Different Counting Strategy, Different Number?

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Try this.  Put a big pile of teddy bear counters in the middle of your circle time carpet.  Together as a class count them by twos.  Let’s say you get 86.  Now go around the circle and ask each student how many bears you will have if you count them by 5s.  Repeat several times that you’re counting the same bears, but counting them by 5s.  Be prepared for a surprise!  I did this in a 2nd grade classroom and at least 4 of the kiddos thought they’d get a different number.  We counted them by 5s and of course got 86.  By the time I asked them what number we’d get if we counted by 1s, they were all on board.

Kathy Richardson write about this phenomena in her book How Children Learn Number Concepts. It’s a great read–it lays out the critical learning phases children go through as they learn about numbers. Great for diagnosing student gaps and determining a course of action for remediation.

Just remember that as you’re practicing skip-counting, it’s important that the kiddos understand what that actually means.  Here’s a little activity you could use in a workstation for concrete skip-counting practice.  Fills some baggies with objects–use numbers that are appropriate for your kiddos  For example, if they’re working on numbers to 50, put less than 50 objects in each bag. Students take a bag of objects, count them by 1s, 2,s and 5s, and record their work on the recording sheet.  Click here to grab your freebie.


  1. Vicki Shelton

    Love it! So easy yet such a good way for kids to concepually understand skip counting and quantity. Thanks.

    • Donna Boucher

      You’re welcome! It’s a really eye-opening exercise.

  2. Tammy

    Great number sense activity. Thank you.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  3. Dianne Leoni

    So true. I recently started having my kindergarten and first grade students use the 100 Rekerek when counting by 5s. I was amazed at the disconnect with the number and quantity for a few of the students. Eye opening to say the least!


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