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How to Teach Subitizing in 1st Grade

Written by: Katie Palmer

As teachers, we are always looking for new techniques and strategies to help our students be the best they can be. One such skill in math is subitizing. Subitizing is a vital building block for developing number sense and pattern recognition. It also greatly improves mathematical fluency and automaticity by saving time not counting individual objects. This post will take a deeper dive into what this term means, and how to teach subitizing in the1st grade classroom.

What is Subitizing?

You may be thinking, just what is subitizing? According to Dictionary.com, subitizing is being able “to make an immediate and accurate reckoning of the number of items in a group without needing to pause and actually count them.”

To put it in simpler terms, if students can subitize, they will not need to count individual objects, but automatically recognize how many objects there are. (No more having to count quickly!)

Why do students need to learn to subitize? It is a foundational math skill that further develops number sense and helps develop faster mental math.

There are two types of subitizing: perceptual and conceptual.

Perceptual: Small sets of objects, and instant recognition of the amount.

Conceptual: Recognizing small numbers and quickly putting them together. (Example: seeing two dice: a one and a 4 and knowing they are 5 together.)

You will start with smaller sets of objects or amounts, or perceptual subitizing. Then, when the class is ready, it will be time for conceptual subitizing with larger sets of objects.

How to Teach Subitizing

Just like anything else, subitizing requires plenty of practice. There are a few ways to kick this skill off in the 1st grade classroom.

1- Use Fingers First

Try holding up amounts of your fingers (1-5) to start off this skill. This taps into perceptual subitizing. At first students will most likely count how many fingers you are holding up, but with practice they will automatically recognize the amount. When the class is ready, begin using two hands to include numbers 6-10.

2- Move on to Manipulatives

When students name finger amounts with automaticity, move on to holding up manipulatives as well. Try using:

• Dominoes
• Dice
• Dots (draw dot amounts on index cards for flash cards) or check out these free subitizing flashcards from Minneapolis Public Schools.
• Ten frames

3- Practice, Practice, Practice!

Subitizing is not a skill to be hit once and circle back to later. It requires frequent practice. Try using subitizing flash cards daily or a few times a week. Have students practice rolling a dice and quickly calling out the amount. With proper practice time, this skill with greatly enhance student number sense skills!

Digital Resources

Try using digital manipulatives that can be projected for all students to see:

• Online-Stopwatch: this website allows you to use one through ten dice for differentiation. Start with one dice, have students take turns “rolling” the dice and yelling out the number of dots. Repeat with two dice. For an added challenge, roll 3 dice!
• Toy-Theater: try this random domino generator for conceptual practice.
• Ten Frame Mania: When you hear the name Greg Tang, you undoubtedly think hands on and engaging math activities. His online subitizing game, Ten Frame Mania, is no exception!
• Num Tanga Junior: Another Greg Tang game that knocks subitizing skills right outta the park!
• Steve Wyborney: Have you heard of Esti-Mysteries? These engaging math slideshow guessing games are a HIT with students! This same teacher has now created subitizing PowerPoint sets! Grab your copy for free.

Also, there are oodles of videos to enhance your subitizing lessons. Check out this post: Videos that Teach Subitizing, for our favorites.

If you are ready for students to get some independent subitizing practice, Lucky Little Learners has engaging and easy to prep resources!

Subitizing to 10 Math Center

This cut and paste activity provides students with optimal number recognition practice. They will practice using number form, tally marks, word form and finger pictures to automatically recall numbers.

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Subitizing Quick Check

Need to see if students have subitizing automaticity? Try this quick check assessment included in our Math Intervention Kit.

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Subitizing Toothy

What student doesn't love a game of Toothy? Bonus: This digital version means ZERO prep work for the teacher!

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Lucky to Learn Math 1st Grade

Did you know our team is hard at work creating an engaging 1st grade math curriculum? Last year we rolled out the 2nd grade version of this curriculum which is widely love and used by teachers and students around the world. Why is it so loved?

• Digital teaching slides
• Hands-on independent and partner resources
• Daily interactive mini lesson
• Differentiation ideas
• Science & Social Studies crossover opportunites

Check it out now!

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