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How To Get Past Skip Counting Barriers

Kids often get the idea of skip counting but then run into some skip counting barriers. Let’s take a look at how to get past these.

As I said last week, skip counting can affect kids fluency with math. Skip counting helps students count large numbers of items easily, understand place value, recognize patterns and learn multiplication. Kids often get the idea of skip counting but then run into some skip counting barriers. Getting them past these barriers can help their skip counting, which can improve their math further down the line too.

First off, if you are sending home skip counting, you may want to explain to parents that it’s simply counting by a number other than one. For example, counting by 2s or 5s or 10s. There are a lot of skip counting games and activities that make great home practice.

But before we get to those, let’s look at where kids get stuck. What are the barriers that keep them from skip counting successfully?

3 barriers to skip counting

The three common places where I see kids getting stuck are: starting to count at any number that’s not a multiple, moving through place value barriers, and being able to skip count forwards and backwards from any number. Let’s take a look at how to get past these.

Starting to count at any number that’s not a multiple

When you start skip counting, you start with multiples of the number you are skip counting by. For example, 10, 20, 30, 40 … all are multiples of 10.

Once students get the hang of that and can confidently skip count by 10, starting with multiples of 10, can they start at another number that’s not a multiple? For example, could they start with 3 and skip count by 10 from there (13, 23, 33, 43, 53 …)? A lot of students get stuck here. Tens are a good place to start when introducing this idea as there is a clear pattern for students to notice and use.

To practice starting to count at any number that’s not a multiple, try using a hundreds chart. Choose a number, let’s say 7, and ask students to skip count by 10. Students might start by counting out 10 on their hundreds chart, starting at 7 and circling the next “10” at 17. They can keep counting out 10 a few times. Then ask them what they notice. They may say that all the answers end in 7 or that they are all in the same column. Ask them to predict the next few numbers by looking at the chart without counting it out.

After practicing with one number, ask them to start at another number, say 12. Can they use what they learned from skip counting by 10 from one number to skip count by 10 from another?

Moving beyond place value barriers

Some students get skip counting until they reach a place barrier. Students might fly through skip counting by 2s until they get to 10 or by 10s until they get to 100. When we move beyond a place value barrier, we disrupt any pattern we have been working with. So if students have gotten into a comfortable rhythm of counting by 5s: 75, 80, 85, 90, 95 … they get stuck on what’s next.

You can use collections to help students skip count past 100. Have markers, buttons, craft sticks … any items that students can count. (To make it easy on yourself, set up sealable bags with different objects as well as different numbers of objects in each). For this activity, you will need more than 100 items (120 would be good). You also need containers to count the collections into. Have students create collections based on the number you are working on. So if you are skip counting by 5s, they create collections of 5s. If you are skip counting by 10, make collections of 10s.

Students continue counting collections until the items are all gone. Then they skip count to find the total number of the objects. If they get stuck they can count from ones past the sticking point. So if they skip count to 90 and have two collections left, but don’t know what comes next, they can count by ones to see that 10 after 90 is 100 and 10 after that is 110. If your students are doing addition, you can write it out as 90 + 10 = 100  and 100 + 10 = 110.

Using number charts that go beyond 100 can also help here. Just as you used a hundreds chart in the activity to skip count from non-multiples, you can also do that to get students past the place value barrier.

Being able to skip count both forwards and backwards at any number

Once students get the hang of skip counting by a certain number, they should practice going backwards. So if students can skip count by 10 from 10 to 100, they should be able to skip count backward from 100 to 10.

Use number charts and collections to help students count backward. Simply start at the higher number and have students move toward the lowest number.

Once students get comfortable with this, see if they can start at a number that isn’t the start or end point. For example, can they skip count by 5s to 100, starting at 45? Can they then move backward? Number charts and games can help students practice this skill which will raise the skip counting they already learned to another level.

Skip counting puzzles

Skip counting lends itself to many games and activities. Skip counting puzzles are one tool that I’ve used to help students learn to skip count and get past these common barriers. If you’ve done enough number chart practice and collection counting and need another way to help kids practice skip counting, skip counting puzzles are for you. You can use them in a math center or send copies home with kids for home practice.  

Kids often get the idea of skip counting but then run into some skip counting barriers. Let’s take a look at how to get past these.

This set includes 50 skip counting puzzles for multiples of two, three, four, five and ten. The set consists of different puzzles that cover all of the barriers mentioned above.

The puzzle sequences counting forwards include:
2 – 20; 2 – 24; 30 – 52; 15 – 33; and 91 – 113.
3 – 30; 3 – 36; 90 – 123; 21 – 54; and 97 – 130.
4 – 40; 4 – 48; 52 – 96; 33 – 77; and 96 – 140.
5 – 50; 5 – 60; 70 – 125; 17 – 72; and 185 – 240.
10 – 100; 10 – 120; 40 – 150; 13 – 103; and 27 – 137.

The puzzle sequences counting backwards include:
20 – 2; 24 – 2; 150 – 128; 103 – 85; and 190 – 68.
30 – 3; 36 – 3; 120 – 87; 99 – 66; and 220 – 187.
40 – 4; 48 – 4; 184 – 140; 272 – 228; and 99 – 55.
50 – 5; 60 – 5; 130 – 75; 89 – 34; and 325 – 270.
100 – 10; 120 – 10; 170 – 60; 109 – 19; and 144 – 34.

Your students put the puzzles together by placing the numbers in order. When the numbers are in the correct order, the puzzles form a variety of fun pictures.

You can grab your copy of the skip counting puzzles here.

Kids often get the idea of skip counting but then run into some skip counting barriers. Let’s take a look at how to get past these.

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