Three Strategies for Supporting Counting and Cardinality Skills

Why are Counting and Cardinality Skills Important?

Young students are eager to begin using their early numeracy skills. There are simple ways you can support these developing skills and ensure students practice them throughout the day.

Counting and cardinality are essential numeracy skills that we use daily when we count out change to pay for our morning coffee or count the number of students present in the classroom.

Students’ early counting skills are an important predictor of later abilities. In fact, students who can recite and count to 20 in preschool have the highest math skills in first grade. Counting and cardinality are foundational skills related to many other important math skills that we want children to master, like understanding order and sequence.

A Closer Look:  What is Counting and Cardinality?

Counting is telling how many things are in a group. This may seem simple, but it is actually fairly complex. Counting involves a variety of skills and concepts including:

  • providing the sequence of number words in order. For example, “one, two, three, four, five”
  • one-to-one correspondence, or the understanding that one number word represents one object that is being counted, and
  • conservation of number, which means recognizing that the number of objects being counted stays the same, regardless of how the objects are arranged.

Now let’s look at cardinality. Cardinality is knowing that the last number word named when counting a group of objects represents the total quantity of objects in the group. So, when we count 1,2,3,4,5 blocks, we know that “5” represents the number of blocks we have in this group.

Together, we use counting and cardinality daily to help us count efficiently and accurately, and know how many things we counted.

There are several ways you can support students’ counting and cardinality skills. We’ll explore three of these ways below.

Strategies to Support Counting and Cardinality Skills

1. “Keeping Track” Strategies

These strategies help establish one-to-one correspondence, and reduce counting errors like counting an object more than once, or missing an object while counting.  You can help students to keep track of what they have counted by encouraging them to move objects from one pile to another, touching each object as they count it, or putting a mark next to the items that have been counted.

Source: EMAS Ginsburg
2. “Keeping Track” Strategies Extended

When young learners are ready to count larger quantities, you can support them in using a more advanced keeping track strategy, like grouping items into 2s, 5s, or 10s, that can be skip counted. For example, if you give students a group of 30 chips to count, you can encourage them to create groups of 5 chips and then use skip counting to arrive at 30, rather than counting by 1’s.

3.  Ask “How Many” Questions

Once a group of objects has been counted, we want students to understand that the last number said represents the total number of objects in the group (cardinality). One way to support students’ understanding of cardinality is to ask “how many” questions. After children count a group of objects, ask them to answer questions about how many objects are in the group, and emphasize how the last number counted tells you how many there are.

Source: earlymath.erikson.edu

Follow this LINK to see a teacher working with students on their numeracy skills as they take attendance. In this clip, the teacher is using all three of the strategies described above. In the beginning of the clip, she helps students to skip count using groups of 5 that she created on the attendance chart. In the second part of the clip, the teacher asks a student to count his classmates to verify that there are 20. He uses a “keeping track” strategy by touching each student’s head as he counts. When he’s done counting, she asks a “how many” question by saying, “So how many of us are there in total?”  (link source: earlymath.erikson.edu)

These are simple strategies that help students grow in their understanding of counting and cardinality, especially early on as they are developing these skills. They also can be easily incorporated throughout the day.

For tips on integrating these skills throughout the school day click HERE to link to the VKRP Guide for Counting and Cardinality.  NOTE:  Another way to access this VKRP guide and many others is by logging into your PALS account, visiting the VKRP tab, and clicking on “My Resources” in the lower right hand side of the VKRP main page.


More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email vkrp@virginia.edu, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.