Teaching addition can be exhausting as you have to practice it over and over. You also have to show students how to add in multiple ways with multiple manipulatives. The more practice the more they get closer to mastery, right? Let’s talk all about activities for addition with counters.
Yes, counters. Those little chips that are normally yellow on one side and red on the other. Using counters can be a fun and effective way to teach addition to students of all ages. These tangible objects help make abstract mathematical concepts more concrete and engaging. There are many ways you can use these to help with adding and here are some of my favorite ways.
Basic addition with counters
Start with simple addition problems like 2+3. Have students represent each number with the corresponding number of counters (2 yellow and 3 red chips). Then, combine them to find the total. When I first introduce addition to kindergarten students, I make sure that we stick to sums 5 and below. Once they have mastered that, then we move on.
One tip when working with counters is to tell them to always put a certain color first. This is super helpful when you are doing an accountability sheet (worksheet) or maybe something in a center. They can remember to always put yellow first. This way they don’t get mixed up and get in a habit of doing the same thing each time.
Counting and grouping with counters
An idea that you can put into your centers or even do at a small group table is to have your students look at an already-created set. You can quickly do this if you’re in a small group. If it’s a center, this will be easier with images of counters already on cards. Students will be able to count how many red/yellow that they have and find the total. If they are at the point of creating their own addition sentences, they can write these down as well.
An easy way to differentiate this same still is to give students the cards (or show them the counters in small groups) and give them an addition sentence with a missing addend. It’s a simple adjustment to the same activity, but now they have to fill in a missing part. You can also show them only one color and have them to tell you how many of the other color is missing.
For example, if you show 3 red and show an addition sentence 3 + (blank) = 5. They have to find the missing addend with counters. This is for more advanced addition, but you may have students who are ready to do this in kindergarten. First and second-graders can definitely use this idea to practice addition.
Story problems using counters
Allowing students to visualize something happening is a great way to practice a skill. This is no different when it comes to math concepts. Telling a story problem helps students to “see” what is coming together when learning about addition. Your story can be about anything when using the counters as the manipulative.
Katie went into the store to buy some candy. She picked up 2 red and 2 yellow. Show me what Katie picked up at the store. Students can then use their counters to recreate the story. Then, allow students to count the total number. Using a white board or an addition sheet with blank addition sentences, have students to write the addition sentence. If students are not ready for the + and = signs, I always start with the words and/is. 2 and 2 is 4. This helps us because we usually have already learned both of those words by the time I introduce addition concepts in kindergarten.
Number bonds with counters
When using number bonds, add counters as the tool to manipulate the numbers. Give each child a large paper with number bonds on them. Tell the students two different numbers. Remember, one side will be red (one circle) and the other side will be yellow (other circle). The top circle (or bottom depending on how the paper is) will have the total.
Tell students how many red and how many yellow. They will have to create the sets and then make a sum. They can write the numbers in as well if you have laminated the number bonds. This is a simple activity that can be used over and over again. As your students move on to higher addition sums, you can bring this back out again to practice. This also works with mastering composing and decomposing numbers.
Race to 10
One of my favorite activities is racing to do anything. The students get so pumped thinking it’s a true game when it’s just another way to practice a skill. Race to 10 involves counting, addition, and working with a partner. Students will need a sheet with numbers 1 to 10 on it. They need one dot cube with only dots 1 to 2 on it. If you do anything larger than that, the game is over in two rolls sometimes. Student A will roll the dot cube and color in what they rolled. If they rolled 2, the color in the numbers 1 and 2. Student B will roll the dot cube and color using a different crayon. If they rolled 1, they color in the number 3.
The game continues until someone colors in the 10. Then, player A counts how many squares they colored in. Student A writes this number down. Student B counts how many squares they colored in. Student B writes this number down. Then, the students will create their addition sentence together. If Student A got 4 and Student B got 6, then the addition sentence will read 4+6=10.
You can also play this game without writing down the addition sentence, but I usually on do this before they’ve learned to add. Once I’ve introduced addition, we’re practicing adding and writing addition sentences every chance that we can. You can grab my Number Sense bundle that includes some Race to games. There are a few different sets included. You can find the Number Sense Bundle here on TPT.
Addition with dice and counters
This activity includes two sets of manipulatives: dot cube and counters. Students can create their own sets of counters by rolling a dot cube. If students are working on addition to 5, use dot cubes with dots 1 to 3. You can use a regular dot cube if working on numbers up to 12. If you’re working to 10, I cover up the six with a circle sticker. It can either mean rolling again or passing the dot cube to a partner if working with a partner.
Students will roll first for one color. I allow them to use crayons to write down the number in that color. Then, they roll again. They pick up the other color crayon and write down this number. It does get tricky when using yellow. We will find a gold crayon or something a little darker to write with for these activities.
Addition relay with counters
This can be a whole group activity. You will divide your class into two teams. Have a table or designated spot with counters. Call out an addition sentence or show a card with an addition sentence. Students will “race” from point A to where you have the counters. They will create two sets of counters and write down the addition sentence. Then, run back to their team. The team that comes back first, has the correct number of objects and the correct addition sentence gets a point added to their team score.
The addition relay is great for days when your class can’t go outside and has to stay in because of the weather. It gets them up and moving, but you’re able to practice on skills that are important. This helps them see that learning can be fun and it doesn’t all need to be sheet after sheet.
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