Last Updated on October 1, 2022 by Editorial Team
REVIEWED BY NUMBERDYSLEXIA’S EXPERT PANEL ON MAY 30, 2020
Number sense refers to the understanding of the number system and the ability to use, relate, and manipulate it for solving mathematical tasks. A strong number sense is important for gripping basic concepts well before diving into complex math topics in the future. Children with good number sense have a range of mathematical strategies at their disposal and they know when to use them and how to adapt them to meet different situations.
Number Sense is usually weak in people with dyscalculia. Good number sense skill is a must for performing complex mathematical operations and functions. Dyscalculics often struggle with these basic skills.
Number sense routine and why it is important
In order to develop a strong number sense in kids, some routine activities are recommended. These are the activities that need to be practiced on a regular basis in order to give students a sense of belonging, ownership, and predictability, which make the classroom a place to take risks and try new things when dealing with numbers and operations.
The predictability and ritualistic nature of routines make everyone feel encouraged to participate, which in turn promotes successful learning. Note that the routine does not always need to be related to the math lesson for that day or the math unit for that month. Its purpose is to provide a daily experience with a number sense concept.
The ultimate goal is to let students make connections over time, build an understanding of relationships among numbers and operations, and ultimately apply their number sense understandings in problem-solving. Here are some of the recommended routine activities for developing a strong number sense in little learners.
Top 8 routine activities for building strong number sense
1. Count in Circle
Counting in a circle is a very interesting routine. Kids love doing it as it’s quite entertaining. In this, the class is arranged in a circle and a random number (say 340) is thrown to a student from where the sequence begins. Now, the turns could be clockwise or anticlockwise. But both are recommended to be exercised alternatively.
The student is then asked to add 10 to the number and say it to the whole class. As the sequence continues, each kid keeps adding 10 to the resultant. The teacher may draw an open line on the board with each number stops to assist students, in case anyone stucks in between.
After 10, make it a little harder and ask to add 20 or 30 this time. Students will get a sense of how the pattern of unit place value works with the sequence. Try jumping the sequence of 2 or 3 as this will make the kid think about his/her number in advance instead of relying on the next kid.
After addition, Go for the subtraction sequence. Explain to them briefly how the events of subtraction turn into addition to negative values. As kids start feeling confident about it. Move over to the much harder multiplication and dividing sequence.
2. Choral Counting
In choral counting, the whole class counts aloud a number sequence altogether. This routine activity is similar to counting in a circle. The same level of variation in sequences must be exercised.
However, unlike the former, this routine doesn’t necessarily require a circle formation. Choral counting is recommended in class when the majority of the class struggles with counting sequences.
3. Ten Frames
Ten-Frames are two-by-five rectangular frames into which objects, e.g. counters, are placed to show numbers less than or equal to ten. Ten frames are a really helpful tool for building mental math fluency in kids. It involves composing and decomposing numbers for a better understanding of mathematical operations.
Teachers may use ten frames in school by arranging counters on the ten frames in different ways and asking kids to look at the numbers’ relationship to ten. Eg. Arrange 6 yellow and ask kids how many more will it take to make it to the number 10. Then arrange 3 yellow counters. Similarly, do it with other numbers up to 10. Try different combinations every time for better understanding, say 2 green and 6 yellow, 5 yellow, and 3 green to make 8.
4. Number of the day
In this activity, the teacher chooses a number randomly (say 100) and frame questions around it. This is really beneficial in teaching kids how number works in various contexts.
Some of the questions to ask are: when 100 is large or small? Adjacent numbers to 100?, How much 100 is larger than a certain number? How many 10s, the 20s, or 50s could fit in a 100?.
5. Rekenrek aka Arithmetic Rack
Rekenrek is a learning tool designed by Adrian Treffers, a mathematics curriculum researcher at the Freudenthal Institute in Holland, that provides a visual perspective of number relations and various mathematical operations, It consists of two rows of 10 beads. Larger versions with ten rows of ten beads are also available. Each row is made of five red beads and five white beads. The setup allows students to prepare a mental image of numbers and use it (5 or 10) as an anchor for counting, adding, and subtracting.
It is important to let students get familiar with the concept first by letting them play with it for a while.
Basic activity with Rekenrek involves asking to show a number (0-10) by moving the beads with one push. For numbers between 11 to 20 allows only 2 pushes.
Another good activity to perform using Rekenrek is by showing different ways of making a number. For this, use only the top row beads and cover the bottom row with a folded sheet of card or piece of fabric. Slide red beads to the left and white ones to the right. Take random between 1 to 9 (say 7). Perform different ways of making 7 like sliding 1 red and 6 white, 4 red and 3 white, 5 red, and 2 white beads to the center.
Once children are confident using the top row, combinations can be found using both the top and bottom rows. Children can record the different ways they find to build the given number.
6. Counting Anything
Counting real objects randomly is a simple but quite effective practice for building number sense in early learners. Instead of sticking to the routine classroom counting, Give them the freedom of counting anything and everything of their choice.
Having first-hand experience with counting real objects will help them understand numbers better. While doing this practice, slide some questions like, how many wings does this fan have? How many apples are there on the table? To level up, ask them to count backward.
7. Dice Throw
Throw one dice on the table. Let kids observe it for 1-2 seconds, and then take it away. Ask them the number of dots they saw. This will make them think about the dots in the group instead of counting these by ones.
When they are confident with one dice, throw 2. Again let them visualize for about 2- 3 seconds and then ask the number on each dice. If they are correct, ask them to add the number. This practice improves the ability of students to visualize amounts.
8. Number line Stops
Another interesting way of teaching how the number system works is by using number line stops. In this, the gap between the two numbers and the jump required to complete the sequence are discussed.
Draw number line on board of any two numbers such as there 9 stops in between. For the beginning, take 1 to 10 with each number written at the corresponding stop. Arrange 10 students in line and name them similar to the numbers on board.
Practice some questions with students like, Where does this number go on our number line? How do you know? How many between numbers are there between Tim and John? If we remove so and so, how many numbers are left? Where is the half value, 1/3rd, 1/4th, 2/3rd and etc.?
Level up the challenge after each iteration. Try some 2 or 3 digits numbers, or 2 digits with a difference of 20, 25…50, and so on. When you realize students are confident with whole numbers, jump to decimals and fraction values like 1.1, 1.2…1.9 between 1 and 2.
Activities offer a gamified way of befriending basic concepts like number sense. Try doing activities with your dyscalculic kid at home or students in school and assess how these improve the number sense among growing math learners. These activities have been designed to ensure that students feel driven to learn number sense and can appreciate the practical aspect of this skill. Thus, you may find students having a firmer grip on this basic skill and full of confidence in employing these for solving lots of math problems.
Note: Some parts of this post are inspired by Jessica F. Shumway’s Number Sense Routines: Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3. A must-read book for developing number sense. Check out the official page of the book on Goodreads.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,