Easy as 1, 2, 3: Ideas to practice counting

When you teach a group of beginners, a lesson on numbers usually appears early in the curriculum. Do you have some favorite activities for numbers? It’s common to ask students to exchange phone numbers and postal codes. I’ve seen more than one textbook use that idea for communicative practice. Do you know other contexts in which students can practice using cardinal numbers? Perhaps you can add one or two of these to your next lesson plan for cardinal numbers.

  • Common piggy bank

Put students in groups of 4 or 5 and have them sit in a circle. Ask them to take out any change they have. Going through the different types of coins, they each will state how many they have, and then the group will calculate the total. Numbers can be recorded in their notebooks. List prompts on the board.

Example (using U.S. coins to illustrate):

How many pennies?       You ______       Group ______

How many nickels?         You ______       Group ______

How many dimes?           You ______       Group ______

How many quarters?      You ______       Group ______

Complete sentences aren’t required. If preferred, however, you can offer prompts to encourage complete sentences rather than the use of single numbers.

I have ______.

We have _____.


Ask students to write not only the numeral, but the word as well:

How many pennies?

I have 3 (three).

We have 11 (eleven).

 Finally, group totals can be added up to find out the class total.

Suggestion: Bring in some coins that can be loaned to students who don’t have any spare change.


  • Taking inventory

In this class survey, each student is assigned an item and must find out how many of those items are present among class belongings. Each student will speak to all his or her classmates. Suggested items:

Backpack/ book bag


Cell phone







Watch/ wristwatch

Prompts for survey:

Do you have a _______?

Do you have any _______?

How many ______ do you have?

Students must report their findings to the class.

Example: Our class has 10 (ten) pens. – or – There are 10 (ten) pens.

  • Chapter by chapter

Quick and easy exercises can be based on the class textbook. Have everyone take out their copies of the book.

–          Exercise 1. Student A opens the book up to any page at random and announces the page number. The class must turn to that page. Student B, who sits to the right of Student A, will read either the page title or first line from that page to confirm his/ her finding. Then it’s Student B’s turn to announce a new page number.

–          Exercise 2. The teacher can call out a unit or chapter number and ask a volunteer to state the first and last page of that chapter.


Teacher – Where is Unit 3?

Volunteer – Unit 3 starts on page 20 and ends on page 30.

  • Calendar game

This activity nicely combines months and days with counting.

Have students sit in twos or threes. Each small group needs a calendar for the given year. (You can bring some in, print some out, or see if at least one person in each group has a computer or cell phone with a calendar.)

The teacher asks questions that require counting. A group must raise their hands as soon as the answer is arrived at. The first group to correctly state the answer gets a point. The first group to reach 10 wins.

Sample questions:

  1. How many days are in August?
  2. How many full weeks are in May?
  3. How many Fridays are in December?
  • M&Ms

This game can be played with the American chocolate candies called M&Ms or any other similar candy with different colors.

 Allow each student to take a small handful of candy, or use a large spoon to serve each student a handful. Then each student can state how many candies s/he has total as well as how many of each color there are.

Example: I have 11 M&Ms. I have 2 red, 3 brown, 1 blue, 4 green, and 1 orange.

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