7 Subitising Activities that Make You Look Like a Pro

Photo with 3 sets of 8 dots. Circles around dots show ways to group for subitising. Text says: 7 Subitising Activities To Make You Look Like a Pro.

Subitising activities are as foundational to math as letter activities are to reading. This blog post will share more information about subitising, and share several subitizing activities your students will love.

What is Subitising?

Subitising (aka subitizing) is the ability to rapidly recognize the number of items in a small group without counting.

Obviously subitising is helpful because it saves time counting. You automatically know how many dots are on a die without stopping to count.

But, subitising is also a foundational math skill because it builds flexibility as students work with numbers. For instance when students can picture a ten frame with eight dots and two empty boxes, it helps them realize that 10=8+2.

Strong subitising skills helps students connect and group numbers as they apply mental math skills in the future. This creates stronger math skills throughout school and life.

Because subitising is a critical part of develop number sense skills, it’s important to build subitising activities into your math routines.

Fortunately, there are many engaging subitising activities that are perfect for kindergarten and early first grade.

Number Talks with Ten Frames

Number Talks are a math routine where students look at a grouping for a few seconds and make a picture of it in their mind. Then the describe and discuss what they saw with peers.

For instance, students might see the following group of dots in these different ways:

Photo with 3 sets of 8 dots. Circles around some of the dots represent how students "saw" the groups within the 8 dots (ex: 5-3, 4-4, 3-2-3.)

When using ten frames for a number talk, you would show students a ten frame, then have them discuss how many dots there are. A key component of this routine is a discussion about how students recognized the quantity.

You can do number talks with standard ten frames. Frequently, teachers flash them up for a brief amount of time (2-3 seconds), to discourage actually counting the dots. The goal is for automatic recognition.

Ten frame with 5 dots on the top row and 3 on the bottom row.

Make the ten frame talk more challenging by adding nontraditional ten frame configurations, such a four dots on to and four on the bottom. This type of ten frames allows more variety in what students “saw” to help them rapidly recognize the quantity.

Three different ten frames representing 8: 4 dots on top & 4 dots on bottom; 4 on left and 4 on right; 2 on left and 6 on right.

These conversations help develop flexibility in how students approach the task, and they help students develop a stronger understanding of what that number means. You can easily see how these skills can connect to future mental addition and subtraction skills.

Need subitising cards? Click here to grab some you can print today.

Subitising War

It’s easy to turn subitizing practice into a game. These games are often so fun that students don’t realize they are building number sense skills as they play.

One popular subitising game is Subitising War. Students play the traditional war game using cards with ten frames, tally marks and dot patterns.

Photos of subitising activities using subitising cards. One student flipped over 6 tally marks and the other flipped over 8 fingers.

Pair students up for the game. Give each pair a set of cards with number representations (ten frames, tally marks, dot patterns, etc.)

Each student flips a card from the pile and calls out the number that is represented. The player with the higher quantity wins that round, claiming both cards.

Encourage players to subitise quickly to determine the winner.

Subitising Bingo

Use the traditional bingo game with a twist to practice subitising.

Give students Bingo cards with arrangements of dots (or ten frames, tally marks, etc.) on the board. (Too busy to make boards? Grab a set here.)

Photo shows two subitizing bingo boards with ten frames, tally marks, fingers and dots. Bingo games are easy subitising activities.

Call out a number and have students cover the corresponding dots (or other representation.)

To help the activity stay fast-paced, use boards with a 4×4 grid. That helps students scan their board quickly.

As an alternative, you could provide boards with numerals. Then quickly flash up a dot card or ten frame card. Students cover the numeral that matches the card. 

Show the card briefly, so students practice rapid recognition, which is at the heart of subitising.

Subitising with Dice Games

Dice games are perfect for subitising practice, because the dice contain groups of dots (automatic subitising.)

One easy dice game is to grab a game board with a trail (like the Candyland board.) You can use a board from another game or print a blank one. You can certainly fancy it up a bit with stickers.

Students roll a die and quickly identify the number of dots. Then the move spaces on the game board, based on the number they rolled.

You can also use other commercially created games with dice, too.

Games with Dominoes

Like dice, the dots on dominoes are perfect for subitising practice. You may find that the actual domino game might be more complicated than your students can handle, but you can still use dominoes to play other fun games.

Domino Sorts – Students sort dominoes by the number of dots they contain. For easy subitising practice, you might simply have students find all the dominoes that have a given number on one side, such as all the dominoes that have 6 dots on one side.

Domino War – Instead of using game cards, students can play “War” with dominoes. Turn all the dominoes face down. For each round, students flip over a domino, announce the number of dots, and compare. The domino with the most dots wins that round.

Keep Subitising Activities Fun

Subitising is a critical skill in math development. It sets the stage for mental math down the road. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep subitising practice fun, as shown above.

Try some of these creative approaches in your math routines to make subitising a fun and enriching experience for your students.

Learn more about teaching subitizing in this blog post.

Photo with 8 dots. Circles around dots show ways to group for subitising. Text says: 7 Subitising Activities To Make You Look Like a Pro.

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