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Flexible Workstation for Number Sense

I was working on a professional development session this week for my primary teachers, and it had me thinking about how we can use the same routines for whole group instruction, small group instruction, and workstation activities. And how we can differentiate activities to meet the needs of our learners without creating a great deal of work for ourselves.

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One activity I love is Count Around the Circle from the book Number Sense Routines. You might like to read this post about using it for skip-counting. It goes something like this–depending on your students’ needs and your standards, you choose a counting pattern. For younger kiddos it might be counting forward or backward by 1, skip-counting (by 2s, 5s, or 10s), or skip counting by 10s off the decade (17, 27, 37, etc.). For older kiddos, it can be used to practice multiples or skip-counting with larger numbers. Students sit in a circle and you, well, count around the circle. Say you’re counting forward by 1’s starting at 12. The first child says 12, the next 13, the next 14, etc. At some point, you can have them begin to count backward. Another version has kids start standing up and every time a certain number is reached, that student sits and the counting begins again. For example, to practice the teen numbers, you might start at 10 and count around the circle. The student who says 20 sits down and the next child starts again at 10. This keeps going until only one student is standing. Very engaging!!

Now think about doing that same activity in a small group. Your class might be counting forward and backward to 100, but you may have a group of kiddos that are still working to master numbers to 50. Or you may have some students that have trouble with the teen numbers. So you’re doing the same activity with a smaller group of kiddos using different counting sequences and numbers. I think you can see how easy it is to differentiate.

I really wanted to come up with a way to use the same activity in a workstation, so this is what I came up with. The file, which you can download for free below, has two pages. The first is a sheet of six cards you can copy on cardstock and program (fill in) to match the needs of your students (see some of the examples below). The second is a recording sheet you can laminate and put in the workstation for students to use to record their work. Another option, of course, would be to have them record their work in their math journal.

Check out these other suggestions for elevating this task!

Download your freebie by clicking here, ย As always, I’d love to hear your comments about this activity!

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  1. Thanks! I just had a conversation with my first grade team about count around the circle and how our student’s need to practice this! This is a great resource for students to put in their math journals! Thanks for sharing!

    1. You’re welcome, Jen! I love Count Around the Circle. So many variations and really high engagement. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Love how you tied it all together with whole group, small group, and independent work. This gradual release helps them be successful independently. I also love how you modeled differentiating this to the students’ needs. Easy, practical, fun, and engaging. I would say that is a win-win for everyone. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Kathy! You totally nailed my goals for this professional development–showing how the same activity can be used in different formats and differentiated. That gradual release is SO important!!

  3. We have been doing counting around the circle a lot with second graders the last two weeks. They have been counting by 25’s, forward and backwards by 10’s and forward and backwards by 1’s within 1000. This is the perfect activity to do gradual release with them because their is a wide range of abilities in this group!!

    The Math Maniac

    1. I’m glad you find it helpful! Count Around the Circle is such a versatile activity, and I was excited to find a way to make it work for a workstation.

  4. One of my third graders just told me yesterday that she is having trouble adding and subtracting time in her classroom. This will be a great activity to help her out! Thanks for posting all of this great info and ideas! Inspiring!

  5. ~so simple YET so complex! What a great way to challenge individual learners… stretch learning… embed practice… Wow! Really Great! Thanks!!!

  6. This is an awesome workstation. My kindergarten teacher neighbor has been using it in her math stations for the last month of so. She has showed me products of her students work. As I got to thinking about it, I realized that this can be a math station in my first grade class too. I am going to introduce it today! Thanks for offering this freebie and amazing explaination!


  7. I love the sound of this activity & how easy it is to differentiate it and interchange it from large group to small group to centers. Thank you so much for sharing.


  8. Thank you! I have decided to do much more beginning of the year number sense work with my third graders. There are always a handful at least that seem stumped if you ask “ten more” questions or sometimes even “1 less”. They never quite “got” our base 10 system. I love your freebie, and that it can be suited to both the strugglers and those more at the proficient level. Thanks again for help building that solid foundation.

  9. Love it! To reiterate what others have said, I love how you tied together the whole group, small group aspect. I often make the mistake of having a center where the students have to do something relatively new, or in a new way and I have to spend too much time explaining it!

    1. Glad it gave you an “ah ha” moment! And it’s such a flexible activity, that once the kiddos know how to do it, you just change it up a bit.

  10. You’ve done it again! This will be a great activity for my fourth graders. I love how easy it is to differentiate for both lower and advanced students. I am so excited about introducing this activity on Tuesday. Thank you for sharing.

  11. I’m a student teacher and was needing some resources for teaching patterns! This was exactly what I was looking for, thank you so much for sharing!

  12. Thanks for this! I am going to use this with my granddaughter, as a game! She is a rising 6th-grade student with many holes in her mathematical understanding. I am hoping this will reinforce our lessons in multiplication, as well as decimals!

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