Counting Frames

Years K - 2


This activity shows something of the flexibility of Poly Plug. The same activity can be used over and over again to investigate counting by different sized groups. This way of using an activity is called Threading. The colourful, tactile presentation helps children develop a visualisation of what is happening when they are counting in groups.


  • One Poly Plug each
  • One calculator each
Counting by Fives Frame

Note: This investigation has been included in Maths At Home. In this form it has fresh context and purpose and, in some cases, additional resources. Maths At Home activity plans encourage independent investigation through guided 'homework', or, for the teacher, can be an outline of a class investigation.
  • Visit the Home Page for more Background.
  • For this specific activity click the Learners link and on that page use Ctrl F (Cmd F on Mac) to search the task name.


A red board with some or all its plugs removed makes an excellent counting frame. They can be used individually, in small groups, or as the whole class.
I wonder how many there will be if we put all our counting frames together in a line.
Asking the children to estimate first is a feature which encourages learning. Having estimated, they want to check.

The gaps themselves can be counted but plugging in with yellow/blue plugs to build up a counting sequence adds a visual and kinaesthetic dimension to the learning. For example, the image above shows counting by fives. Alternating colours highlights the fives and also encourages counting by ten. The boards themselves encourage counting by twenty-fives.

Small cards can be added along the line as markers to show numerals for the count as it grows. Another variation is for the children to skip count on their calculator as the counting sequence builds up.

How could we use our calculator to check our answer?
Partnering this activity with the calculator game Predict A Count strengthens the learning even more.


  • 1:1 correspondence
  • counting
  • estimating number
  • exploring large numbers
  • group (or skip) counting
  • making/recording groups of 10
  • mathematical conversation
  • multiplication - array model
  • number line - ordering, operations
  • pattern recognition
  • recording - calculator
  • visual and kinaesthetic representation of number

Counting by Threes Frame Here the red board has been masked to introduce counting by threes. Well that's what we think we are using it for. Children don't necessarily see things our way. Or perhaps it is that they see more than us. This is illustrated in a story titled Counting Frames & Highest Number in the Stories section.

The red boards in the story were masked to introduce counting by twos. This was also the case in the example below.

Great Ryrie Primary School
Prep (5 - 6 years old)

Whenever I use Counting Frames I am always amazed at the children's excitement when offered the opportunity to count 'large' numbers near the end of the activity. For example, the lesson in the photo below began by counting the number of children present. Then asking the mathematician's question Can we check it another way?. That led to several alternatives, one of which was counting by twos. Then we:

  • showed counting by twos by masking our own frame and sticking our fingers in the gaps.
  • knew it was ten, but checked it in other ways.
  • plugged some 'people' into the gaps.
Now suppose we put all our people boards in one long line.
How many people do you think there are?
Would you like to check your guess?

You bet they would like to...

Doug. Williams, consultant

Calculating Changes ... is a division of ... Mathematics Centre