Beginning of the Year Math Stations in First Grade

Sunday, September 6, 2015
Teaching math to my first graders at the beginning of the year involves a lot of  modeling routines, procedures, and new games/activities. We start off by focusing on numeration- identifying and counting numbers to 120, learning how to use different math tools (tens frames, number charts, and number lines), as well as how to make groups of ten when counting a large quanity of items.

Over the last few weeks, we've been learning and playing a ton of  games/activities to build our number sense. I introduce and model each one as a whole group. Then, students practice it with a partner, small groups, or independently while I'm either facilitating a group, conferencing, or giving assessments. These games/activities will later be rotation station choices when we completely launch our Daily 3 Math Workshop. Fingers and toes crossed this will happen next week!  

Today, I want to share some of the games I have had great success with in my classroom. I try my best to find or create activities that get my students excited about math! This usually comes in the form of a hands-on game. I love how adding dice, spinners, manipulatives, and a whole lot of excitement to an idea can instantly hook my kiddos into practicing skills. 

The very first math activity we learn is called "Start With, Get To". To put my own spin on this Investigations activity, students drop a green and red counter on their 0-120 chart. The number that the green counter lands on is the number they start counting with and the number the red counter lands on is what they get to. 

In this game, students are racing to get to 120, but they have to write in the numbers each time they roll their die. For example, if they are on 7 and roll a 2, they will write the next 2 numbers on their chart. This can be played independently or with a partner. The materials are super simple...all you need is a blank 120 chart. I like to put mine in page protector sheets so we can use them over & over! 

Pass the Paper is a simple game designed for small group practice  to reinforce counting and writing numbers 0- 120. I put my students in teams of 4-5. When I say “GO”, each student in the group writes one number in the blank 120 chart. For example, student 1 writes a 0 and passes it to student 2 who writes a number 1. This continues until their chart is completed with numbers 0-120. The first group to finish their 120 chart wins the game! 

I also give each student a blank number chart in a page protector (Can you tell I love page protectors? HA!) to keep in their work folder. This is a great early finisher task and/or independent math tub for the beginning of the year. 

Then, we have a big discussion on the number patterns we see in a number chart. After the students have identified several patterns, I model how they can use them to help find missing numbers. To practice this, my students play a game called "Who's Missing??" with a partner. Partner 1 covers up 3-10 numbers on their chart with cubes while partner 2 isn't looking. Once the numbers are covered, partner 2 has to figure out "Who's Missing?".

For extra practice, I print several different levels (each level on a different color of paper) of the "Who's Missing??" printable and slip them into page protectors to save paper. This makes great early finisher practice and/or a math tub rotation. 

After learning about using a number line and how it's alike/different than a number chart, students cut apart their 0-120  chart by rows to create one. This really helps students understand the connection between a number chart and a number line.  Lots of light bulb moments! 

After creating our  number lines, we play "Who's Missing??"! This is just like the number chart version except we use number lines! 

We also played Number Line Scoot! For this activity, students move around the room to identify the missing numbers on each Scoot card. This is a great way to channel those back to school wiggles into a learning opportunity. You can download a free copy of this activity{here}!

Another classroom favorite are number puzzles! I have some that are already cut out for my students to put together, but also let my them cut out their own, too. During this lesson, I encourage my students to use what they learned about the number patterns in the number chart to help them put together their puzzles. 

Counting a large quanity of objects by making groups of 10 is also a standard we work on at the beginning of the year. My students love playing Collect 30. They roll a die and collect the same number of cubes they rolled until they collect 30 cubes. Students can make 10 sticks with their cubes or use tens frames to group by tens. You can also differentiate this activity by having your kids collect different numbers of cubes. I usually have kids collecting 30, 50, 75, and 100! They love it!    
In this activity, students go to different counting stations. In each station, they are counting the objects by making groups of 10. It's important to pick real life, fun objects to engage my students! I used old keys, toy dinosaurs, shells, pencils, counters, crayons, popsicle sticks, straws, and tiles. The possibilites are endless!  

My kids can't get enough of our Mystery Counting Bags! Trying to guess what's inside always gets them hooked! Once the objects are revealed, they count and represent them on their paper! 

This is a fun partner game to practice counting and representing objects. Partner 1 spins a number and collects that number of cubes. Then partner 2 spins a number and collects that number of cubes. This continues until time is called. When a minute is up, each partner counts how many cubes they collected by making groups of tens with the cubes.

Spill the Beans is an activity designed for independent or small group practice to reinforce counting and representing a large number or objects. You can differentiate this activity by giving students different amounts of beans based on their counting abilities. Students count the beans by making  groups of tens & ones using the tens frame mat. 

Place Value Pick Up Sticks is also great for reinforcing counting tens and ones. Sunny Days in Second Grade  and First Grade Wow taught me about this one. Students took turns dropping 12 sticks. After they dropped the sticks, they organized them by tens and ones. Then, they wrote the number they made on their white boards. My kids didn't want to stop playing:)

At the beginning of the year, I also start teaching my students how to use their math journals. We practice how to put our math journal prompts in our math journal and how to explain our problem solving with words, numbers, and/or pictures. For the first few weeks, I'm modeling, modeling, and modeling the process! It doesn't take long for them to take off though. I highly recommend that you carve 10-15 minutes out of your math time for math journaling. I have a whole year of math journal prompts in my TpT shop here if you are interested. 

I hope these ideas help you kick off your math block this year! Many of the activities and games can be found in my Numbers to 120 unit here


The Chocolate Teacher said...

I bought this unit the year before last school year. I adore it! There are so many fantastic activities in it! I have used it for 2 school years and highly recommend it! Thanks. :-)

Anonymous said...

These are such creative and fun centers! I love how they are simple to set up and use common manipulatives that teachers already have available.

Lauren said...

Wow, what great activities for the beginning of the year! Your blog is great and an inspiration to my new endeavor over at

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