Counting on Number Sense

 Number sense is an intuitive feel for numbers and their relationships. Since number sense is something that develops over time, it is imperative that teachers provide students with a variety of materials and resources. Literature is a great way to  provide many different experiences with numbers.

Virginia Mathematics Standards of Learning: K.1- K.5, 1.1-1.6

Let’s Count Goats by Mem Fox Illustrated by Jan Thomas

Let’s Count Goats a charming, silly book about- you guessed it- counting  goats. This is Mem Fox’s latest book, and if you have never read any of her books, you will instantly be drawn in by the the rhythm, rhyme and humor of this book. What is special about this book is that it has many layers. The most important is that you wont find any numerals! Mem designed this book to be interactive, allowing the readers to practice one to one correspondence by calling out each goat by number. The reader then has to count goats when directed by the story. Another interesting aspect is that that the number of goats isn’t sequential. While a page might have 6 goats, the next page might have one goat. For example:

“Here we see a show off goat playing on the bars. (1)
But can we count the ROWDY goats careering round in cars? (4)”

In every page of the story, you find goats doing silly things: goats playing trumpets, playing with their toys, eating, drinking, and even a goat going under while another is going over. Simple tasks or events that kids can relate to.

The illustrations compliment the story very well. The use of bold brilliant colors are very eye catching and attractive, while the silly expressions on each goat’s face just adds to the humor of the story.

Since Mem believes that children should be read to as babies and even before they are born, I recommend this book to any child, in or not yet in school. This book is not only useful as a number sense book but can also be used in language arts when exploring poetry, rhythm, and rhyme.

My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Grossman Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Bill Grossman creatively weaves a story about a little girl who eats and eats and eats! While performing in a magic show, this little sister eats all sorts of creatures and things! Grossman creatively reinforces number sense in his writing by using a cumulative poem structure.

My little sister ate 3 ants.
She even ate their underpants.
She ate 2 snakes. She ate 1 hare.
We thought she’d throw up then and there.
But she didn’t.

As children read, they recount all the things she ate. Though she seems to consume these creatures effortlessly, by the end of the book, she is faced with her most challenging plate yet: 10 peas!

Count Your Way Through Iran by Jim Haskins and Kathleen Benson Illustrated by Farida Zaman

Books like these are great for developing number sense but also to introduce students to different cultures. On the left pages you will find the numeral, the Arabic numeral, and the pronunciation. Under the number you find a short paragraph that correlates the number in some way to an aspect of Iranian culture, from the Two Towers of Silence, to the musical instrument tar, which has six strings! The beautiful watercolor illustrations are on the right. As teachers, it is important to pick books that are diverse and interesting. I recommend this book, and the companion books in the series.

This book is part of a series of “Count Your Way Through…” books which include China, IndiaRussia, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Korea, Israel, Ireland, Africa, Brazil, Afghanistan, just to name a few. They are all written by Jim Haskins (and co-author).


Mouse By Mouse: a Counting Adventure by Julia Noonan

“One mouse sits alone and blue. Her friend joins her, that makes two.” One by one these cute little mice get together to have a tea party, play, rescue little mouse 5 who is stuck in a soda bottle, go swimming, and finally after spending the day together, ten little mice  all go to sleep. The illustrations are animated and fun; kids can count the mice who have their numbers labeled on the front of their colorful dresses or shirts, which keeps the readers engaged! This book helps develop one-to-one correspondence and stable order.

Math Curse by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

“You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.” This is the big problem for one little girl. She discovers that once she starts, she can’t stop! From calculating how much time she has to get ready for school, to figuring out how many slices of pizza she should eat at lunch, she can’t seem to look at anything with out it becoming a math problem. She believes her math teacher, Ms. Fibonacci has put a MATH CURSE on her! Fractions, addition, multiplication, distance, time, measurement, and so much more, this book explores different mathematical concepts in a fun, silly way. The book is also interactive. The authors pose different unsolved math problems that the reader can solve themselves. The illustrations are creative, and unique.

We All Went on Safari: a Counting Journey Through Tanzania by Laurie Krebs and Julia Cairns

This book follows a group of Maasai people as they travel through Tanzania, exploring and counting different animals that they find along the way. On each page, you can find beautiful watercolor illustrations, a numeral and the equivalent number of animals, along with the written Swahili number. In the back of the book you find information about the Maasai people and culture, a list of the different animals explored, and a list of number written in Swahili, the pronunciation, and the English translation. Additionally, you find color dots that you can practice counting on. Also included in the back is information about the country of Tanzania and a map with all the surrounding countries.

Games to help students with number sense

Big Count Bayou Count all the bayou critters and match with the right number

Rock Hopper Help Rock Hopper jump to the large rock using a number of jumps

Billy Bug Help billy eat his food by taking him to the right spot by using coordinates

The Number Game Read the number word and find the corresponding numeral

Fishy Count Count how many fish

Links for teachers

BBC Number Time  Printable worksheets (addition/subtraction, number ladders, number sequence, writing numbers, number stories)

Climb The Ladder Number sense activity (includes instructions, and templates)

Second Grade Locker Room  Number sense activity ideas (includes domino place value, paper plate relay and place value game)

The 100th day of School Unit Plan Ideas (include 2 lesson plans and related materials and resources)