Your kindergartners can count to 10, or 20 or even 100. But you ask them what number comes after 8 and your most struggling learners start counting back at one to figure it out. They know the count sequence but they don't understand the count sequence.
Understanding the count sequence means more than being able to recite the numbers 1-10. The standards state that an understanding of the count sequence includes being able to count to 100 by ones and tens, counting forward from a given number and being able to write the numbers 0-20.
One of my favorite kindergarten activities includes numbers 1-10 on simple bunting flags. I hang up a line of yarn about eight feet long across two file cabinets and allow my students to hang the numbers up on the line. By being strategic, you can level and differentiate this simple activity to allow your students to develop confidence and fluency where they are and slowly push them to a deeper level of understanding of numbers 1-10.
Level 1* Lay out all flags on the ground and put ten clips on the line. Students then “find” the numbers 1-10 and clip them up onto the line in order. Tell Me More: Some students may be able to do this activity independently right away. Others may struggle and require prompts. One easy yet powerful prompt is to say “Could you use counting to see which number comes next?” This allows students to relate the count sequence that they are familiar with to the numbers 1-10.
Level 2 * Lay out all flags on the ground and keep a small bucket of pins near by. Students will then find the numbers 1-10 and clip them onto the line in order. Why? The change between this activity and the previous is subtle yet powerful. Students need to begin to think about the space between the numbers. If students leave gaps that are too large I ask them questions such as “What are you saving space for between the 3 and the 4? Is there a number that goes in there? Let’s put those numbers closer together so that all of the numbers are spaced out evenly.”
Level 3*Put the bunting flags into a pile. Hang the 10 clothes pins on the line. Students would ten take the top flag off of the pile and determine where on the line it would go. Students can “use counting” to find the placement of each flag. What should I look for? Look for students who are starting to recognize where on the number line a number would be placed. Do they recognize that the 10 goes at the end without counting? If they have the number 5, for example, already hung on the number line do they begin counting from that number instead of beginning at one each time? If not, you can prompt and model what that might look like. Noticing students demonstrating these skills will let you know that your students are ready to move to a more difficult version of this skill.
Level 4The most difficult version of this activity includes putting the flags into a pile and the pins in a small container. Students take the top flag off of the pile and grab a pin to put it on the line where they think it goes. How does this help? Numbers like 1 and 10 will be easier for your students to place. In thinking about the placement of the other numbers, your students will need to think about which numbers are closer to 1 or ten, which numbers they need to ‘save space for’ and about the spacing between numbers. This also leads to a natural conversation about comparing numbers.
As a QUICK fluency activity, have your students close their eyes. Remove one of the banners. As soon as they open their eyes they should yell out... as quickly as they can... which flag is missing. Ask students to explain what they saw that let them know, so quickly, which number was missing.