K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education


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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • demonstrate an understanding of basic addition and subtraction methods.
  • demonstrate an understanding of ordinal numbers.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

2 days


  • Ten teddy Bear counters (per student)
  • One “Cave”-shaped workmat (per student)
  • One “Cave”-shaped workmat made on transparency film
  • Ten Bear-shaped overhead counters

Technology resources

Multimedia projector or overhead projector


The day before this activity you should put ten teddy Bear counters of assorted colors in a snack sized Ziploc bag for each student. Laminate “Cave” shaped workmats for future use.


Day one

  1. Give the children a cave-shaped workmat and 10 teddy bear counters each.
  2. Tell the students that they will use bear counters to solve addition problems. Then direct the children’s attention to the projector.
  3. Begin your lesson by modeling one problem for the children with the projector and screen. Say, “I see three bears in a cave.” (Project three counters in a straight line.) “Then four more bears come into the cave.” (Put four more bears on the screen so that you have seven bears in a straight line.) “How many bears are in the cave?”
  4. After the children answer, direct them to the seven bears in the cave. Ask, “What color bear is first in line, fifth in line?” and so on.
  5. Instruct the children to take their counters out of the ziplock bags and put the bears in a straight line across the top of their desks. Ask, “How many bears do you have on your desk?” (Wait for a response.)
  6. Then ask various children what color bears they have first in line, third in line, and so on. (Try to give each child a chance.)
  7. Tell the children that they will now use their bear counters and caves to solve addition problems and tell the ordinal position of the bears in the cave. Now say, “Five bears are asleep in a cave.” (Have the children place five counters on their workmats.) “Two more bears decide to take a nap in the cave.” (Have the children place two more counters on their cave-shaped workmats.) “How many bears are sleeping in the cave?” (Wait for a response.)
  8. After the children respond, ask about ordinal position. Continue to make up your own problems.
  9. When you are ready to close this lesson, tell the children to put the counters back in the ziplock bags.
  10. Once all counters are in the bags, direct the children’s attention back to the board. Solve problems together on the board. (Don’t forget to ask about ordinal position.)

Day two

  1. Begin Day two the same as Day one. However, instead of solving addition problems, you will solve subtraction problems. You may also want to begin with all the bears in the cave. For example, “Bryce saw ten bears in a cave. Two bears left to find food. How many bears are left in the cave?”
  2. You may close the lesson the same as Day one. (Make sure that you incorporate ordinal numbers.)


  • You may want to expand your assessment over a two-day period, so that you can assess the children individually.
  • The children will model an addition and subtraction story using counters. (Allow the children to tell their own math stories.)
  • To assess ordinal numbers, allow the children to put the counters in a straight line or (to save time) have the counters in a straight line and ask about the ordinal position.

Supplemental information


These lessons will take 30-45 minutes. You could also use cooperative groups when implementing these lessons or solve problems on the board and allow the students to write the equation. Students really become involved in the lesson when you use their names in the problems.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • Mathematics (2010)
      • Grade 1

        • Operations & Algebraic Thinking
          • 1.OAT.1 Use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations with a symbol...
          • 1.OAT.2 Solve word problems that call for addition of three whole numbers whose sum is less than or equal to 20, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.
      • Kindergarten

        • Counting & Cardinality
          • K.CC.4Understand the relationship between numbers and quantities; connect counting to cardinality. When counting objects, say the number names in the standard order, pairing each object with one and only one number name and each number name with one and only...
          • K.CC.5Count 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.
        • Operations & Algebraic Thinking
          • K.OAT.1Represent addition and subtraction with objects, fingers, mental images, drawings1, sounds (e.g., claps), acting out situations, verbal explanations, expressions, or equations.
          • K.OAT.2Solve addition and subtraction word problems, and add and subtract within 10, e.g., by using objects or drawings to represent the problem.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Mathematics (2004)

Grade 1

  • Goal 1: Number and Operations - The learner will read, write, and model whole numbers through 99 and compute with whole numbers.
    • Objective 1.03: Develop fluency with single-digit addition and corresponding differences using strategies such as modeling, composing and decomposing quantities, using doubles, and making tens.
    • Objective 1.04: Create, model, and solve problems that use addition, subtraction, and fair shares (between two or three).