Coin-Counting Routine

counting coins

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.

I always love it when I can help kids see mathematical connections between seemingly unrelated skills or concepts. For example, think about the skills required for both telling time and counting money. When you do either, you skip count by one number and then switch to skip counting by another. For example, when you count coins, you usually group the like coins and skip count by those numbers (skip count by 25 for the quarters, by 10s for the dimes, etc.). I’ve seen lots of strategies for counting coins using paper and pencil or other tools, but this is really a mental skill we want to build. You don’t whip out a pencil and paper to count out coins in the check-out line!

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A great way to practice this skill is with a routine called Count Around the Circle from the book Number Sense Routines: Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3, by Jessica Shumway. There are many applications for this routine, but I adapted it for counting coins.

So here’s how it goes. Show the nickel card and students go around the circle counting by 5s. At some point in the circle, switch the card to the penny card and then the next student switches over to counting by 1s. I would recommend starting slowly with the coins—maybe counting by 5s (nickels) and then switching to 1s (pennies)—and gradually building up over time to switch from quarters to dimes to nickels and pennies.

counting coins

You could also do this activity in a small group. Lay the cards in front of you in order from quarters down to nickels (assuming students are using all coins). Point to the coin you want them to start counting by. For example, point to the dime and they start counting by 10s. When you point to the nickel, they switch to counting by 5s, etc. Sometimes, go directly from dimes to pennies.

Telling time uses the same skill. We typically count by 5s and then switch over to counting by 1s. Or, we use a benchmark time of, say, 30 minutes, and then count by 5s and 1s.

Click here to grab your own copy of the coin cards.


  1. lcooney

    I am going to try this as this is a hard skill for some of my 1-2 grade students. I tried to get the coin cards and they did not work. Is there somewhere else I can find them or buy them. thanks

    • Donna Boucher

      Huh, I’m not sure why it wouldn’t work. Click on the Contact Me tab at the top of my blog and send me an email. I’d be happy to email them to you!

  2. Tammy

    Combining money skills and Counting Around the Circle is brilliant. Thank you!
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  3. jbales

    Hi Donna- I love the idea of moving right from skip counting into counting coins. In the past my first graders have done fine when just doing nickles or dimes, but had trouble with combinations. I am excited to try this game out and see how it helps. Thanks for the idea.

    • Donna Boucher

      My pleasure, Julie! Just remember to start slow! It’s a big jump to go from skip counting by fives to switch off to ones. Have fun! 🙂


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