Pattern-Block Pictures

Standards Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.G.B.5, K.G.B.6; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.3

What You Need: Pattern blocks, paper, pencils, crayons
What to Do: Math meets art with this colorful independent activity, which can be split into several visits to the center. During the first session, invite students to manipulate the pattern blocks for free exploration. (This will give you insight into their thinking.) On their second visit, students can rearrange the geometric shapes to create pictures of real-world objects and then trace this pattern-block picture on paper. On their third visit, have children color their pictures. (It’s best to allow some time between the pencil tracing and the coloring; children have a tendency to color corresponding pattern-block shapes the color of the actual blocks rather than show the colors of the real-world object.) Some students may choose to add a setting to their pattern-block picture or to “write” a story about their picture on the back of their drawing.

Telephone Fun

Standards Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.OA.A.1; CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.K.3c, W.K.3

What You Need: Old telephones, posted vocabulary or word-wall words, calculators, counters, paper, pencils
What to Do: Looking for a center to integrate math, reading, and writing? Search no more. Begin by showing students that each letter of the alphabet is on a number pad of a phone. Using a word posted in the room, demonstrate how the word’s “value” can be calculated. For example, the word and would have the value of 11 using the following number sentence: 2 [a] + 6 [n] + 3 [d] = 11. Use a calculator or counters to show how the numbers are added together to arrive at the sum. (This activity is best for students who can handle a challenge.)

When students go off to do this activity in centers, give them a list of high-frequency words to choose from. After they’ve tallied up their word values, have them write a very short story using their word. This is a highly motivating way to get kids excited about writing—and math!

Beach-Ball Bonanza

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.OA.A.4

What You Need: A beach ball, a permanent marker, number lines, personal whiteboards with markers
What to Do: Summer may be a few months away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring some beach fun to your math centers. Using a permanent marker, write a single-digit number from 0 to 9 on each colored section of a beach ball. Then, demonstrate for your students how to gently toss the ball in the air, catch it, and “read” the numbers under your thumbs. Write the number under one thumb on the whiteboard. Next, using a number line, demonstrate how many jumps it takes to get from that number to 10. (For example, it takes two jumps to go from 8 to 10.) Write that amount next to the first number. Use these numbers to form an addition sentence: 8 + 2 = 10. Repeat the same procedure with the number under your other thumb. This time, invite students to participate. They may pantomime tossing the ball along with you. They can also help you read the number on the ball, count on the number line, and write on the board. Integrate this activity into your regular math centers. Set some ground rules for independent practice, including the number of tosses you want students to complete in this center and how partners might “check” each other’s answers.

Measure the Room

Standard Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.MD.A.1

What You Need: Four 12-inch rulers, four infant- or toddler-size flip-flop sandals (available at a dollar store), a glue gun (beforehand, hot-glue a flip-flop to each of the rulers so that the front tip of the sandal meets the 12-inch end of the ruler)
What to Do: This activity is the math version of “Read the Room,” which is popular in guided reading. First, show students how to point to objects in the room with the ruler and then measure those objects. (Having the sandal on the ruler will not only serve as the pointer for the activity but will also help students remember that 12 inches equals 1 foot.)

When it’s time for students to “measure the room” independently in centers, you may change the intent for each center visit. For example, you might first ask students to look for three objects that are greater than one foot. The next time, students can find three objects less than one foot. On another visit, students might seek out objects greater than six inches but less than a foot, and so on. Children can record their answers by either writing the name of the items or drawing pictures of them. Soon you’ll have a roomful of students who make connections between measurement and all sorts of everyday objects!

Domino Delight

Standards Met: CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.A.2; K.CC.C.6

What You Need: Set of double-six dominoes, paper, pencil, Domino Addition by Lynette Long
What to Do: Share the colorful counting book Domino Addition with students. Next, take out a domino and show how students can compare the dots, which are called pips, on the top and bottom of the domino. For example, you might explain that two pips are less than six (or write 2 < 6, for more advanced learners). Then, turn the domino over to show that six pips are greater than two (or 6 > 2). Have students represent this comparison with a drawing on a sheet of paper. They could sketch a picture to show that six soccer players on one team are greater, or more, than two on another team.

Once students demonstrate proficiency, the activity may become a differentiated math center. From a bin of double-six dominoes, students can select dominoes and write these number comparisons on their own. Other students might independently use dominoes to “count on” from the lower number to the higher number (2, 3, 4, 5, 6). More advanced kids may be able to count back from the higher number to the lower one (6, 5, 4, 3, 2).

Reading By Numbers

Hook little mathematicians by sharing these engaging picture books.

Ten Black Dots
by Donald Crews
Using simple text, this book teaches number sense by making connections to everyday activities.

Math for All Seasons: Mind-Stretching Math Riddles
by Greg Tang
Kids love hearing these riddles and poems, but more important, this book gets them thinking about new ways of counting.

How Big Is a Foot?
by Rolf Myller
Read this book about a king’s dilemma and settle once and for all the difference between the length of a person’s foot and a foot-long ruler.

Grandfather Tang’s Story
by Ann Tompert
This endearing friendship-themed story shows how you can create several animal pictures by rearranging the same seven shapes.


Deborah Allen Wirth is the author of Differentiated Math Learning Centers. With more than 29 years of experience, she is an elementary teacher in Dover Area School District, Pennsylvania, and a national presenter and consultant.

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