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How To Teach Skip Counting When Kids Get Stuck

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how to introduce skip counting in the classroom. Most kids pick up on skip counting pretty quickly, especially with numbers like 2,…

Most kids pick up on skip counting quickly but at some point, they tend to get stuck. Let’s talk about how to teach kids to get past these common barriers.

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about how to introduce skip counting in the classroom. Most kids pick up on skip counting pretty quickly, especially with numbers like 2, 5, and 10. They’ll even get numbers like 3, 4, and 9, but at some point, kids tend to get stuck. Let’s talk about how to teach skip counting to help kids past common barriers.

Teach skip counting past common barriers

Three common challenges I see students have with skip counting are:

  • Moving past place value barriers
  • Starting to count at any number that isn’t a multiple
  • Skip counting both forward and backward

Let’s take a deeper look at each issue and get some ideas for helping your students past them.

Teach skip counting past place value barriers

I’ve seen students race through skip counting … and then come to a screeching halt when they get to 10 or 100 or 1000. That’s because moving beyond a place barrier breaks the pattern they had gotten used to. Think about how students get into an almost sing-song rhythm when counting by 5s: 75, 80, 85, 90, 95 … and then what?

Use number charts: Number charts that go beyond 100 are a great tool to use to teach skip counting past place value barriers. Have students start by counting out 10 on their hundreds chart, they can keep counting out 10 a few times. Then ask them what they notice. They may say that all the answers end in 0 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. Having the visual on the chart helps them see what’s next. Try this with other numbers.

Most kids pick up on skip counting quickly but at some point, they tend to get stuck. Let’s talk about how to teach kids to get past these common barriers.

Use collections: You’ll need small objects for students to count, resealable bags to keep collections in, and containers to count into. A white board and marker for recording help too. If you’re focusing on counting by tens, have your students count out ten of the objects to make one collection. 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.

Teach skip counting when you don’t start at a multiple

Often when we start skip counting, we start with the number itself. When skip counting by 2s, we start 2, 4, 6 …. When skip counting by 10, we start 10, 20, 30 …. But what happens when you ask students to start at a different number? If that number isn’t a multiple, many kids get stuck.

For example, what if you asked kids to start at 7 and skip count by 10 from there (17, 27, 37, 47, 57 …)? Tens are a good place to start when introducing this concept because students can clearly see the pattern of numbers.

Use a Hundreds Chart: As with skip counting past place barriers, you can use a hundreds chart to practice skip counting from any number. For example, ask students to skip count by 10s starting at 13. Students should find 13 on their chart. They can then count ten and mark the next number. Have them do this a few times. Then ask them what they notice. They may say that all the answers end in 3 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. Can they use what they learned from skip counting by 10 from 13 to skip count by 10 from another number?

Play Buzz: This is a fun game that can help students skip count starting at a non-multiple.

  • The group should sit or stand in a circle.
  • Tell students they will go around the circle counting and buzz on any multiple of 10 (or whatever number you choose).
  • Decide on a starting and ending number.
  • Begin by counting around the circle in ones, but when a student comes to the number that is a multiple of 10, they say “buzz” instead. For example, a correct sequence would be, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, BUZZ, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, BUZZ, 21 ….”
  • If a student forgets to say buzz, then they are out of the game and must sit down or if already seated move back from the circle. The game finishes when you reach the end number.

This game is easily adaptable to teach skip counting past various barriers. To work on counting from a non-multiple, choose a non-multiple starting number. You can also use this to get students past place value barriers or to practice skip counting backward.

Teach skip counting forward and backward

Students are often a little slower skip counting backward. Once they get the hang of skip counting by a certain number forward, it’s good to practice going backward. Say for example that kids can skip count by 5 from 20 to 100, they should be able to skip count backward from 100 to 20 by 5s.

You can use the same tools you used for other skip counting barriers to help students practice skip counting backward.

Use number charts: Follow the same process described above, but have students start at the larger number and work backward.

Use collections: Have students count out the larger number of objects. Say you are skip counting from 24 by 3s. Students start with 24 objects. Have them count backward as they create a collection of 3 (23-22-21). Record that number. Have them continue this way until they have created all the collections. They should have a list that shows how to skip count from 24 by 3s. Alternately, have students skip count up to 24 by threes. Then ask them to reverse what they just did.

Play Buzz: Follow the rules above, but set a high starting number and tell students they will be counting backward. For example, if you start with 85 and are practicing skip counting backward by five, a correct sequence would look like 85, 84, 83, 82, 81, Buzz, 79, 78, 77, 76, Buzz …

Skip counting is critical for math fluency and helps students with multiplication and division, so it pays to help kids get past any of these barriers.

More skip counting practice with skip counting puzzles

Another tool that helps kids practice skip counting basics and getting past barriers is skip counting puzzles. I’ve created skip counting puzzles that are fun, colorful, and easy to use: just print, laminate if desired for durability, cut, and use in your math center, for homework or any other type of skip counting practice.

The puzzles are for multiples of two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten and one hundred. The set includes different puzzles that cover all of the barriers mentioned above.

The puzzle sequences counting forward 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.

6 – 60; 6 – 72; 60 – 126; 31 – 85; and 57 – 123.

7 – 70; 7 – 84; 70 – 147; 25 – 102; and 89 – 166.

8 – 80; 8 – 96; 84 – 172; 47 – 135; and 119 – 207.

9 – 90; 9 – 108; 66 – 165; 23 – 122; and 211 – 310.

10 – 100; 10 – 120; 40 – 150; 13 – 103; and 27 – 137.

100 – 1000; 100 – 1200; 60 – 1160; 17 – 1117; and 99 – 1199.

The puzzle sequences counting backward 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.

60 – 6; 72 – 6; 160 – 94; 109 – 55; and 193 – 127.

70 – 7; 84 – 7; 180 – 103; 103 – 26; and 227 – 150.

80 – 8; 96 – 8; 198 – 110; 101 – 13; and 313 – 225.

90 – 9; 108 – 9; 176 – 77; 155 – 56; and 291 – 192.

100 – 10; 120 – 10; 170 – 60; 109 – 19; and 144 – 34.

1000 – 100; 1200 – 100; 1600 – 500; 1199 – 99; and 1577 – 477.

Get your Skip Counting Puzzle bundle with 100 puzzles here: https://topnotchteaching.com/downloads/counting-puzzles-bundle/

Skip counting is critical for math fluency and helps students with multiplication and division. Most kids pick up on skip counting pretty quickly but at some point, they tend to get stuck. Let’s talk about how to teach skip counting to help kids past common barriers. #mathactivities #mathgames #teachingmath

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