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

This learning sequence develops students' ability to count with numbers from 1 to 20. It is aligned to the Australian Curriculum and supports Mathematics: Number and Algebra. The activities include a focus on Asian cultures and traditional stories that demonstrate the diversity of language and number representation.

Students will:

  • become familiar with number terminology
  • practise processes for counting through number sequences and names
  • record and represent numbers and numerals.

Four students sitting on a classroom floorStudents developing their numeracy skills

Related resources

Activity 1: I'm here!

In this activity, students will explore a variety of ways to record their arrival at class each morning. They help to establish the one-to-one correspondence central to the counting process. Parents are encouraged to be involved.

Task 1: First, second, third ...

  1. Prepare a wall chart with columns for numbers and students' names.
  2. Lay out a set of number cards in order on a table or on the floor. The set should consist of the numbers from 1 to the number of students in the class.
  3. Ask students to take the next number in order as they arrive and place it on a wall chart next to their own name.
  4. The chart is not only a record of attendance, but can also be used as a stimulus for mathematical conversations during the day.
  5. Questions to ask the class:
    • who was here first?
    • Who was the fifth one here?
    • What is Thom's number today?
    • How many children are in class today?
    • How do we know?
    • Who's not here today?

Task 2: How many?

  1. Do this activity again at the beginning of a lesson when students are returning to class.
  2. As each child arrives they take an item from a container to place:
    • in another container
    • in a line
    • on a grid.
  3. Ask students: Does it matter what colour the item is?


Images: "Chart of first, second, third…" – Peter Glenane; Other images – AEF

Activity 2: Recognising number representations

In this activity the representations of numbers could be a mixture of number names, numerals, tally marks, die faces, figurate numbers, ordinal numbers, number representations from different cultures and number names from different languages.

Recognising number representations

  1. Prepare sets of cards showing different representations of numbers from 1 to the number of children in the class.
  2. Care needs to be taken when using sets that donʼt naturally go up to the number of students in the class; for example, dice and playing cards.
  3. Ask students to take the next number in order as they arrive and place it on a wall chart next to their own name.

Find your mate matching number representations

  1. Set up small groups for classroom activities to reinforce understanding that the same number can be represented in different ways. For example, to create five groups of four students for an activity, prepare card sets with numbers represented in different ways such as pictures of people, animals or objects in a variety of number groupings (as shown).
  2. Sets may be made with the numbers from 1 to 5, or selected numbers from a greater range, for example: 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10.
  3. Students then find the other people in the class with the matching number to form their groups. Students must be familiar with the number representations used.
  4. Asian numbers can also be used. The example below shows the numbers for Indonesian, Japanese and Chinese. These would be suitable for students learning languages.
Tally marks
Arabic numerals Tally marks (English) Tally marks (Japanese) Chinese & Japanese numbers
1 English tally for 1 The Japanese tally for 1
2 English tally for 2 The Japanese tally for 2
3 English tally for 3 The Japanese tally for 3
4 English tally for 4 The Japanese tally for 4
5 English tally for 5 The Japanese tally for 5
6 English tally for 6
7 English tally for 7
8 English tally for 8
9 English tally for 9
10 English tally for 10
How do you write and say the numbers 1 - 10 in Japanese?
one 1 一 (ichi)
two 2 二 (ni)
three 3 三 (san)
four 4 四 (shi)
five 5 五 (go)
six 6 六 (roku)
seven 7 七 (shichi)
eight 8 八 (hachi)
nine 9 九 (kyuu)
ten 10 十 (juu)

* For correct pronunciation refer to Fun counting on YouTube featuring a rap song counting from 1–20.

Practising numbers from different countries
English numbers Chinese numbers* Japanese numbers* Indonesian numbers*
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

*For correct pronunciation see useful websites under References.


Images: One person – © 2010 Joey Celis/Flickr/Getty Images; Two people – © Datacraft Co Ltd/imagenavi/Getty Images; Other images: AEF

Activity 3: Getting to know numbers

This activity assists students to develop a sense of numbers and their representations and show how numbers can be used and where they occur.

This activity is best represented in the classroom as a large collaboratively created wall chart or display. The purpose of the wall chart is to familiarise students with different representations and uses of numbers, different number names, meanings and contexts, and places in which numbers are found, such as in story books, nursery rhymes and price labels.

Different number representations

Stimulate student thinking about any number and its uses by exploring the number 3.

  1. Show students the enlarged Get to know three (on the right) or create a similar chart and display it on the wall. Provide students with their own copy for reference.
  2. Create a similar template for students to complete for Get to know 4, Get to know 5 and other numbers.
  3. This can be a class project with students contributing ideas, artefacts and drawings.
  4. Students choose the next theme number. There is no need for the numbers to be developed in order or sequence.
  5. Add to and maintain the display for a particular number for a period of time, such as for two or three weeks.
  6. Encourage students to add to the collection of materials that have a connection with each number. They could find and cut out pictures representing numbers from magazines.
  7. Draw on the different cultural backgrounds and resources of the students to make a richly multicultural display.

Task 2: Variations

  1. Add new areas of investigation as students become confident with the focus number. For example, make $3 using $1, $2, 50, 20 and 10 cent coins or make a word problem that has 3 as the answer.
  2. When changing the focus number, make an A4-sized version of the display to share with students before removing it. Collection of material for another number can begin at any time.
  3. Students may choose alternative names for the collection, such as 'Making friends with 3' or 'Go three!'
  4. A big display is beautiful, eye-catching and engaging, so make the display oversized and colourful.
  5. Make a class big book of your Get to know collections.


Images: Howard Reeves; Chinese dragon – L2F1/Flickr; ;other images: AEF

Activity 4: Count along

This activity develops students' counting skills through stories which provide an enjoyable context for learning.

Task 1: Two of everything

Two of Everything is a humorous Chinese folktale with a bit of wisdom, written by Lily Toy Hong and published by Albert Whitman & Company, Morton Grove, Illinois in 1993.

It may be used to stimulate discussions about pairs of objects and doubling, which have links with counting and the development of number language.

Synopsis: Old Mr Haktak finds a large brass pot while digging in his garden. He and his wife discover that the pot has magical powers and doubles everything that falls into it.

  1. Explain to the class that you will be reading them a folk tale that comes from China.
  2. Show the students where China is on a map of Asia.
  3. Display the cover of the story book, Two of Everything, and ask students to describe what they see. Ask them to think about the images and predict what the story might be about.
  4. Read the story to the class and discuss why the brass pot was 'magic'.
  5. Discuss what the main theme of the story is about. Ask students if they know of other stories with a similar theme; for example, The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
  6. Discuss whether they would like to have a 'magic pot' and ask students to give reasons for their answers.
  7. Place a 'magic pot' in front of the students. For example this may be a metal pot, a basket or a decorated cardboard box.
  8. Ask students to collect identical pairs of objects in the classroom but explain that they must not tell anyone what they have collected.
  9. Each student then tells a story about what happens when one of the pair is placed in the 'magic pot'. They conclude their story by revealing the identical pair. It is important to make sure that each pair of objects is identical in regard to colour, shape and other features so there is an element of class self-correction in the activity.

Task 2: Variations

  1. Ask students 'What would happen if ...?' questions. For example: What would happen if ...
    • I dropped a red cube into the pot
    • I dropped two marbles into the pot
    • I dropped four 10 cent coins into the pot?
  2. Add new investigations into doubling options as your students become more confident. For example:
    • What happens if I drop $1 in the pot and keep returning the money to the pot? For example: $1 becomes $2, $2 becomes $4 and so on.
    • How many times would I have to keep returning the money to the pot to have more than $10? ... $20? ... $100?

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

These activities focus on students saying, matching and/or recording numbers in order. Links to helpful resources which could be printed out and used in the classroom are provided below. Teachers and students are encouraged to develop new support materials as the students become familiar with the activities.

Activity 1: I'm here

This activity requires a large wall chart with the numbers from 1 up to the number of students in the class in the left-hand column, and space for student name tags to be attached in a column to the right of the numbers. The same chart can be used for a number of tasks as long as the numbers are not permanently attached.

Each student needs a name tag that can be attached to the chart.

Students sometimes take time to realise that counting objects is the same as counting the number of people. Some students can count saying the number words in the correct order, but may not realise that the final number in the count is the answer to the question: how many?

Teachers will need to assemble collections of items for counting. There should be one item per class member. Examples of collections include toys, blocks, coins, counters, and pictures generated by the students. When students become familiar with the activity they may be asked to suggest themes for the collections.

Teachers will also need a container for the items and an additional container for items to be moved to, and prepared line charts or grids. Classifications such as girl/boy, eye colour or birthday month can be used for the grids or line charts.

Teachers will also need individual number cards with the numbers from 1 to the number of students in the class that will be attached to the wall chart.

Activity 2: Recognising number representations

Teachers will need to create sets of number representations showing different representations of numbers from 1 to the number of students in the class. The representations could be a mixture of number names, numerals, tally marks, die faces, figurate numbers, ordinal numbers, number representations from different cultures and number names from different languages. Variations can be selected to reflect the different languages spoken by members of the class or the languages taught in the school.

A collection of card sets showing different representations of numbers from 1 to 6 allows the teacher to form up to six random groups of students for small group activities and can be worn by the students.

Activity 3: Getting to know numbers

This activity requires notice board space, poster paper for various displays, magazines, and equipment for cutting and pasting. Teachers will use Get to know three number representations and provide students with opportunities to explore number representations of other numbers.

Activity 4: Count along

Two of Everything is a humorous Chinese folk tale with a bit of wisdom, written by Lily Toy Hong and published by Albert Whitman & Company, Morton Grove, Illinois in 1993.

Other story books from a range of cultures and traditions feature counting. The story books used can be written in English or in a language that the students are learning or are familiar with. A list of story books is given below. Teachers can use the sets of counting items or number cards supplied, or develop sets to reflect the content of the stories being read.

Associated learning

The number recognition and recording activities allow the teacher to introduce, revisit and reinforce important numeracy concepts with students. Key concepts include a sense of number and numbers and their representations. Students develop an appreciation of the importance of numbers and counting through observation of the variety and frequency of their use in our daily lives. Looking at how numbers are written and said in other languages assists students to think about the shared concepts of number that transcend regional and cultural differences in the modern world.

Activities that reinforce number concepts are intended as a daily routine for the students. Most of the activities can be adapted to use an extended range of whole numbers to suit the needs and abilities of the class. Progressively students can take more responsibility for the selection of materials and the management of the activities, encouraging students to develop skills in working collaboratively and using a range of thinking processes.

Useful websites

There are many websites that provide information about counting in other languages.

  • Japan for Kids – learn about Japanese culture through craft ideas, games, colouring pages, and more. Includes a rap video which teaches students how to count to 20 in Japanese (ActivityVillage)
  • Japanese alphabets –an overview of the three Japanese alphabets (JessDoor)
  • Indonesian numbers 1–10 – online and print activities; includes answers and flashcards (State of Victoria Department of Education)

Story books for counting

There are many stories that can be read by or to students which develop counting skills. Further information can be found at Stories which develop numeracy.

Here is a selection of stories, including some online versions.

  • Griffiths, R & Clyne, M (1985), Books you can count on ... Linking mathematics and literature, Heinemann, Portsmouth, New York.
  • Davidson Mannis, C (2005), One leaf rides the wind, Puffin, New York – a 1 to 10 counting book using the elements of a traditional Japanese garden
  • Evans, L (2009), Can you vount ten toes? Count to 10 in 10 different languages, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Massachusetts – counting with numerals and phonetics
  • Bruce, L & Waterhouse, S (2001), Engines, engines, Bloomsbury, UK – counting decorated trains in Indian landscapes
  • Demi (1997), One grain of rice, Scholastic Print, New York – an Indian mathematical folk tale involving doubling grains of rice
  • Leibrich, J & Kinnaird, R (2004), The biggest number in the universe, Scholastic New Zealand Ltd, Auckland, NZ.
  • Baker, J (2006), One hungry spider, Scholastic Australia, Sydney.
  • Mckay, F & Orton, K (1993), Olwen twelve pockets, Ashton Scholastic, Auckland, NZ.
  • Macleod, M & Davey, J (1999), The Aussie 1 2 3, Mark Macleod Books/Hodder Headline, Australia.
  • Strickland, P (1997), Ten terrible dinosaurs, Puffin, Hong Kong.
  • Clement, R (1990), Counting on Frank, Collins Australia, Sydney.
  • Carl, E (1985), The very hungry caterpillar, Puffin, London.
  • Kings for Breakfast (Two Generous Kings) – an Indian folktale as told by Aaron Shepherd, a story about two kings and the importance of treating others fairly
  • The Legend of Au Co (The One Hundred Children) – a Vietnamese legend about the creation of Vietnam
  • Lon Po Po and the three children – a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood
  • Wang, G (2010), The race for the Chinese zodiac, Black Dog Books, Australia – how and why the Chinese zodiac animals are in the order they are in

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

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