Teaching Number Relationships

I’ve written a few blog posts about counting and teen numbers, but today I want to write about my favorite activities for developing an understanding of number relationships. In the common core math standards, kindergarten students must be able to “count forward beginning from a given number within the known sequence” (CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.CC.A.2). Beyond this standard, most mathematical understandings stem from this basic understanding of how numbers relate to other numbers. I have so many fun activities I use to teach and practice number relationships with my students.

Counting Forwards and Backwards

Counting Songs

One of the first things that I do to help my students understand the number relationships is simply by counting. I do this in a few ways. The first is with songs and exercises from Jack Hartmann that I wrote about in my counting blog post. My kids love counting to 100 and doing the different dance moves. These are perfect to play at the start of math as the children transition to the rug and we are setting up math stations. It’s also the perfect brain break if the children are getting wiggly.

Morning Meeting Counting

The second way that I count with my students is with my morning meeting routine. We count the days of school every day. When we get to a number that ends in 5, we clap, and when we get to a tens number, we jump. Check out the video here on my Instagram! This is great practice for them. When we get to 100 days of school, the calendar captain gets to decide if we skip count by fives or by tens for our daily count.

Choral Counting

number relationships

The third way I count with my students is to choral count with them. I write about this in a blog post on developing place value understandings. I count with the students to a certain number. Then we count again and as I am writing the numbers, they are counting the numbers- we try and match our timing and the children try and sound like one voice together. After I write the numbers on the board or on a chart, the students talk about what they notice about the numbers. I write it different ways each time so they notice different things each time. For example, I might write numbers 1-5 on each line or vertically write numbers 1- 10.

It is important that we spend time with our students counting backwards, as well as counting forwards. It might not be something we think to do naturally, but whenever possible, I count forwards and backwards with my students. I want them to be comfortable with understanding how the numbers get bigger and how the numbers get smaller.

Games for Number Relationships

My favorite game to play with my students is “Pop!” I use this as a morning meeting activity or during a math mini-lesson. The way you play pop is you tell the students what number you will be counting to (or counting down to), for example counting to 15. One student starts counting and the count travels around the circle with each student counting the next number (towards the end of kindergarten or in older grades you could do skip counting too). The count continues until the person who counts the final number, in this case, 15. They get to say, “POP!” and they pop down to the ground. Then the next person starts back at 1 (unless you’re counting down, then they start back at the starting number). You keep playing until one person remains!

The children love this game and ask to play it over and over again. It’s a good idea to have a number line up for students who might need more support. I also tell the students that they need to be ready to say the next number, so they need to be listening to the person next to them. Often, they like to count ahead and see who will be out next, but then they usually miss their turn. This also distracts the players, so I say that if you have a prediction of who will be out, you must keep it in your head.

Another game to play is “Guess What’s Next”. I often play this game at the end of my math lesson as a way to transition children to stations. I hold up a card and a student will tell me the number that comes next. Then they get to go choose a station.

Building Number Lines

Another awesome way to help your students understand number relationships is to have them build their own number lines. I do this in a few ways. One way is a game called “Hide and Seek” and I write about that in my teen number blog post.

number relationships

Another way to do this is to do an open number line. In this activity, I draw a line or put out a string and then I give out number cards to the students to put on the number line. I haven’t written any numbers yet, or I may have put out one to start. I call up students one at a time to put their number on the number line. This is a great opportunity to use different symbols for numbers instead of just numerals, like I am doing here with these fall number cards.

As the children are putting up their numbers, we talk about how we might need to move numbers to change the number line. For example, if we put ten at the end of the line and then get a 20, we would maybe think that 10 should go in the middle of the line instead.

Nearby Numbers

number relationships

Probably my favorite way to help my students understand number relationships at a station or in small groups is to play the game Nearby Numbers. This activity is in my Teachers Pay Teachers store with 8 different board to practice number order 0-11, 10-20, 15-60. I give students a board and all the numbers they will need to fill in the missing numbers on the board (a tip for managing the pieces is to print on different colors or put stickers on the back of the cards and the same sticker on the board). Students need to fill in the numbers that came before the center number and the numbers that come after it. Then I have them double check that it sounds right forwards and backwards.

Missing Numbers

Another great activity for small groups and stations is “Missing Numbers” where students have to fill in the missing numbers in a number line, number chart, or puzzle piece. These activities come from my 1 More/1 Less Intervention product from Teachers Pay Teachers.

free one more one less activity


Students must understand number relationships before they can learn and practice other math understandings. Children must know the order of numbers forwards and backwards and without counting from 1. I have listed a bunch of my favorite ways to that as a whole class or in small groups. Comment below and tell me what your favorite way is!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.