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Be Wise…Subitize!

Okay, I realize the title of this post is very corny, but it got your attention so I can talk about one of my favorite subjects–subitizing. My sister will say that’s Greek to her, so let me put it in simpler terms. When you instantly recognize a quantity without counting, you subitize. For example, if I roll the pair of dice shown here, I instantly recognize the 4 and the 2 without counting.

Dice Pair, 4-2

This is a foundational skill for students. Subitizing is not a new concept. According to Wikipdia the term was first used in 1949. But it seems that recently there’s lots of chatter about subitizing. I attended a professional development session put on by one of the fabulous presenters from Origo, and he listed subitizing as one of the six components of number sense. He went on to say that it was, by far, the MOST important!

This post contains affiliate links, which simply means that when you use my link and purchase a product, I receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, and I only link to books and products that I personally use and recommend.

I was in the kindergarten classroom of an amazing teacher today. As her kiddos sat in a circle around her, she flashed cards with random dot patterns on them. The kids shouted out the number represented by the dots on each card. As if that weren’t fabulous enough, they went on to volunteer HOW they saw each number. Here’s what I mean. The figure below shows one of the patterns she flashed. Some kids said they saw 2 groups of 3, and they knew that was 6. Another child saw 2 groups of 2 on each side and another group of 2 in the middle. The student explained that 2 + 2 + 2 = 6. Yet another student saw 3 groups of 2, but he saw 2 on the top, 2 in the middle, and 2 on the bottom. How cool is that?

John Van de Walle talks about subitizing in his book Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics: Grades K-3. Older editions of the book provided blackline masters of dot patterns that could be used exactly like I saw being done today. I enlarged some of Van de Walle’s cards so they would be easier to use. You will find the link to download them for free at the end of this post!

Thanks for making it to the end of this long post! And now a little reward for sticking with me. I would love for you to follow my blog and visit my TPT store and follow me there as well. If you do that, send me an email, and I will email you either my Numbers to 20 posters or a set of my Operations posters for FREE! Let me know in the email which freebie you want.

          numbers to 20

Download your FREE dot cards here.

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    1. I would love the Numbers to 20 poster. I love following you as a parent of a kindergartener and a third grade teacher.

  1. I think I learned to subitize by playing jacks. Getting your fivesies doesn’t allow time for counting!

  2. I am a grade chairman for first grade teachers. I do think subitizing is very important. I love that a math coach will help us! I have been busy creating worksheets and resources for the teachers that I work with. How lucky we are that so many wonderful resources are available. Thanks

  3. Kathy RIchardson has some terrific activites & number talks which involve dot cards. She is my hero when teaching math to the young ones. Math Perspectives & Math Their Way are still the basics compared to any textbook series.

  4. Just finished four days of CGI training so I am a new fan of subitizing:-) Luuuuuuv that word!

  5. I am a follower of your blog and your tpt store. Thanks for all the helpful resources! If you’re still offering, I would love a copy of the 1-20 posters. My email is mroyer@wcpss.net

    Melissa Royer

  6. Hi Donna,

    Just came across this post. I am a follower of your blog post. Thanks for the really great Maths resources. I would love a copy of the Numbers 1 – 20 posters. My email is foxysexyroxy10@yahoo.com.

    Thanking you in advance.
    Take care and God bless,

  7. I love the posters for Subitizing. I am going to work with Kinders for the first time next year – would love that poster!

    Am a follower of your TPT, blog and facebook pages! Love everything you have!!!

  8. Thanks for the great posts! I am now a follower of your blog & your TPT store. I would love to receive the Numbers to 20 posters if you are still offering the freebie. farmerz@mts.net Thanks 🙂

  9. I like your Numbers to 20 poster. I teach in a self-contained ESE K-2 classroom and have been looking for a poster that has all the ways numbers can be represented included in your poster.


  10. I also love to subitize! When a new 1st grader, who is legally blind, moved to our school in March, I brainstormed to find a way to subitize him. I found free PowerPoint presentations for subitizing online. I increased the size of the picture on each slide by 100%. Sitting with him at a desk top computer, his assistant clicked the mouse at the appropriate speed for him (which was too much time for my other students). After I saw how much more efficient it was to subitize from the ppt compared to handling cards, I projected it onto the screen for the large group! I’ll still use my cards for those few odd moments that happen outside of the classroom, but I’m spoiled now by the ppt !

  11. Donna,

    I worked with a student a few years ago who could not subitize. He described the dots on the dice as swimming and had to count them carefully with his finger every single time. I wonder how often kids are in this situation and what can be done about it?


  12. I recently bought your cards on TPT and decided to check out your blog to help understand the concept of subitizing further. It was extremely helpful. Thank you.

  13. I don’t think learning to recognize patterns on dice or dominoes is the same thing as subitizing. Take the pips off the six and scatter them on the table and it is way, way more difficult to instantly recognize the total as six.

    1. I agree that an unorganized group of objects is much more difficult to subitize than an organized one, but organized patterns, such as dominoes, ten-frames, and even finger-patterns, are subitizing.

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