Focus on Five: Number ID and Counting Instruction for Emergent Learners

Teaching number identification and counting is a common goal to work on with students who demonstrate emerging math skills. These emerging math skills also help students develop the skills of one-to-one correspondence and being able to read a variety of materials within the community. Throughout the years, I have struggled with teaching these skills because students did not seem to make progress and the activities seemed repetitive- and not in the “multiple practice opportunities” kind of way. I decided to try some new approaches and  strategies in my classroom for these basic math skills.  Here are some activities that I am using with my students to work on number identification and counting…

1. Break Down Skills

For my students who are still learning and developing basic math skills, I create a goal that includes number identification and counting, giving students the ability to demonstrate these skills receptively or expressively. Before teaching in a cluster program classroom, I had never thought about the two different types of counting-counting a set and counting out items from a larger set (“give me” counting), but now, I make sure to include both types when creating goals to ensure that my students have a complete understanding of counting and are able to build one-to-one correspondence.

2. Focus on One Number 

In previous years, I would focus on teaching number identification for numbers 1-5, usually focusing on three to five numbers at a time. This year, I decided to focus on one number at a time to see if this helped students master number identification and counting skills more quickly. For the first time doing this, I decided to choose a number between 3 and 5 because I have found that it is difficult to demonstrate and teach one-to-one correspondence if I started with the numbers 1 or 2. After I focus on one number, I will change the number and then put the two learned numbers together for number identifying activities.

3. Use Math Themes

I use a different math “theme” each day of the week in order to make sure that I am including a variety of math skills. Here are some activities that I do within each theme for my students who are working on emerging math skills:

Money Monday

  • Number ID- Students identify the focus number with the cents or dollar sign. Students with AAC will use their devices to express “5 cents” or “5 dollars 
  • Counting a Set- Students use flashcards, games or slides to count the amount of pennies or dollars. They can also say the amount using a verbal response, AAC or visual/written choices. 
  • “Give Me” Counting- Students can practice giving a “cashier” the correct number of pennies or dollars for items in a pretend store. 

Time Tuesday

  • Number ID- Students use digital time to identify numbers. Students can also practice using an analog clock with the time to the nearest hour using the focus number.
  • Counting a Set- Students counting the numbers on a clock face until they get to the focus number.
  • “Give Me” Counting- Students use a classroom clock to move the hour hand to the focus number. Students can verbally repeat the time or say the time using their AAC. 

WIN (What I Need Wednesday)

  • Number ID- Students will identify the number in different fonts. Students will also 
  • Counting a Set- Students use flashcards or slides to count various items. Students can say the number of items using a verbal response or their AAC.  
  • “Give Me” Counting- Students can practice putting a given amount of items in a container or giving them to another person, using manipualtives or a game. In order to practice “give me” counting, I also put visual markers so students get in the habit of stopping putting out items after a certain point. 

Think About It Thursday (Word Problems)

  • Number ID- Students will identify the number in the word problem we write about each of them.
  • Counting a Set- Students will count the items they chose for their word problem. Students can practice answering with a label (e.g. “5 pizzas”). 
  • “Give Me” Counting-Students can use the Jamboard or maipulatives to put out the number of items in their word problem.

Fraction Friday

  • Number ID- Students will identify the denominator in the fraction (focus number). 
  • Counting a Set- Students will count the number of pieces in the fraction.
  • “Give Me” Counting-Students can practice giving the focus number of pieces using  fraction manipulatives.

4. Cross-Curricular Activities

Inserting math into other subject areas or incorporating other subject areas into math helps to show students that math is a functional skill we use all of the time. Recently, I discovered that Raz-Plus has Level aa books that are based off of numbers 1-12. I have incorporated the book that is about the weekly focus number as part of our warm-up. In science, we focus on graphs, which lends itself to counting and number identification. Recently, we finished a unit in social studies in which students participated in a restaurant experience. We practiced counting money in order to pay, which is counting out items from a larger set.

5. Assess

Assessment will tell us as teachers if a strategy is currently working with students. Since this strategy is something I am trying out and new to the students in my classroom, I know it may take time to show progress. When I assess students for number identification, I will usually have students receptively identify numbers. Based on the student and their goal, the visual field usually ranges from two numbers to five numbers. I did add a number matching goal for some of my students as a precursor to number identification if students were having difficulty reaching that goal in the past. For counting, depending on the student’s needs, I will have students count sets and verbally express their answer, or respectively express their answer using AAC, answer choices or allowing the student to write down the number.  Counting out items from a larger set also lends itself to either being demonstrated expressively or receptively.

I hope this gave you some ideas for activities that teach students number identification and basic counting skills For more on weekly math themes, check out Teacher Time Math Themes for Each Day of the Week.  Stay healthy and safe!


  1. Heather I love your theme idea!!! I also love how you ensure that you are teaching math through a cross curricular activities!

    • ****Holly not heather! 😉

  2. Where do you get your smart board activities? Do you make them all?

    • I create my activities in Google Slides. I use a variety of clip art and include links to Boom Cards.


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