Skip to Content


Mathematics banner

Let us count how manyBookmark

Learning area: Mathematics
Year level: Foundation
Country: China, Indonesia, Japan
General capability: Intercultural understanding

This learning sequence focuses on assisting students to make the connections between number names, numerals and collections of objects irrespective of how they are arranged. They support the Australian Curriculum for Mathematics: Number and Algebra.

A variety of activities, some with an Asia theme, demonstrate the diversity of language, representation and contexts in which numbers and counting are used.

Maths_Lets_count_Activity_4_PageObjects for classroom counting


Image: AEF

Related resources

Activity 1: Pebbles in a bag

In this activity students will use counting bags containing counting objects, such as pebbles or cubes, to practise counting to 10 and beyond.

Task 1: Practising counting in ones and then in groups

  1. Provide each student with an opaque paper bag (or cloth bag) containing 10 pebbles or cubes.
  2. Ask students to take the objects out one by one and name each one with a consecutive number.
  3. As students progress in their counting beyond 10, these cubes may be joined in groups of 10. For example craft pop sticks, headless matches or bamboo skewers (points removed and cut to length) could be used. Have students make bundles of 10 using a rubber band to group them.
  4. Teachers might consider having in the classroom a collection of bags labelled with a numeral and containing the relevant numbers of cubes.

Task 2: New objects to count

  1. Provide pairs of students with different numbers of animal models (or other artefacts), number word cards, numeral cards and a supply of pebbles (or cubes) to be used as counters. The number of animals may be varied to suit students' progress and ability.
  2. Instruct students to line up the animals and make a one-to-one matching of the animals and pebbles. Paper arrows could be used to pair each animal or other object with a number as shown.
  3. Instruct students to replace the pebbles with an appropriate numeral card.
  4. Ask students to choose the appropriate number word card for their collection.
  5. Ask students to put their pebbles in the bag and attach the numeral and number word cards to the counting bag using sticky tape.
  6. Each pair of students swaps their materials, that is their animals and their labelled bags, with another pair to confirm their actions.


Images: AEF

Activity 2: Counting in Asia

In this activity students practice using Asian strategies to count to 10 on their fingers.

Task 1: Finger representations

  1. Explain to students that in Western cultures children represent the numbers 1 to 10 using the fingers on both hands. Firstly they count 1 to 5 on one hand and then 6 to 10 on the other hand.
  2. In some Asian countries children learn to represent the numbers 1 to 10 using one hand using finger signs as shown in the image above. Only one hand is used. Sometimes a clenched fist represents the number 10.
  3. View the video Powerful Chinese finger counting system below to learn how to count with one hand.

  4. Instruct students how to shape their fingers to make the finger signs used in the video. The images above will be helpful.
  5. Replay the video and ask students to make the finger signs and call the numbers out loud. Students will need to practise this a few times.

Task 2: Counting in Chinese

  1. Explain to the students that they are going to learn how to count and say numbers from 1 to 10 in Chinese Mandarin.
  2. Show the video below to learn how to count to 10 in Chinese Mandarin.

  3. Ask students to make the finger signs as they chant the number names used. Replay the video as many times as required.
  4. Show students the numbers in English and Chinese and ask them to practise saying the numbers in Chinese using finger signs until they can remember them.
  5. You can use this procedure to teach students to count in any Asian language, perhaps one taught in the school as in the list below:
English number names Chinese number names Japanese number names Indonesian number names
one yi ichi satu
two er ni dua
three san san tiga
four si shi empat
five wu go lima
six liu roku enam
seven qi shichi tujuh
eight ba hachi delapan
nine jiu kyuu sembilan
ten shi juu sepuluh

Activity 3: Addition

In this activity students will use objects to practise addition.

  1. Provide students in pairs with two bags – one containing 6 cubes and the other with 3 cubes.
  2. Ask students the following questions:
    • What is the total number of cubes in the two bags?
    • How many more cubes do I need to make 10?
    • If I added 5 more cubes to the bag of 6 cubes how many would there be?
  3. You can continue asking questions using different numbers.
  4. When students are proficient in numbers from 1 to 10, increase the numbers up to 100 and pose questions such as:
    • Here is a bag containing 18 cubes. How many more cubes do I need to make 20? How many would I have if I had 5 more cubes?
    • Here is a bag containing 97 cubes. How many more cubes do I need to make 100? How many would I have if I had 6 more cubes?


Images: AEF

Activity 4: Subtraction

In this activity students will use collections of objects to practice subtraction. 

  1. Prepare boxes with a variety of collections of artefacts from different cultures; for example, Japanese chopsticks, glass beads and marbles (called ohajiki), or Chinese chopsticks, counters or miniature dolls. Have enough so that students in groups of four to six can share. These activities are useful to subtract to 10 and beyond.
  2. Create a number of tasks to practice subtraction such as:
    • Here is a box containing 10 chopsticks
    • Take 3 chopsticks out of the box
    • How many chopsticks are left?
  3. Ask students to write their favourite number on a piece of paper. Then ask them to select a box of objects and take out the correct number and place the objects, such as miniature dolls, around the number written on the piece of paper.
  4. Now ask them to write the word for the number on the piece of paper. Students can then share their number, the objects and what they have written.
  5. Show students an abacas or other counting frames.


Images: AEF

This learning sequence is designed to assist students to recognise, read, represent and say whole numbers. Students learn that there is a sequence to numbers, and a counting process that applies irrespective of language or culture. They develop skills in using and recording number sequences.

These activities have connections with figurate numbers. For example 3 is a triangular number because three counters can be arranged in a triangular shape. Similarly 4 is a square number and is a commonly used arrangement on objects such as dice. One-to-one correspondence, which underpins the counting process, is also embedded in many of the activities.

These activities will require a variety of counting artefacts (animal models, beads, seeds, counting frames, cubes, marbles, blocks), paper or cloth bags, numeral cards and number word cards.

The activities highlight the place value ideas that cross language and cultural boundaries.

Many young children begin formal schooling being able to say number names in the correct sequence but are unable to count and answer the question 'How many …?' Certainly, being able to say and sequence number names is part of counting but not the only part.

The following activities are ideas that teachers may decide to add to the range of activities they use to develop counting concepts with their students.

Activity 1: Pebbles in a bag

When we count, we are establishing a one-to-one correspondence between the objects we are counting and the number names. The last number we say is the count of the set of objects. It is the answer to the question 'How many?'

The bag and pebbles – let’s call it a counting bag – can help to develop young children’s concept of counting. A bag containing four pebbles (counters, cubes or artefacts) may be used to represent (that is, be the count of) the 4 children in the class with red hair, the 4 noticeboards in the classroom and the 4 children who travel to school by bus. This helps to develop the idea of four-ness. That is, four apples, four pencils, four students, four cubes and so on all have a common attribute … their four-ness.

In ancient cultures (and possibly still in some present-day cultures) herdsmen were not interested in the actual number (that is, naming the actual number) of animals in their herds. Their counting system seldom extended beyond three or four. After that they referred to whatever they were counting as many. But they were interested in maintaining the number of animals they had, and checking that they had them all in their herd or flock. One way to keep check of the number of animals was to place one pebble for each animal in a bag. It does not matter how many pebbles are in the bag as long as there is one for every animal and no more. This is what we call one-to-one correspondence and is an essential component of counting.

Activity 2: Counting in Asia

Depending on the classroom resources available teachers may ask students to represent their collections using other means.

In Western cultures children represent the numbers 1 to 10 using the fingers on both hands … firstly 1 to 5 and then an extra 1 to 5 on the other hand. Asian children learn to represent the numbers 1 to 10 using one hand. A common form (sometimes with small variations) is the set of Chinese finger signs.

Chinese finger counting uses only one hand. In some cultures the number 10 is represented by a clenched fist.

Activity 3: Addition

Counting bags can be used to introduce the idea of addition by combining the collections; that is, by combining the contents of the counting bags. Where bags are involved in the activity, some students might find it necessary to open the bags, count the contents of a bag and then continue the count; that is, count on.

These activities are also useful to add to 10 and beyond.

Activity 4: Subtraction

Classrooms should have a variety of collections of artefacts. Children might be given the opportunity to suggest the type of artefacts they work with and to use artefacts they have made. Artefacts might be models such as animals or cars; blocks; collections such as collector cards or trinkets; or objects used for counting in other cultures such as pebbles, acorns or marbles.

Teachers should take advantage of opportunities to introduce counting artefacts from other cultures. The artefacts could be selected to reflect the different cultures represented in the class. Japanese chopsticks, glass beads and marbles (called ohajiki); Chinese chopsticks, counters or miniature dolls; or goods from other countries are types of artefacts that may be used in counting activities.

Useful websites

These sites are designed specifically for students.

It is recommended that teachers preview websites to ensure they are suitable for their students prior to use in class. Content accessed via these links is not owned or controlled by Asia Education Foundation and is subject to the terms of use of the associated website.

The full resource can not be displayed on a mobile device.

back to top