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Teaching Number Sense

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Teaching Number Sense is a key component to any maths program and when teaching numeracy, teachers should be aware that student achievement levels are directly linked to number sense.

The term Number Sense refers to a student’s “fluidity and flexibility with numbers,” (Gersten & Chard, 2001).  Teaching number sense involves strategies that develop student  understanding of what numbers mean, how they are connected,  are able to perform mental maths, understand symbolic representations, and can use numbers in real world situations.

Activities for Teaching Number Sense


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Teaching Number Sense

Teachers need to plan to teach students number sense if their maths programs are to be effective. Students with good number sense can reason flexibly about numbers,  they can spot unreasonable answers, understand how numbers can be taken apart or partitioned, and put together in different wayssee connections, and figure things out mentally.

The National Council of Teachers in 1989 identified the following five components that characterise number sense:

  • Number meaning
  • Number relationships
  • Number magnitude
  • Operations involving numbers and referents for number
  • Referents for numbers and quantities

These skills are considered important because they help students to lay the foundation for mental arithmetic as well as more advanced mathematical skills. Researchers have linked good number sense with skills observed in students proficient in the following mathematical activities:

  • mental calculation (Hope & Sherrill, 1987; Trafton, 1992);
  • computational estimation (for example; Bobis, 1991; Case & Sowder, 1990);
  • judging the relative magnitude of numbers (Sowder, 1988);
  • recognising part-whole relationships and place value concepts (Fischer, 1990; Ross, 1989) and;
  • problem solving (Cobb, 1991).

Dr. Jo Boaler describes what happens to low achieving students who don’t have good number sense:

The low achievers did not know less but they did not use numbers flexibly – probably because they had been set on the wrong path, from an early age, of trying to memorize methods and number facts instead of interacting with numbers flexibly.Jo Boaler

How do you teach number sense?

A large body of research has shown that number sense develops gradually, over time, as a result of exploration of numbers, visualising numbers in a variety of contexts, and relating to numbers in different ways.

Marilyn Burns suggests the following key, research-based teaching strategies to build numbers sense:

  • Model different methods for computing
  • Ask students regularly to calculate mentally
  • Have class discussions about strategies for computing
  • Make estimation an integral part of computing
  • Question students about how they reason numerically
  • Pose numerical problems that have more than one possible answer


Just as our understanding of phonemic awareness has revolutionized the teaching of beginning reading, the influence of number sense on early math development and more complex mathematical thinking carries implications for instruction.Gersten & Chard

Teaching Resources For Number Sense

One of the easiest ways to incorporate teaching number sense into your maths lessons is to include  “Today’s Number” or “Number of The Day ” activities in your program.

Buy Now!Number Sense Activities

Our 5 Number of the Day Activities pack includes 5 different activities that:

  • promotes number sense,
  • extends mathematical language and vocabulary
  • builds fluency & flexibility with numbers

This activity pack includes:

  1. Number of The Day – 5 Spaces for 8 activities everyday of the School Week
  2. Number of The Day Think board
  3. Today’s Number – 21 Tasks & Thinkboard
  4. Wanted Number Poster
  5. Frayer Model Thinkboard – Definition, Characteristics, Examples, Non-Examples

Number of the Day

This think board includes a  a weekly template for your students to practice flexibility with numbers every day. Tasks include write the selected number:

  • in digits
  • Word form
  • Expanded form
  • draw Base 10 representation
  • the number before/after
  • 10 more/ 10 less

Laminate & reuse this template for the whole Year!

Number of The Day Activities To Build Number Sense


Number of the Day Think Board

This template is great for group work. There are four sections on this template for a group to work together to complete. Includes:

  • in digits
  • Word form
  • Expanded form
  • draw Base 10 representation
  • the number before/after
  • 10 more/ 10 less

Build Number Sense - Think board


Today’s Number

This activity can be played like a bingo game or done independently. It includes 21 number sense tasks for students to complete.

Todays number activities for kids


Wanted Number Poster

The ‘wanted’ poster is another open-ended activity that allows students to demonstrate their knowledge of relationships between numbers. Easily differentiate this activity for a range of abilities in your classroom.

Building Number Sense- Wanted Poster

Frayer Think Board

The Frayer Board Think board Template is a graphic organiser, designed by Dorothy Frayer and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin in 2001. The Frayer Model helps activate students’ prior knowledge about a concept or word. Using the Frayer Think Board Template provides students with the opportunity to clarify a concept and communicate their level of understanding. The Frayer Board encourages students to create a definition, describe characteristics or properties of the word or concept, list examples and non-examples from their own prior knowledge of the concept or familiarity with the term.



Number Sense Resources - Frayer Think Board


Buy Now!Number Sense Activities


Easily Differentiate these activities for groups, pairs, independent work and math rotations. Suitable for morning work, homework, warm-ups and early finishers. Buy Now


Click Image To See This Number Sense Pack 

Your students will develop their number sense with these motivating activities. They are suitable for kids of all ages and can be adapted for kids in kindergarten through to 3rd. Use these activities in your math stations, for homework or as part of your teaching program. Visit our site to see a preview video and read more about building number sense. #mathgames #teachingnumbersense #teachingkidsmath
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