Friday, October 17, 2014

Math and Literacy DIY Manipulatives

Counting sticks can be used when teaching phonemic awareness skills and math skills too.  About 4 years ago, I was walking through a craft store looking for pony beads to make counting sticks.  Down the aisle I saw something that caught me eye. Biggie Beads!!!! Have you seen them?  We made them during one of my math sessions at a conference in Illinois on Wednesday, and I said I would share them on my blog as a reminder too.  

They are absolutely my favorite counting manipulative.  Hands down.  They are great for fine motor, slide easier, and line up to compare and contrast with friends.  Here are a few ways that I use them to teach and assess  in whole group, small group, and independent centers.

Disclosure:  Amazon links are included in this post.


I make a counting stick for each child.  These are similar to rekenreks, except they just have one row.  They are a great way to have your children working within 10.  Be sure and sign up by email at the top right corner of my blog, so you don't miss how I make rekenreks with paint sticks. I will be sharing that in my next post.

  1. Large craft stick
  2. 1 pipe cleaner
  3. Biggie Beads
  4. Choose 2 colors and use 5 each.
  5. Refer to picture above.
  6. Glue gun

I've shown 2 different samples to illustrate how they can be made.  You can drill a small hole in each end of the popsicle stick as above or use a glue gun to glue the pipe cleaner at the ends as in the picture below.  I've used the ones below for several years then talked my husband into drilling the holes in the ones above.  Either way works just fine.


The beads are divided into groups of five.  After lots of practice counting the beads one by one, children will transfer over into understanding that the first set is 5 and then they add on with the other.  

For example, in the picture above there are 5 orange beads and 1 blue bead representing the six on the card.  Subitizing is the ability for children to know the number (how many objects in a set) without counting.  These counting sticks give our children meaningful experiences that will help with subtilizing.

  • Slide the beads to the right to begin.
  • Slide the beads to the left to count.
  • Choose a number.
  • Slide one bead for each number counted.
  • This helps children with one-to-one correspondence.

Young children learn to recognize numerals.  Number sense is when they understand that a number represents a set of objects counted.  For example, the numeral 6 could represent 6 buttons counted. Use a deck of cards or write the numbers 1-10 on small pieces of paper.

  • Slide the beads to the right to begin.
  • Children draw a card.
  • Children say the numeral.
  • Children slide the number of beads to the left to match the numeral on the card.
  • Most children will count one-to-one as they represent the number.
  • After lots of opportunity to practice, they will understand that they can move 5 beads over at one time and then count on one more to get to 6.

  • Roll a die. If you roll a 6, roll again.
  • Slide the number of beads to the left to match the number on the dice.
  • Roll the die again. 
  • Slide the number of beads to the left.
  • What is the answer?

  • Slide the beads to the left.
  • Draw a card.
  • Side the number of beads to match the number on the card to the right.
  • What is the answer?  
  • For example. Child draws a 6. 
  • Child slides six beads to the left.  
  • 4 beads are remaining. 
  • The answer is 4.

I pass these out during whole group time when we are working on story problems.  It keeps all of the children engaged and gives them a hands-on tool for adding and subtracting.
  • Slide the beads to the right to begin an addition problem.
  • Slide the beads to the left to begin a subtraction problem.
  • Example:  Kathy had pumpkins. (Children slide 2 beads to the left.)
  • Josh had 4 pumpkins.  (Children slide 4 beads to the left.)
  • How many pumpkins did they have altogether? (Children count the total).
  • Use the sticks to check for understanding.  
  • Make all the sticks the same so you can quickly check to see if the children have the correct answer.
  • Adjust as needed.
  • Have the students turn and share their sticks to compare their answers.
  • Children can record their thinking drawing a line for the counting stick and  putting circles on the sticks to represent the beads. 
  • Children can color in their beads to match their story problem or to represent a number.


I make separate phonemic awareness sticks as show in the picture above.  I choose 5 different colors from the Biggie Beads and put them in the same order.  This way you can teach and quick assess too to check for understanding of the concepts being taught by looking at the color to match the count.


Gather objects to use for syllable counting.  I like to use shapes too as it is a bonus for working with shapes and counting syllables.

  • Slide the beads to the right.
  • Touch the object and say the word.
  • Children repeat the word and slide a bead for each syllable.
  • Example:  square, heart = 1 syllable - Children would slide the purple bead to the left showing one syllable.
  • Example:  circle, oval = 2 syllables - Children would slide the purple bead for the 1st syllable and then the pink bead for the 2nd syllable.
  • Example:  triangle, hexagon = 3 syllables - Children would slide the purple for the 1st syllable, the pink for the 2nd syllable, and the yellow for the 3rd syllable.

Uses these sticks to work on blending and segmenting phonemes.  I use concrete objects that have 3 phonemes to put on my teaching table or in a literacy tub.  You can use picture cards too.

  • Slide the beads to the right to begin.
  • Say the individual sounds of a CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) word.
  • Children move a bead to the left for each sound.
  • Children blend the sounds together to make the word.
  • For example:  "c" move the purple bead, "a" move the pink bead, "t" move the yellow bead.
Here are some examples of CVC words:
  • bat, hat, mat, pat, sat
  • top, mop, hop
  • bug, rug, dug, hug
  • wet, vet, get
  • dip, hip, lip, sip
  • Slide the beads to the right to begin.
  • Pick an object or draw a card.
  • Name the object.
  • Children stretch out the word by moving one bead for each sound.
  • Example: cat = c-a-t
  • Using the picture above they would have moved the purple for the "c," the pink for the "a" and the yellow for the "t."
Perler BIGGIE Fun Fusion Fuse Bead Bucket-Assorted Colors

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