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

Here's a Handful

Number and Operations
Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

Students construct sets of up to five items, write the numeral 5, identify sets of five, and record "5" on a chart. They also play a game that requires recognizing the numerals to 5. This lesson provides opportunities for connecting mathematics with music.

Gather the children in a circle and recite the finger play, "Hive of Bees," lifting one finger as you say each number. (Note: This finger play dates back to at least the 1890s. To make saying this rhyme more fun, you may wish to say "bzzzz" at the end of the rhyme as you tickle the student next to you.)

492 2 kids

Now ask the students to say the rhyme with you once or twice. Then ask the class whether they have ever heard the expression "high five." To demonstrate the action, high five the student to your right, ask that child to high five the student next to him or her, and so on around the circle. Next, give each child paper and crayons and have the students work in pairs to trace one hand with the fingers outstretched.

Now display a numeral 5 and ask the students to make a 5 in the air as you sing the numeral-writing song. Then have the one student write "5" on the board. Encourage the other students to write the numeral 5 under the tracing of their hand.

appicon Adjustable Spinner 

Now visit the Adjustable Spinner applet. Enter numbers on the spinner by clicking on “Change the Spinner” and “name” each section (“item” is the term used on the site) of the spinner with a different number, such as naming the blue section 1, the yellow section of the spinner 2, and the green section of the spinner 3. You may provide opportunities for students to spin the spinner and call on other students to volunteer to write on the board the number that comes up when the spinner stops.

492 adjustable spinner

To provide practice in counting to five, give each student a copy of the If You're Happy activity sheet and some counters.

pdficonIf You're Happy Activity Sheet 

You may wish to sing the song for which the sheet is named. You can use the special lyrics included in the Nursery Rhymes and Songs Teacher Resource Sheet.

pdficonNursery Rhymes and Songs Resource Sheet 

Show the students the numeral cards that you have cut apart from the Numeral Cards.

pdficonNumeral Cards 

Tell the students that as you show a number, they should count out that many counters and put each counter on a different happy face. (Show the number cards in random order. As the students work, note which students can count out all the groups without hesitation and which cannot.) When all the cards have been used and the corresponding faces covered, show the numeral cards in random order again, and have the students remove from the faces the number of counters that you are showing on each card.

Next, give each student a copy of the Numbers to 5 Activity Sheet and some counters.

pdficonNumbers to 5 Activity Sheet 

Ask the students to put as many counters into the sections numbered 1 to 5 as the number indicates. Encourage them to count aloud in unison as they do so.

492 numbers 

After they have finished, give the students their Show How Many Activity Sheet.

pdficonShow How Many Activity Sheet 

Students should complete the "5" column on the activity sheet.

492 boxes 

Invite them to compare the columns on the chart by using the last four Questions for Students, below.

Assessment Option 

The observations you have recorded will be useful as you discuss the students' progress with other adults who work with your students. They will also be useful in focusing conversations with parents during conferences about the student’s level of understanding of beginning number sense.


Move on to the last lesson, Zero Our Hero.

Questions for Students 

1. What new number did we talk about today? Can you show me that many counters?

[Five; students should be able to hold up five fingers.]

2. Can you count to five? Can you show me a group of five? Can you use those same counters to show a group of five another way?

3. Make a group of five and a group of four. Which group has more? How can you tell? How many more?

[The group of five has one more than the group of four.]

4. Count out five counters. Now make two groups with those counters. How many are in each group? Can you make two groups with five counters in another way?

[Possible answers include one group of three and one group of two; or one group of four and one group of one.]

5. Listen as I ring this bell. How many sounds did you hear?


6. How can you change a group of four to a group of five? How can you change a group of five to a group of four?

[Add one more; take away one.]

7. When you count, what number comes after 4?


8. How did you show "5" on your chart? How is that column like the column for 4? How is it different? (Repeat with other comparisons of adjacent columns.)

9. Where on the chart was the number 5? Can you point to each number as you say its name? (Repeat with the other numbers one through four.) Which number on the chart represents the smallest group? The largest group?

Teacher Reflection 

  • Which students have learned the meaning of all the numbers up through five? What are the next appropriate goals for them?
  • Are there students still unable to count out up to five objects? What should I do at this time to help them reach this goal?
  • Which students are not yet able to count rationally up to five? What experiences do they need next?
  • Which students were able to identify the numerals up to 5? Which students can write all of them?
  • Which students were not yet able to write the numerals up to 5? Which numerals are the most difficult for them?
  • Which students were able to compare sets of up to five items? Which students were not yet able to do this? What learning activities should I plan for them?
  • Which students have improved in their ability to work in groups during this unit? What experiences will be helpful to the other students?
  • What adjustments will I make the next time that I teach this lesson?
Number and Operations

Focus on Two

A nursery rhyme provides a context for using the number 2. Students make groups of two, write the numeral 2, and record a group of two on a personal recording chart.
Number and Operations

Three in a Set

In this lesson, students construct sets of three, compare them with sets of two, and write the numeral 3. They also show a set of three on their recording chart.
Number and Operations

One, Two, Three--Go

After reviewing the numbers 2 and 3, students construct and identify sets of one. They compare sets of one, two, and three objects and record a set of three in chart form.
Number and Operations

Finding Four

Students explore the number 4. They make sets of four, write the numeral 4, and compare sets of four to sets of one, two, and three.
Number and Operations

Zero Our Hero

Students explore sets of zero items and practice writing the numbers 0 through 5. Students count back from five, identify sets of up to five items, and record "0" on a chart. They also construct sets of up to five items.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Construct groups of five objects.
  • Identify and write the numeral 5.
  • Compare sets of five with sets of one, two, three, and four.
  • Record a group of five on a graph.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Count with understanding and recognize "how many" in sets of objects.
  • Develop a sense of whole numbers and represent and use them in flexible ways, including relating, composing, and decomposing numbers.
  • Develop understanding of the relative position and magnitude of whole numbers and of ordinal and cardinal numbers and their connections.