How to Teach Counting to 120 in First Grade

Some of the very first math skills children learn revolve around counting.  Counting to 120 is something that sounds so easy, but in reality, is so much more than just saying numbers in sequential order and calling it a day. Gone are the days when we stood up in front of the class counting each number one by one. Well, I shouldn’t say the days are gone. The days are just modified. Counting has evolved into its own set of skills.

In addition to rote counting, there are many ways/forms of counting that students should be taught and should practice. Rote counting should come first and, depending on the ability level, could be taught in sets of numbers (counting up to 10, then 20, then up to 30, etc.). From there, students start to understand that they can start at any number besides one and count forward. Students progress from there into skip counting (typically by 2s, 5s, and 10s first) and counting backward, usually from 20. Note: students should be writing and associating the quantity with the written numeral during all sets of counting skills.

There are a lot resources and activities that you can use to teach all of the skills that help counting to 120. Scroll down for some ideas that I’ve used in my classroom.

1. Use Music

Music is a great way to teach any skill, and counting is no exception. The rhythms, repetition, and lyrics are great for students to start to learn numbers in sequential order.

Music and media will help retain concepts and vocabulary for counting to 120 1.NBT.A.1.
Music and media will help students retain concepts and vocabulary.

2. Use a Counting to 120 Chart… in Every Way You Can!

A Count to 120 chart will become your best teaching tool for this skill. You can count one by one, skip count, notice patterns in rows or columns, cut it up and make puzzles, highlight… The options are endless and effective!

A count chart can be one of the best tools teachers can have when helping students learn how to count to 120 1.NBT.A.1.
A count to 120 chart can help students learn how to skip count and notice patterns.

3. Use Movement

Incorporate this with Idea #1! Music and movement go hand-in-hand. Anytime you can incorporate movement, especially crossing arms and legs over the opposite sides of the body, the brain builds more connections! Whether you are movin’ and groovin’ with songs or simply just doing some gestures with chants, this is sure to help the learning “stick.”

4. Play Games

We all know that kids love games. Even your not-so-competitive personalities love a good, engaging game. A game keeps kids on track and engaged. So that’s an automatic win without a ton of effort on the teacher’s part! Fingers crossed that your administrator comes in during a game day to catch all of the fun and learning. 🤞

Playing games can help keep kids engaged and learning how to count to 120 (1.NBT.A.1) without realizing it!
Keep kids engaged by playing various counting games!

5. Create a Counting to 120 Book

A counting book is a great, interactive tool that can be used multiple days in a row. Counting books are great for guided practice and a quick review. Students can flip back and review work that has already been done. Students also love these because it gives them an opportunity to take ownership of their very own book.

Creating a counting book is a great practice for students to take ownership and review back on when learning to count to 120 (1.NBT.A.1)
Students enjoy making their very own counting book that they can look back on for review.

You can check out my Counting to 120 resource here. This resource aligns to 1.NBT.A.1 and includes various counting activites along with a counting book for students.

I hope you’ve found some of these ideas helpful for you and your classroom. Time to print off those 120 charts and run to the copy machine!

Looking for more tips for building number sense? Check out this blog on How to Help Students Build Number Sense.

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