FREEBIE for Composing and Decomposing Numbers

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.

Composing and decomposing numbers is critical learning for Kindergarteners and 1st Graders. This is something that needs to be practiced all year long as students master the combinations first for 5, then 6, then 7, etc. And, of course, they won’t all progress at the same rate. To keep students engaged, you’ll need plenty of activities and games. Today I have a freebie for composing and decomposing numbers that is a twist on a tried and true favorite, Under a Rock.

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.

Using teddy bear counters, Under a Rock becomes In the Cave.

Here’s the lowdown. Partners work together on a target number. That’s where the differentiation comes in. One pair of students can be working on combinations for 5, while another pair is working on 8 or 10. The students will need an amount of bears equal to their target number. For example, if students are working on the number 5, they use 5 bears. One partner closes his eyes while the other partner puts some of the bears “in the cave”. The other partner then opens his eyes and has to tell how many bears are hidden. I make the kiddos say the equation so they are practicing their combinations out loud.

Two bears outside the cave.  Three bears inside the cave.  2 plus 3 equals 5.

Ready to play? Grab two different versions of the recording sheet here.


  1. Positively Learning

    Thank you! We are taking a break from operations for our measurement & data unit. This type of hands-on learning is perfect for a warm-up in order to keep their addition/subtraction skills sharp during the break before we dive back in. Thanks again, Jen

    • Donna Boucher

      Sounds like a perfect plan, Jen!

  2. Sara Franza

    Love this! My kiddos had the BEST time with this game today! Thanks, Donna!

    • Donna Boucher

      Thanks, Sara! Can’t believe you put it to use today. That’s awesome!

  3. MathLady

    Thanks for sharing this Donna! The kids love to play this game and we play it in a variety of different ways, but it is new each time. I am sure they will love the bears.
    I was wondering if you would make a version for multiplication (Bears in each cave) and (Number of Caves)?
    Thank you!

  4. Michelle Scotese

    Thank you so much! My kids will love this game and it is perfect practice for decomposing. We have not mastered it yet, so I keep bringing it back for review as we finish other skills. I can’t wait to try this next week 🙂

  5. Anonymous

    Great post as always! Thank you for this, I find your posts aimed at first graders so helpful!

  6. ali

    Just what I needed. Thanks so much for the awesome work you do. i always find what I need through your posts. I’m working hard on trying to get my first grade kids to internalize the combinations of numbers. Some are moving along, others struggle with it. I appreciate all the different activities you have.

  7. Cindy Elkins

    I have always loved a vey similar activity that I learned from “Developing Number Concepts Using Unifix Cubes” by Kathy Richardson. (I have the first edition from 1984.) I called it Hide-n-Seek. You are right – kids love it. And it makes a great assessment for teachers to check individual students’ mastery of number bonds / combinations.
    I love your idea of bears in a cave and the recording sheet you provided. Thank you! You inspired me to start my own blog this past summer as an educational consultant. You are listed in my resources as a go-to-math expert. I refer my math teachers to you and utilize many of your activities myself. Thanks for sharing, Donna!!
    Cindy Elkins (aka OK Math and Reading Lady

  8. terri-lynn

    Thank you for the freebie. The one I received does not have the section for the equation. Is it possible to get that one? Thanks

    • Donna Boucher

      Thanks for the heads up! Check the link now and it should be a document with both versions of the recording sheet.


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