Archive for January, 2019

Subitizing: Use ten frames and dot cards!

Posted on January 13, 2019. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Last week I was working with some primary students on subitizing.  Subitizing is such an important skill because it lays the groundwork for addition, subtraction, multiplication and general place value skills (see research below).  I found out so many interesting things working with those students that I have decided to write about subitizing.

10 Levels

Teaching it!  Did you know there are 10 levels … that go all the way through 5th grade?  In this post, I am going to focus on the primary grades.  I think it is really important that we understand that there are 10 levels so we don’t just flash dots and ten frames all year and never assess to see where our students are.  Why should we know where they are?  So we can different our instruction in the small group activities and in the math workstations.

Levels 1 – 6

So, let’s start at the beginning.  The first levels describe number counting activities with babies and toddlers and preschoolers.  Clements (1999) define these as:

  1. Small Collection Namer
  2. Nonverbal Subitizer
  3. Maker of small collections

4.  Perceptual Subitizer: Kindergarteners start at about level 4.  This is where students are perceptually subitizing.  So, they recognize how many based on the pattern.

5.  Conceptual Subitizer +5: Level 5 is where students start conceptually subitizing  all numbers to 5  by  breaking apart the numbers.  The student might say, “I see 2 and 3  and that makes 5.”

6. Conceptual Subitizer +10 Level 6 is where students continue conceptually subitizing up through 10.

The types of cards make a difference

Last week I assessed k, 1 and 2nd graders on subitizing.  I used ten frames, Van De Walle dot cards, fingers, dominos and dice.  I found that most of the students could subitize with ten frames and dice really easily.   However, when I switched to the Van De Walle dot cards and dominos, the students had to count, and in many cases count all.  Which really points out that students could be still at the stage of perceptually subitizing if only given the ten frames  and dice because they knew the pattern of the ten frames and the dice.  As the research says (see below) it is really important to use the dot cards.  Van de Walle and Richardson both have sets. You can use color in the beginning to get students to think Part Part Whole, but eventually, you want them to focus on the number combinations (see research below).


Here are a few landmark articles on Subitizing.  Everybody should read these.

Baroody, A. J. (1987). Children’s mathematical thinking: A developmental framework for preschool, primary, and special education teachers. New York, NY, US: Teachers College Press.

Clements, D.H. (1999).  Subitizing, What is it?  Why Teach it?  Teaching Children Mathematics. NCTM

Van de Walle, John A. (2007). Elementary and middle school mathematics : teaching developmentally. Boston :Pearson /Allyn and Bacon,


Left hand corner has many subitizing resources:

My Subitizing Board on Pinterest


Happy Mathing

Dr. Nicki


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