One of the very foundational skills for kindergarten math is counting. In my school, our goal is for students to be able to count up to 32 objects by the end of kindergarten. This benchmark encompasses several key components that students must master in order to be successful at counting: one-to-one correspondence, staying organized and keeping trick, understanding the final number is the total number, knowing the number sequence, and being able to stop counting at a certain number. Once you know what your students are struggling with, you can purposefully pick the counting interventions that are best.
Assessing Counting – What Are They Working On?
Give a child a pile of objects to count. Observe them. Only through observing them count can we see what they understand about counting and what key understandings they are still working on. When you are observing them, you should be asking yourself the following questions
- Are they touching, tapping, or pointing to each object?
- How are they keeping the objects organized so they only count them once?
- Do they say all the numbers in order?
- Are they missing any numbers?
- Do they remember how many they counted?
If your children are struggling with one-to-one correspondence while counting, there are a few strategies you can use to help them. Students need to understand that one object gets one number. You want to consistently remind them to tap or move each object only once. It is helpful to have a place to put each object, like these circles, apples, ten frames, or numbers on the number line. Using these sheets, students are only able to move one object into one spot. Each spot also has a number with it to keep track while counting and to help reinforce the understanding that each object only gets one number.
When using these sheets, I wouldn’t give 30 objects each time. Start with what the children can do on their own. Then, as they become confident with their one-to-one correspondence, increase the amount. For example, if they can give each object only one number up to number five and then they start to double tap objects, give them 7 objects to start. After some time, you can increase it to 10 objects.
Staying Organized While Counting
If your students understand that each object only gets one number, but they accidentally tap or move objects more than once, then they are struggling with straying organized while counting. It is important to explicitly teach these struggling students strategies for staying organized while counting (there are wonderful inquiry-based activities that encourage students to discover for themselves which strategies are best for counting, but students that struggle benefit from explicit teaching and numerous opportunities for practice).
These sheets, which really can be made with just a simple piece of tape or a line on a piece of paper, are perfect for helping students keep track of the objects they are counting. Teach and model for them how they touch an object, slide it to the other side of the paper, count it, and then go back to the other side to get a new object. I call this, “touch and move” so that I can quickly remind students while they are counting to stay organized. Students that struggle with this will need many, many opportunities to practice this. So, have a variety of objects and amounts available for practice.
Once they have counted their objects, encourage them to double check by counting again (this engages them in a second round of counting for even more practice). I would only do this once (there and back) unless I changed objects to keep it interesting. If the students start to get silly or making silly mistakes all of a sudden, it might be too much practice time for them, and you should try again another day. It’s not beneficial to push them beyond their attention span to the point that they are showing misbehaviors.
Counting to a Certain Number
Some students, especially students who struggle with impulse control, have difficulty counting to a certain amount. For example, if I have 18 students and I need 18 dice for their activity, I need to only count out 18 dice and no more. Students may struggle with stopping at the number 18 and continue counting. Usually this is because they are so focused on counting that they forget to hold the final number in their brain. Another reason could be that they struggle with impulses and they just keep counting before they realize that they have over-counted.
When students struggle with this, they could benefit with these organization sheets. This way they only have to focus on remembering the number to stop counting at. Each time you practice, change up the objects and amounts but keep the general intervention activity the same. You could even write out different numbers on post it notes or pieces of paper and hand out the numbers to the students you are working with. Then they can refer back to the number they should stop at while they are counting and when they get to that number, it will be easier to remember to stop.
Knowing the Number Sequence In Counting
Students often struggle with knowing the number sequence, especially beyond a certain number. Especially at the beginning of the year, kindergarteners often struggle with remembering the sequence of teen numbers. There are a few things you want students to understand – identifying numbers and knowing the sequence. These understandings often go hand-in-hand.
Identifying numbers should start with assessing what numbers they can identify. Then you can use I Spy sheets (this one is a freebie!), Cover It, or Number Jump, where you call out a number and they need to find it on their sheets.
To help students know the number sequence, you want to give students several opportunities to orally count forwards and backwards. You can add in some fun by using dice and movements where students have to do jumping jacks or hops to different numbers.
You also want to give students many opportunities to build number lines. There are fun games, like hide and seek, that I mention in my Teen Numbers product, where students build a number line and then they turn around and you take away one number. Then they have to figure out what number is missing. They also could put together a puzzle with the numbers in number order. Another activity is called Nearby Numbers where students have to fill in the numbers that come before and after.
It is also really effective to combine the oral counting and the number line building. Have students use number cards to build a number line on the ground. Then call out a number and have them jump to it, counting out loud each jump, and then count backwards. Whenever you can reinforce counting forwards AND backwards, do it! Counting backwards is a great way to help understand number order and understanding one more and one less to a number, which is the foundation of addition and subtraction!
Counting is a vital skill that children need to understand, and it is made up of many key components. In order to best support your struggling counters, you need to target interventions to the key understandings they are missing. I hope that these activities help your students! What activities do you love to use with your struggling counters?