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Emerging Addition Strategies

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

This summer, I have really enjoyed digging into the research presented by Alex Lawson in her book, “What to Look For: Understanding and Developing Student Thinking in Early Numeracy”.


Not your typical read for a beach day, but spending a few days digging into her data, observations and conclusions was especially helpful when thinking about how to best introduce addition to students I tutor-teach.


Student Continuum of Numeracy Development: Addition and Subtraction

In general, the Student Continuum of Numeracy Development: Addition and Subtraction was created by Alex Lawson after she conducted a multitude of interviews with students. While children may not have been explicitly taught certain strategies, when they explain their math thinking it often falls in one of the main categories. One things that I really appreciate about Lawson’s approach, is how it reflects the student experience.


In today’s blog I want to highlight three of those early numeracy strategies that Lawson identified and my experience with teaching them.

1. Counting Three Times

2. Counting On

3. Counting On from the Bigger Number


Counting Three Times

This addition strategy falls at the beginning of the addition and subtraction continuum. When a child is answering a question like, 5+8, they do the following:

- Count five objects

- Then they count eight objects

- Then they put the two groups of objects together and they count all the objects

Because our earliest learners use this strategy, it is a great strategy when starting to first explore addition with your little one. Once your child gets the hang of it, it’s important to advance their thinking.


Counting On

This addition strategy builds off the previous strategy. In this strategy when a child is answering a question like, 5+8, they do the following:

- The child says five

- Then the child counts on eight times from the number 5 which sounds like: “6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13”


Using your fingers or a number line is a great way for your child to keep track of this double counting. Your child needs count the numbers in order, and they need to know they have counted 8 times.

To use this strategy, your child will need to be able to recall the numbers after five without saying the entire counting order. You can practice this skill by asking your child, "What number comes after 5?"


Counting On from the Bigger Number

As we continue along the continuum, we see another small change that results in increased efficiency. In this strategy when a child is answering a question like, 5+8, they do the following:

- The child says, “eight”

- Then the child counts on five times from the number 8.

o It sounds like: “9, 10, 11, 12, 13”

This strategy requires your child to understand that 5+8 will equal the same amount as 8+5. I like to call this the 'flip trick', and down the road it has other applications when exploring multiplication.


As our youngest learners increase in their understanding of the world around them, we can strategically match their current understanding with logical short-term goals that we find in educational research. When forming programs at Latch Onto Learning, we consult Lawson’s continuum for that very reason. It provides insight in terms of what a child is doing and where we want them to go!

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