangular arrays and kids get to turn over one from one color and one from the other.  They are trying to "match" the cards that are in counting order.  For example 59 goes with 60 and 29 goes with 30.  

The set up for crossing the decade concentration

In this game the students were ready for numbers over 100.  I also play this game using only 6 cards of each color and choose smaller numbers.  I love games that I can differentiate.  
For kids who are not yet ready to play concentration, here is a modified version.  Put all the decade cards face up where kids can see them.  Put all the cards that are one less than a decade number in a pile.  Have them flip over a card that is one less than a decade and find the decade number that comes after it.  In this picture I had the students put the decade numbers in order and also practice counting forward and backward by 10's.  Having them in order makes it a bit easier.  
When they are ready, mix up the order of the decade numbers.  When they have this down, they are ready to play concentration.  

Counting Strips

Another great way to help kids with forward and backward counting is to use counting strips. These are easy to make for any level of counting you need to do.  I print the strips on cardstock, tape them together and have kids pull them through a card and count forward and then when they are ready pull the same strip backward though the card to practice backward counting.  The cards are made out of scraps of cardstock.  I just cut two slits in them about an inch apart.  You could also make them out of index cards.
This student practices counting from 18 to 34 and then from 34 to 18.  
This student practices counting from 107 to 123 and then from 123 to 107.  Kids usually whisper count aloud when they are doing this at a table group or even if it is a math station.  
I love how I can differentiate this activity to any range of numbers my students need.  When they are done with one counting strip, they get another and get right to work.  
Want to try these counting strips with your students?  Grab them from Google Drive for FREE!

How do you practice counting in the classroom?


  1. This is exactly the skill we worked on today. It seemed no matter how many times I explained it - even when showing the tens and ones they couldn't grasp that 58 is smaller than 61. I think I need a deck of those cards! Thanks for this post, it has been very helpful to me. Maria

    1. I use cards without the visual images sometimes when students are ready but they really benefit those kids who don't have a mental model yet. It helps them to develop their mental model and eventually they won't need the pictures anymore.

  2. I love all the ways you found to use these cards.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

    1. Thanks! I literally carry around part of a deck in my pocket all day so whenever I have a few minutes, I find something to do with them.

  3. I love all these activities! Thank you. I need to print my new cards this weekend:)

  4. Thanks! This gives me a some great ideas! I'm a new follower!

    Not very fancy

    1. Hi Deb!
      Thanks for visiting and following! Can't wait to check out your blog.

  5. I am printing those cards NOW. I can't find the number strips on your FB page.....

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Sorry! I updated my Facebook Fan freebie recently and that got moved. You can grab it from Google Drive here!

  6. I am looking forward to using these cards with the next school year. 2015-16 is looking to be an awesome year.