Making Number Talks Matter: Dot patterns with Kinder students

Kinder number talks using dot arrangements.

I was recently asked to model a number talk for each of our four kindergarten classes.

My Purpose:  I wanted the students to identify dot arrangements of 5, and see how they could subitize numbers that are within 5-groups of 2, 3, 4.   I wanted them to have practice using oral language in English–a language they are learning.  I wanted the teachers to hear, and see modeled, the kinds of questions to get students talking more.  

My plan:  I created 3 different dot arrangements for 5, and made 16 copies of each.   (I put all three on the copy glass, and just cut them apart.)  I would glue them in 3 columns with each column being the same pattern of dots–all making 5.  Four cards would be in each column.  

My Questions:

How many?  How do you know?   What numbers or patterns do you see inside this group of 5?  What other patterns do you see?

Day 1, classroom 1:

Not one of my better moments.   My plan was to show the dot patterns and ask the students “How many?” then, “How did you know?”  I showed 4 in a row of the same dot pattern, and asked “Who can see it a different way?”   Fortunately for me, one of the students said “I see 3 and I see 1 and I see another 1.  That makes 5.  Good thing for me.  That helped the other students see what I wanted them to do, but I had one more issue.   I don’t work with Kinder students too often, so every time I tried to glue the arrangement on the chart, I would lose the whole group to off-task behavior.  I did better at multitasking, finally, and my appreciation for the talent of kinder teachers grew significantly.  

In reflecting on the the day, I went back to my purpose.   I wanted the students to see that there are smaller numbers “inside” of the 5, based on the arrangement of the dots.  I did not want to use number sentences, the plus sign, or the equal sign.  I wanted to keep everything focused on ways to make five.  I also wanted to see how their subitizing was developing.  

I  decided that I needed to glue the patterns onto the chart paper ahead of time.   Once I had done that, it looked visually cluttered to me—all that white on white, and little black dots floating everywhere–I made a note to put a box around the single “card” I wanted the students to focus upon.  I also decided to connect finding the numbers to playing “Hide and Seek”, or looking for something.

Day  2, classrooms 2 and 3:  The talks went great.   Not having to glue things down really helped me.  Asking students to look for patterns inside was a great help to the students.   I noticed that they all chose to count the patterns first, then look for patterns hiding inside.   At some point, I began having students come up and point out how they would group the dots, and then have them say, for example “3 and 1 and 1 make 5”.  Then the class would say it together.   Most of the students in these classes are learning/practicing English and they need opportunities to be successful with language as well as content.  Once the first card was shown, for the remaining 4, I had them turn to a partner and tell other numbers or patterns they saw inside.  

I found this students could:

  • subitize 2-3 dots easily—they are not quite to 4 or 5 yet.
  • they could easily count and land on 5.
  • Some are remembering where they are, and counting on.  For example, “3, 4, 5”.
  • Are learning to explain themselves as mathematicians!   Yay!

Here’s a picture of the anchor chart we created.  When I debriefed with the teacher, I explained why I had pre-glued the “cards” to the chart, and why I was putting a rectangle around each one.

She was pleased with how well her students were able to explain their thinking-because they had the dots to provide visual support.   She suggested that I use one color marker only for each column of copied dot patterns.  I thought that was a fantastic suggestion, so I redid the chart, and added numbers for the student words.   

                          Before                                                     After

Before        After

You can see that they counted the first card of each set, then found the patterns within the card as we worked.  With each notation we said, “______ and ______ (and ______) makes 5”.  Only the five was shouted, with  the exuberance that an only excited kindergarten student can master.

Reflecting on Days 1 and 2, I decided to glue the cards onto the anchor chart—the kinder teacher told me she will put blue tape on them ahead of time when she tries these in her room.  

I know myself with tape, and if I prepared the cards with tape in my room, by the time I got to the kinder room, I would have cards stuck in all manner of random places.  I decided to cover the chart with strips and uncover as I go.

Here is my chart, ready to go:

ready to go


Day 3, classroom 4:

It was much clearer to the students to look for numbers and patterns within numbers.  I was so glad that I had covered the extra cards, because this class had different needs, and they would not have been able to “shut out” the extra dots floating around.

Overall reflection:

Once I was able to make the purpose clear to the students, they enjoyed looking for patterns of 1, 2, 3 or 4 within the dots making up 5 dots.  Some were able to subitize up to three dots, and 3-4 students were able to subitize with 4 dots.   

The underlying purpose of the number talk was to model for the teachers some of the questions, and prompts they could use to get their students talking about numbers.  I know that they will be able to improve upon the number talks that I did in their rooms.  They know their students, and their students know and understand expectations–something that I had to struggle with a little.  What made this fun, is that no matter how many times they said “______ and ______ makes 5!”, it was done with enthusiasm!  Even students who are hesitant to talk, were joining in with us.       

Update:  December 4, 2015:   I stopped by the rooms to see how they were doing with the number talks on their own, and the teachers made one significant improvement.  They are placing the similar dot cards in rows instead of columns to reinforce the reading task of top-to-bottom, and left-to-right.   I will remember this when I am working in Kinder and 1st grade rooms.

#mNTmTCh            #MtBoS             #RRElemMath          #RRISDMathRocks                  

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