What is Subitizing and Why is it Important?

How do you approach subitizing in the primary classroom? While the phrase itself can sound a little intimidating, the simple process of learning to subitize is crucial for developing number sense in first grade! If you need a quick overview of subitizing and its importance, you're in the right place! Let's dive in and learn about subitizing and how to use it in your classroom. 

Use these fun subitizing activities in your classroom today.

First Off, What is Subitizing? 

Subitizing is the ability to "see" how many items are in a group without counting. The easiest way to explain it is with dice. Think about how you roll the dice when playing a game. Once you roll, your brain can quickly and easily identify the number you rolled without having to count each dot. 

Another time subitizing is handy is when working with tens frames. The familiar layout of the tens frame helps trigger our brains to decipher how many are in the set without actually counting. Instead, we can quickly and easily see how many are displayed. This is exactly what we want our students to achieve with subitizing!

Why is Subitizing Important for First Graders?

In first grade, we are tackling many "firsts." Children in this grade are working on beginning math and literacy skills that will lay the foundation for future success across multiple subjects. Subitizing is one of those skills that will help immensely with math and number sense success as time passes. 

While there are two types of subitizing, perceptual and conceptual, both are helpful for your students when learning to identify familiar patterns in numbers.

Subitizing is important because it helps children learn to recognize familiar patterns quickly and develop a solid understanding of numbers. In first grade, we work on daily number sense activities all year long, so there are many opportunities when subitizing is especially handy. The quicker you can help your students develop this skill, the more benefits they will reap in your math lessons! 

Types of Subitizing

There are two main types of subitizing that you should be focusing on with your students. First up, perceptual subitizing. This type is what most people commonly think of when you mention subitizing. This type is used when you identify familiar patterns in small quantities, such as dots on dice, a frame with 5 counters, and other smaller numbers of 5 or less. 

Use perceptual subitizing with dice like these to help your students identify smaller numbers easily.

The second type is conceptual subitizing. This type refers to the ability to see larger sets of numbers by identifying smaller grouped sets. For example, suppose a child sees a domino with ten dots on it. In that case, their brain will quickly pull apart familiar sets within the larger one to mentally add up the total. While they didn't need to write an equation, their brain still took a moment to "add" the total. 

Both forms of subitizing are important, but when you're just starting, you'll want to begin with smaller sets of 5 or fewer and focus on perceptual subitizing. This will lay the foundation for success with conceptual subitizing. 

Introducing Subitizing 

As with all new things, you need a great introduction. For the first-grade crowd, I'm a big fan of fun and peppy videos that help introduce new concepts like subitizing. In one of my favorite videos, Jack Hartmann defines subitizing with a catchy song and examples. I like to play one like this to help students understand subitizing before we begin any activities to practice this skill. 

In this fun cowboy-themed video, students can practice "thinking fast" to call out the number shown in the set. This silly video will allow students to practice subitizing sets of tally marks and pictures. Pop this up on the board and have kiddos call the number quickly! 

5 Fun Activities to Practice Subitizing 

Once you've done your intro, it's time to start practicing. I gave a few go-to activities for practicing this skill that are fun, low-prep, and super engaging! 

1. Space Match 

First up, I have a fun game that I know your students will love! This easy-prep game focuses on numbers 1-20, but you can choose which you'd like to include. If you're getting started with numbers 1-5, just use those! once your kiddos have those down, try working on numbers 1-01 and gradually move up as needed. 

This game is played like memory. All the cards will be turned upside down, and students will flip two at a time. They use their subitizing skills to quickly observe if they have a match. If they do, they keep the pair. If not, they flip the cards over, and the next student goes. 
Use this space match game to hep your students learn about subitizing and focus on the numbers 1-20 with a fun memory type game.

I like playing this game in small groups when we start working on this skill. It's a great, hands-on learning game to get your students acclimated to subitizing. It's also a great way to observe and assess how quickly your students pick up this skill!

2. Mystery Puzzles

Mystery puzzles are a frequent flyer in our classroom, and for good reason- my students love these! To use subitizing mystery puzzles, students will solve each square on their worksheet by quickly identifying the number in the set. Then, they find the matching puzzle piece and match it to the square.

Use a mystery puzzle like this to help students learn to quickly identify numbers in a set.

They continue this process until the entire puzzle is completed and reveals a picture. If the picture is scrambled, they know one of their answers is wrong. They can glue it down, let it dry, and then color it in if it's complete. We lightly use gluesticks to allow more speedy drying and avoid a sticky mess while coloring! 

These puzzles feature space-themed pictures and are a great low-prep center activity. 

3. Color by Code Worksheets 

Another fun way to get extra practice with subitizing is with color-by-code worksheets. These worksheets offer an opportunity to work with numbers 1-20 again and feature a fun outer space theme that my students love. These worksheets use tally marks, tens frames, dice, dominoes, and more to add some variety and interest to this activity. 

Color by code worksheets like these are a great way to get your students extra practice with numbers 1-20 with a fun outer space theme.

Students will identify the number in each set and color it the correct color based on the code. They continue until their picture is complete. These are great for homework or fast finishers! 

4. Spin and Color Partner Game

Next, we often use this partner game, which is always a student favorite. For this activity, students will take turns using a paperclip spinner to spin a number. Then, that student will quickly find a box with a set of objects displaying that number. Then, they color the box. 

This spin and color partner game is a great way to get your students excited about practicing the skill of subitizing with a friend.

Each player uses a different color and continues this process until all the boxes are colored. I love using this for a low-prep center or when we need something to fill a few extra minutes in the day. It's also a fun activity to send home as homework for students to play with their parents! 

5. Write the Room 

If you've been around here a while, you likely already know that Write the Room activities are among my favorite in the first-grade classroom. They're wonderful for capturing student attention, shaking out some wiggles, and getting continued practice in an engaging format. Plus, they're versatile and can be used across so many skills. 

Use a subitizing write the room resource like these to get in some learning while giving your students the opportunity to get up and move around.

For example, one way I use writing the room is to practice subitizing. In this resource, students can practice identifying numbers in sets that use dice, dominoes, fingers, and tens frames.

This resource is great for when you're just starting with subitizing since it has four different recording sheets. Start with the one that only goes up to 12, and gradually add more cards and use numbers 1-20. I love that this resource can be played traditionally as write the room, used for Scoot games, and as a center activity. 

More Resources for Targeting Subitizing 

Subitizing is a skill that is best practiced all year long in the first-grade classroom. The more opportunities you provide to work on subitizing, the better chance of mastery! You can find all the fun activities mentioned above in my TpT Store. These are among my favorites and a great place to start. 

If you're looking for even more fun subitizing activities, be sure to check out the category page in my store dedicated to this skill! You'll find additional variations of the games and activities above, along with a few other options to help make subitizing fun and engaging for your learners! 

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Use these fun subitizing activities in the classroom this year to help your students develop important number sense skills. From color by code worksheets, to mystery puzzles, to write the room activities, subitizing will help your students develop important number sense skills in a fun way they will love. #thechocolateteacher #subitizing #howtousesubitizing #whatissubitizing

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