Ask any lower elementary student to count aloud for you and chances are they will stop counting at 100. It doesn’t matter if you ask them to count by 1s or to skip-count by 5s or 10s, 100 forms a natural stopping point. The problem arises when you ask young students to go further. “What comes next?” I ask my young math students. Many students are unsure about counting beyond 100, especially if I ask them to write the numbers on paper.
Lack of Exposure and Confusing Numbers
There are a few factors at play as to why students struggle with counting beyond 100. Often students’ daily exposure is primarily focused on 1–100. The hundred chart, 100th day of school celebrations, and even the idea of stopping at a nice, round number play a part in limiting our instruction. Our students aren’t comfortable with counting beyond 100 because they don’t regularly see and hear what comes next.
The other challenge with counting beyond 100 is that our number system is a tricky one. Suddenly, we have those seemingly random zeros in the middle of numbers such as 101 and 102. We also circle back to the weird number words like seventeen. Because the word seven comes before teen, many students end up writing 171 instead of 117. And don’t even get me started on 110, which I often see written as 10010. (Say 110 aloud, and this written interpretation makes sense.)
Keep Counting to 130
How do we build awareness of counting beyond 100? While we could count forever, increased (and repeated) exposure and direct instruction with numbers 1–130 can make a difference in student familiarity with these numbers.
It’s not enough to just have students count aloud, though. Students need to read and write numbers in standard form and count up to 130 physical objects (or more) to grow more comfortable with larger numbers.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Extend the number lines hanging in your classrooms to 130 (or 200!).
- Make your hundred charts bigger by 3 more rows.
- Skip-count to 130 and beyond.
- Give students more than 100 objects to count and put into groups of 10 or 5.
- Put more than 100 objects in your estimation jar.
- Have students practice writing numbers beyond 100, especially 90–130.
No-Prep Activity to Try Tomorrow
One activity I find useful is gathering young students on the rug to practice writing out numbers 90–130 as a class. I usually have students come up to the board to write the next number in the sequence or have them tell me what to write. As we do this, I guide them to think about what happens to the numbers as you add 1 more each time.
After we write out all the numbers from 90–130, I ask them what patterns they see and correct any misunderstandings they might have.
Often, I repeat this activity a few times over the course of a couple of weeks, starting with a different number each time. For example, I might start at 83 or 92 instead of 90 to provide an added challenge. The repetition helps to reinforce the skills, and students grow more confident counting beyond 100.
Have you noticed that students often struggle with counting beyond 100? Have you tried any of the ideas above? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.