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Early Number Sense


Number sense is an absolutely critical math skill.  Without number sense, computing and understanding relationships within numbers is difficult.  We all know students that know algorithms but have little understanding of the math involved. These students don’t know what to do if an algorithm goes wrong.  Some of them can’t even tell if the answer they got makes sense or not. This is why early number sense is critical.
number sense activities, subitizing games, number sense games








What is early number sense?
1. An awareness of the relationship between number and quantity
2. An understanding of number symbols, vocabulary and meaning
3. The ability to engage in systematic counting, including notions of cardinality and ordinality
4. An awareness of magnitude and comparisons between different magnitudes
5. An understanding of different representations of number
6. Competence with simple mathematical operations
7. An awareness of number patterns including recognizing missing numbers
(J. Way, 2001)

Students need to understand numbers relationships and work flexibility with numbers. This number sense is crucial when students encounter more challenging math standards in the upper grades. We have got to build number sense in the primary grades.  It takes a lot of practice and most math curriculums do a very poor job in including these critical skills.

One of the best ways to develop this number sense is through subitzing and counting activities.


math in first grade, maths, developing number sense


math in first grade, maths, developing number sense


math in first grade, maths, developing number sense

math in first grade, maths, developing number sense

math in first grade, maths, developing number sense



This post shares some of my favorite ways to use math warm-ups to develop and improve students’ number sense. These activities are perfect for a quick daily math review and/or as a time filler. They all easy to do and make an incredible impact in students’ number sense.
Flashing quantities encourage students to grow their subitizing abilities.  I show my class an image for a few seconds (like the ones above), and have students try to name the quantity shown. The speed of the image flash decreases students’ tendency to count by ones. After students share how many they saw, we discuss the strategies for identifying the quantity. I also use a paper plate and play doh to do this activity.  I like it because the play doh sticks onto the plate and I can quickly change quantities and how they are displayed.





Counting is not just a memorized sequence. It is putting a name to quantities, understanding how our number system is organized, and using patterns. Counting experiences help students recognize the relationship among numbers.  Students need repeated practice with counting to become fluent with counting sequences and to develop their number sense, and one of my favorite ways to teach this is through a counting circle. Counting circle is a routine that requires whole-group participation, where each person says a number as students count one-by-one around the circle.  We can go forward, backward and even skip count.




math in first grade, math in kindergarten, subitizing games




Ten frames are a great way to show quantity.  Once students understand how they work, they can use them to add and subtract.  We can also use multiple ten frames to work with larger numbers. I keep blank ten frames in the classroom so students can easily access them.
Do you have ten frames in your classroom?  If not, here is a link to download mine. 
subitizing games

I have a lot of math resources in my Tpt shop that teach early number sense.  Check them out here.
Here's another blog post where I share more ideas about subitizing and number sense.

Thank you for reading and please share how you develop early number sense in the comments below!


                     math in first grade, maths, developing number sense

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