How to Teach Counting Money in 1st and 2nd Grade

Photo of a pile of nickels and pennies with a red die. Text says "5 Tips to Teach Counting Money."

Teaching first graders and second graders about counting money can be a tricky task! American coin values are confusing because they don’t match the size of the coin. Adding to the confusions, kids have to skip count in a number of ways in order count a mixed group of coins. I remember when I first started teaching money to first graders. They got SOOOO confused about switching from counting by 10s to counting by 5s. It felt like an impossible task! But counting money is such a critical life skill – I really got frustrated when these kids couldn’t figure it out!

Then I consulted with co-workers and read from different math curriculum materials. I began to see how counting money was related to number sense and place value skills. I filled some number sense gaps for my students and provided more intentional instruction for counting coins and it got easier for everyone. The following math activities for 2nd grade and 1st grade will make counting money easier for students (hint: the secret to success doesn’t actually use coins…)

1. Focus on Skip Counting (before counting money)

Counting money requires that students be able to skip count by 5s, 10s, and 25s. Long before you begin to teach money, practice skip counting with your students. To start, listen to each of them count by 5s and 10s – this will help you identify how much practice your class needs. Once you have this information, you may need to add skip counting routines to your daily morning meeting or math routines, or you may need to meet with a small group of students to practice a few times a week. (If your students are still struggling with subitizing and number sense, check out this post for some suggestions.)

Skip Counting Songs:

To practice skip counting, you can use skip counting songs. Jack Hartmann has some fun ones available on YouTube. Since the Jack Hartmann songs also include dancing and exercise, you can easily use them as a brain break during your day. For instance, in “Count by Tens and Exercise” kids do arm stretches, body twists, and dinosaur stomps as they count.

Skip Counting Cards:

Once kids understand the basic routine of skip counting by 5s and 10s, you can add some skip counting cards to your math stations or math centers. While the songs help with hearing the pattern of skip counting, the cards help students SEE the pattern of skip counting. You can make your own cards from index cards or cute little cut-outs for teachers. As another option, TPT offers a wide variety of choices.

Photo of colorful pencil-shaped cut-outs. Each card has a numeral: 5, 10, 15, 20. Cards are placed on floor in numerical order.

You can make some skip counting cards pretty quickly with pre-made cut-out cards.

Count Around the Circle:

As a morning meeting game, you can have kids count around the circle. First, introduce this activity by counting by 1s, with the first student saying “1,” the next saying “2” and so on. Once they understand the concept, change to counting by 5s or 10s. You may need to display a 100 chart initially to help students identify the next number. To keep the activity engaging, you can time how long it takes to make it all the way around the circle or to 100 (or any other number.) But remember to support your students who are less confident with the skill – give them a 100-chart or make sure the are the first to say a number (because they are more likely to know the early numbers.)

2. Teach Stop and Start Counting:

Once your students are pretty solid with basic skip counting, you can introduce “stop and start counting.” This routine really helps prepare kids for counting money without having to think about coin values. It is similar to counting around the circle, but you change the skip counting pattern part way through. So you may start by having students count by 5s, then after several students (ex: 5, 10, 15, 20), tell them to stop and count by 5s from the number the last child said (21, 22, 23, 24…) When you begin, only do 5s and 1s. As students become more comfortable with the routine, you can add 10s and 25s and change 3-4 times as you work around the circle (to resemble counting a mixed group of coins.) Expect your students to be slow the first several times, but they will pick up speed as this becomes more familiar.

3. Introduce Counting Money with Coins Slowly:

When you actually introduce counting money with coins, start with only two kinds of coins (ex: nickels and pennies.) Some students will need to practice with only two coins for a longer time. Allow them to count real coins in a small group, or play games with only nickels and pennies. (Real coins may be easier to identify than plastic coins for kids who need additional support.)

Limit the coins on math book pages by crossing out the dimes and/or quarters for these students until they master nickel and penny combinations. As you add dimes, continue to provide practice with only two coins at first (dimes and nickels or dimes and pennies). Then you can use mixed groups of the three coins.

4. Provide Visual Reminders:

Because American coin values do not match coin sizes (and switching between kinds of coins is tricky), some students benefit from visual reminders to help them as they count.

Anchor Charts

It may help your students to have an anchor chart with the coin values displayed. You might even write the skip counting pattern below each coin. They can refer to this as they are counting money during games or other math activities.

Classroom anchor chart titled: Counting Coins. Includes images of each coin (head and tail side) with value. Beneath each type of coin is an example of how to count for that coin.

An anchor chart can prompt students as they count coins

Dot Coins

If you have a few students who are having a hard time shifting between skip counting patterns while counting money, you might use “coin dots” for those children. This is helpful for nickels, dimes, and quarters. With coin dots, each dot equals 5. So a nickel would have one dot; a dime would have two dots; and a quarter would have 5 dots. Then the student is able to count the coins by counting by 5s. 

Image of quarter, 2 dimes, 2 nickels and penny. The quarter has five red dots with the numbers 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 below it. Each dime has two red dots and the numbers 30 & 35, 40 & 45. Each nickel has one red dot and the numbers 50 and 55. The penny has no dots, but has the number 56 below.

Each dot is worth 5 cents. This is one way to make coin counting easier.

Use coins dots sparingly, because it is harder to transfer to counting with real coins, but it could be an appropriate temporary support for some students.

5. Practice with Money Games:

You can add a variety of money games to your math centers or math rotations. They can even be used at the end of whole group lessons to differentiate practice (by matching the coins used to the student’s current understanding of coins.) Once students are familiar with the games, they can also be used as part of a soft start to your school day.

Your students will love playing games in math – the best part is they won’t even realize they are practicing math while they play! Here are a few simple money game ideas:

Coin-Dice:

Create a “bank” with real or plastic coins (you can limit it to nickels and pennies, or do a variety of coins.) Students roll the die and take that many pennies. Once they have five pennies, they put the pennies in the bank and exchange for a nickel. If you play with more coins, they can also exchange coins for dimes and quarters. Continue playing until one child reaches $1.00. (This game is SO easy to use for differentiation!)

Photo of a pile of nickels and pennies with a red die.

Coin Grab:

Place coins in a small bag or sock. (Again, you can vary the coins to meet student needs). Player 1 reaches in and grabs 5 coins (she may choose to pull them out one at a time). Then player 2 grabs 5 coins. Players count coins. The player with the greatest value win this round. On the next round player 2 grabs coins first.

Small blue cloth bag with a pile of pennies, nickels, and dimes placed on top.

Coin War:

Coin War is played like the traditional card game War. Each player turns over a card and counts the coins shown. The player with the greatest value wins both cards. When there is a tie (a war), students turn over a new card and the winner takes all the cards from that round. Visit my TPT store to find this printable game. The cards are organized by coin type, so it’s easy to differentiate for beginners and experts!

Pile of cards for Coin War game. Each card shows a a coin or group of coins.

Coin War is a quick and easy way to practice counting coins. The cards are organized by coin type for easy differentiation.

Coin Puzzles:

Coin Puzzles are a great addition to a math station. To complete the puzzles, students match sets of coins to their value. Numerous versions exist – some include only one set of coins per value; others include multiple coin combinations for each value.

Photo of puzzle cards for counting money. Each puzzle includes two pieces. One piece shows a group of coins; other piece shows the value of the group of coins.

Coin Puzzles are a great addition to math centers.

By being intentional in your instruction (focusing first on skip counting, then slowly introducing combinations of coins) you can make counting money easy for your students. Teaching money will be enjoyable and rewarding for everyone involved!

White background with photo of a die with a pile of nickels and pennies. Text says "5 Tips and Tricks to Teach Counting Money."

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