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Using Number Bracelets to Develop Part/Whole Thinking

I wrote recently about using rekenreks to develop number sense, and today’s post focuses on another great tool–number bracelets. Like rekenreks, number bracelets provide concrete practice for number combinations and composing/decomposing numbers.

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Making Number Bracelets

  • Use chenille stems (cut off about 2″) and pony beads to make the bracelets. You don’t need to worry about sizing them to fit students–they don’t actually wear them, they manipulate the beads. Notice these are also two of the materials used to make the rekenreks, so buy in bulk!
  • Use a single color for the beads on a bracelet. Different bracelets can have different colors (for example all the 5’s have white beads and all the 6’s have red beads), but don’t mix colors on a bracelet.
  • Use mailing labels for the number tags. Put the number tag over the twisted ends to keep little hands from getting poked.
  • Two common ways to store the bracelets are (1) in a large plastic bag with enough bracelets of each number for all students to have one, for example a bag of 5s, or (2) each student has a personal bag with bracelets for all numbers.

Number Bracelet Routines

  • Show students a systematic way to find all the combinations for a number by sliding one bead at a time from one side to the other. Stress the part/whole relationship shown on the bracelet. Be sure students verbalize each combination (0 and 3 make 3, 1 and 2 make 3, etc.).
  • Ask students to show you a combination for a number. One student might show 1 and 2 while another shows 3 and 0. Then ask students to show you another way.
  • Students can work in pairs to practice missing addends. One partner hides some of the beads and the other partner has to determine how many are hidden.
  • Number bracelet routines should be differentiated in small group instruction and workstations by having students work on their own target numbers. In other words, the majority of your kiddos might be working on combinations for 5 while others are working on 3 or 8.
  • Several methods can be used for students to show their work with number bracelets. Some suggestions are shown below.
  • Put missing addend equations in a workstation with number bracelets for concrete support for a very difficult concept.

Go forth and make your number bracelets! Grab my number bracelets unit to get the labels, prompts, and equation cards you see pictured.

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    1. Yes, Lisa! Pipe cleaner is no longer politically correct, since it’s associated with smoking. Ha ha. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I have been thinking about these so much, I am making them with all of my primary teachers on pre-service days. I also wanted to share this post and your unit plan with my blog readers and linked to both today as part of my August currently. Thanks for sharing!

    2. I’ll bet they’ll love it! How nice for your teachers to have an engaging new tool to use in the classroom. ๐Ÿ™‚

  1. We make these every year and the kids love them so much. What is it about pony beads and pipe cleaners that make 5 year olds so happy. I always do combinations to ten and let them wear it home! They love the jewelry! It was fantastic to meet you in Vegas. I hope you present some day.
    Fran Kramer

    1. I like the idea of letting them take the bracelets home! Great way to carry the learning into the summer. Vegas was awesome! I absolutely hope to present there at some point. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I’m a new follower so you may have already talked about this: Is there a reason you put the sum first/before the addends on your equation cards? I am pinning too (def pin-worthy!!) and will use these this coming year. It’s a great way to make the concept “real” and hands on–love it!

    1. Hi, Terri!! Great question! Putting the sum first is all part of understanding the meaning of the equal sign. For too long we’ve always put the sum (or difference, or product, etc.) at the end, which causes kids to associate the equal sign with “the answer is next”. Kids should sometimes see the sum at the front (5 = 3 + 2) as well as seeing two expressions linked by an equal sign (3 + 2 = 1 + 4) so they get used to the understanding that the equal sign merely means both sides balance.

  3. I love this idea! I color code my numberline depending on the skip counting pattern, so I think I will label the bracelets with these same colors. Thanks for all the ispiration! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I just had a parent volunteer make counting bracelets for every child in my class. I saw this done at a workshop. However, they did not have us labeling each bracelet with the number. I will be getting them back out and doing that.

  5. I have been using these this year and I have a question – are you finding that the beads are going underneath the labels? I am having that problem happen a lot – if so, what have you done to “fix: that?
    My kiddos and teh teachers I am working with are loving these!!!

  6. This was such a hit today in first grade. I modeled “ways to make” 2 and 3 with children as beads and a circle of jump rope as the bracelet. Then I made a “4” bracelet and modeled how to capture all the ways to make 4 on the white board. The children made “5” bracelets at the table and really concentrated on drawing the circles and showing all the ways to make 5. As the new math specialist at my school, thank you for making me look good!

  7. I love this idea. I’m thinking about adapting it for fractions. Each label would have the improper fraction for the whole. Students could use them to compose and decompose fractions.

  8. Thank you so much for these hands-on resources. They are useful for my students who are still working on concrete and representational numbers. I really appreciate these resources!

  9. Love this idea!! We just bought a Rekenrek to use for homeschooling (had never heard of it before your blog – thank you!). I am wondering whether it could be helpful to use a similar idea for the number bracelets by making beads up to 5 one colour and beads 6-10 another colour? Or would that be confusing for students?

    1. Great question! Usually, with the number bracelets you want the beads to be all one color. This is a case where different tools serve different purposes. The rekenreks are specifically designed to highlight the benchmarks of 5, 10, 15, and 20. The bracelets allow students to just see the different parts of each number.

      1. Thank you for such a quick response, Donna! We were just sitting down to make the bracelets when I saw your reply (my husband is literally separating the beads by colour this very moment)…all one colour per bracelet it is! ๐Ÿ™‚

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