Thank you for your interest in NCTM’s Illuminations. Beginning in mid-April, all Illuminations content will be moving to Interactives will remain openly available and NCTM members will have access to all Illuminations lessons with new filtering and search options. We hope you will continue to utilize and enjoy these resources on

Pin it!
Google Plus

Rubber Ducky, Where Are You?

  • Lesson
Number and OperationsData Analysis and Probability
S. Rosen
Langhorne, PA

Students search for hidden ducks in the classroom without collecting them and design their own method for keeping track of what they find. Discussion follows to compare methods used (tallies, numbers, dots, etc.) It would be fun to use this in the spring as an alternative to an egg hunt.

3316 ducky

This lesson should be used once students are comfortable counting objects from 1-30. Students should also be familiar with tally marks, writing digits from 1-30, and counting by 5’s. It is important not to talk about any of these concepts on the day that you do the lesson, as you want the students to be able to use former knowledge to come up with their own recording system. (The timing of this lesson may be perfect for reading sight words “in” and “on”. If not, it can be used as an introduction to reading and writing those words.)

Prior to the lesson, prepare or purchase the same number of rubber ducks as you have students on the day that you do the lesson. If you don’t wish to purchase ducks, you can copy, color, laminate, and cut out the rubber ducks on the Rubber Ducky Cut-Outs.

pdficon Rubber Ducky Cut-Outs

Prepare the classroom immediately before students enter the room. For this reason, the lesson is best done at the beginning of the day, after lunch or after one of your prep periods. While the students are out of the room, hide the ducks in different spots around your classroom. Put them in or on things. Think of funny places to put them, such as in a cookie jar mixed in with the cookies or tie one on your head. Fill the sink with water and have one floating in the sink.

When the students enter the classroom, have the white boards, markers and erasers ready to distribute. Play the “Rubber Ducky” song (perform a simple internet search), and have students sing along as a warm up. Tell them that some rubber ducks waddled into the classroom while they were gone and they are hiding all over the classroom. You may want to explain that most of the counting that they’ve done until now allowed them to touch or move objects as they counted. This may be the first time they have to count without touching.

Make sure to tell them that they cannot move from their spot until you give the signal. This can be done from the carpet or from seats at a table. Explain that it is their job to see how many ducks they can find. They will need to take their white board, marker, and eraser to keep track of how many ducks they see. Once they think they have found them all, they should return to their spot and wait until you give the class the signal to stop. Do not tell them the quantity of ducks prior to the hunt. Review the following rules with the class before they are allowed to begin their hunt:

No running. This is not a race.
No talking. No one will be able to tell others where the ducks are.
No touching the ducks. They need to be left in place for the others to find.

When you feel that the students have had enough time to find and record most of the ducks, announce that time is up and that everyone needs to return to their spot. Ask them to write the total number of ducks they found on their white boards without erasing any of their recordings.

Ask if anyone found more that 5. How about 10? Who thinks they found the most? Who thinks they may have found the least? Have the students hold up their whiteboards for everyone to see

Ask students to explain how they kept track of what they found. Students are likely to record their finding in several ways, such as

  • dots or lines
  • drawings of the ducks
  • tally marks
  • counting numbers for each duck found

Explain that there is no one right way to do this and that it is exciting that students used so many different ways. Be sure to give each student a chance to talk about their method. You may want to bring a few students to the front of the group and have them race against each other to see who can count their ducks first. Remind students that even though some methods are easier to count when finished, they may have been more difficult to record as they were searching for the ducks.

Discuss which method they think may have been the best and why. Some answers may include:

  • Drawing the ducks took too much time.
  • Making tally marks was good because you just had to make lines and you could count them easily when you were done.
  • Writing the numbers as you count may take more time than tally marks, but you don’t have to count when you are done. The last number you wrote was how many you found.

Next have each student tell about one of the ducks they found. Ask each student to get one of the ducks they found and bring it to their spot. They must tell the class where their duck was using the word “in” or “on” in their sentence. For example, “My duck was on the pencil sharpener.” You may need to give some students clues so that all of the ducks are found.

After all of the students have had their turns, announce that all of the ducks have been found. Tell the students to hold up their ducks and ask if they know how many there are all together. Someone will probably realize that if each student is holding one, there is the same number of ducks as there are students in class that day. If no one gives that answer, guide them to see the one-to-one correspondence.

As a culmination, distribute paper and crayons and have the students write a sentence that tells where their duck was found and illustrate it. Assign each student a number for their duck drawing that they should write somewhere on the page. Have the students line themselves up in consecutive order according to their numbers and then collect their pages. Make the duck drawings into a class book for students to practice number recognition and counting.

Assessment Options

  1. A teacher recording sheet could be used to determine which recording method a student is using during the duck hunt.
  2. Check each child’s white board after the activity to see if they counted their recorded ducks correctly.
  3. To assess if students are able to use different methods of recording, use the Rubber Ducky Count Activity Sheet. You could also differentiate this activity by providing manipulatives or only using 2 of the columns at a time for more needy students. (Fold back along either line to show only 2 columns at a time.)
    pdficon Rubber Ducky Count Activity Sheet
    pdficon Rubber Ducky Count Answer Key


  1. Put a pile of rubber ducks on a desk. See if students are able to estimate how many are there. Have them make piles of five and then count by fives to see how many groups of 5 there are and then how many leftover. Do the same with piles of ten. Note whether the students change their estimate to get closer to the actual quantity as they begin to count.
  2. If you purchase rubber ducks in different colors or costumes, have students create repeating patterns with them. They can work in pairs. The first student makes the pattern and the second student must extend the pattern. They can alternate being the pattern maker.
  3. Act out the song. “Five Little Ducks” with larger numbers to practice taking one away. 

Questions for Students

1. How would you keep track of the ducks if we did this again?

[I’d use dots because it’s the fastest. I’d use numbers so I wouldn’t have to count when I was done.]

2. How did you decide what you would do to keep track of the ducks you found?

[I tried drawing ducks but it was too hard, so I switched to making lines. I didn’t know what to do so I looked at my friend’s.]

3. What did you to make sure you found all the ducks?

[I walked all around the room slowly to be sure that didn’t miss any. I just kept looking until you told us to stop.] 

Teacher Reflection

  • Did the students feel confident enough to come up with their own way to record their counting when you observed them? Did you see any sharing of ideas? Copying of ideas?
  • When the students returned to their spots, did you notice any students who had difficulty with the one-to-one counting?
  • Did your classroom management affect the success of the lesson?
  • Do you think this lesson would have worked earlier in the school year? Why or why not?
  • Did this activity keep the students engaged? Why or why not? If yes, what could you take away from this lesson and apply to other lessons to make them more engaging?
  • Were more needy students able to participate in this lesson effectively? If not, what could you have done to make them more successful?

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Count objects in a set without being able to touch them.
  • Create or choose a method to keep track when counting larger sets.
  • Compare methods of recording.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Connect number words and numerals to the quantities they represent, using various physical models and representations.
  • Represent data using concrete objects, pictures, and graphs.

Common Core State Standards – Mathematics

-Kindergarten, Counting & Cardinality

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.A.2
    Count forward beginning from a given number within the known sequence (instead of having to begin at 1).

-Kindergarten, Counting & Cardinality

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.A.3
    Write numbers from 0 to 20. Represent a number of objects with a written numeral 0-20 (with 0 representing a count of no objects).

-Kindergarten, Counting & Cardinality

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.B.5
    Count to answer ''how many?'' questions about as many as 20 things arranged in a line, a rectangular array, or a circle, or as many as 10 things in a scattered configuration; given a number from 1-20, count out that many objects.

-Kindergarten, Counting & Cardinality

  • CCSS.Math.Content.K.CC.C.6
    Identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than, or equal to the number of objects in another group, e.g., by using matching and counting strategies.

Grade 2, Number & Operations

  • CCSS.Math.Content.2.NBT.A.3
    Read and write numbers to 1000 using base-ten numerals, number names, and expanded form.

Common Core State Standards – Practice

  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP1
    Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP4
    Model with mathematics.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP5
    Use appropriate tools strategically.
  • CCSS.Math.Practice.MP7
    Look for and make use of structure.