How to Teach Skip Counting
Skip counting is an often underrated and underused math skill. Obviously, skip counting can help students learn their multiplication facts – but there’s actually so much more to skip counting than that. Many people don’t realize that skip counting goes beyond simply counting by 2s, 5s, etc. If you aren’t sure how to teach skip counting effectively, then keep reading for some tips and strategies.
Why Teach Skip Counting?
Skip counting is more than just a quick way to count equal groups and a strategy for learning times tables. Being able to quickly and fluently skip count is also an important part of building number sense because it helps students to see patterns with numbers.
The definition of skip counting is counting forward by numbers other than 1. So, instead of saying numbers in sequential order, you are “skipping” a certain amount of numbers each time. Common examples of this include reciting your times tables, such as 2, 4, 6, 8 or 5, 10, 15, 20.
However, skip counting can be non-traditional, too. It does not have to start at 0, which often looks a little different. For example, counting by 7s can look like this:
7, 14, 21, 28, 35…
Or it can look like this:
10, 17, 24, 31, 38…
We instantly recognize the first example as counting by 7s because that is the 7s pattern we are most familiar with. But the second example, while less traditional, is still counting by 7s. As a teacher, you probably understand this, but do your students? The goal is to make the second example just as normal and easily identifiable as the first.
It is incredibly important that students understand that skip counting does not have to start at 0. Being able to recognize number patterns will help them tremendously with their fluency and flexibility with numbers.
Likewise, it is also important that students understand that we can skip count backwards as well. Students should be able to seamlessly switch from counting forward to backward to forward again. Again, this helps with their fluency and flexibility with numbers.
How to Teach Skip Counting – Best Practices
If you’re ready to get serious about teaching skip counting in your classroom, here are some suggestions for doing this in the most effective way.
It may seem excessive, but it’s really great practice! It doesn’t have to take a long time. Simply working in a few minutes of skip counting drills or activities each day can make a huge impact. (Keep reading for one of my favorite skip counting activities!).
Start off with easier skip counting drills, and as students become more fluent, make them harder. You can make them harder by changing the amount they are counting by, starting with a more complicated number, or counting backward instead of forward.
Start with Random Numbers
Starting from 0 is pretty basic. Even starting from friendly numbers like 10 or 100 isn’t going to have as much of an impact as starting from, say, 274. Yes, it’s harder – but that’s why it’s more effective. Students actually have to think about what the answer is instead of simply reciting it. And yes, automaticity is the goal – but we can’t reach automaticity without lots and lots of practice! Instead of going with what’s already automatic, practice what isn’t.
Eventually students will start to see patterns. Skip counting always follows the same pattern, no matter what number you start with. For example, let’s look at counting by 8s, starting with 0:
0, 8, 16, 24, 32, 40, 48…
Now, also counting by 8s, starting with 112:
112, 120, 128, 136, 144, 152, 160…
Do you notice a pattern? I do. The ending number follows the same pattern: 0, 8, 6, 4, 2, 0, 8…
Obviously, starting with an odd versus an even number can change the pattern, but there is still a pattern nonetheless.
1, 9, 17, 25, 33, 41, 49…
113, 121, 129, 137, 145, 153, 161…
Again, there is a pattern of the numbers ending in 1, 9, 7, 5, and 3 in that order no matter which number we start with. Encourage students to recognize these number patterns to help them develop skip counting automaticity.
Practice Counting Forward and Backward
Skip counting works both ways, so we should be practicing both ways. Being able to seamlessly transition between the two is an impressive skill, and also helps students become more automatic with their skip counting.
While practicing skip counting, teach your students to pay attention to you as they count. Give them a number to count by and a number to start with. Then, signal with your hand whether they are counting forward or backward (for example, pointing up indicates forward, and down indicates backward).
As they count, change the direction by which they are counting several times. Specifically, focus on when they are switching to a new ten or hundred as those can be particularly tricky! (They get the ones pattern down pretty quickly – it’s the tens and hundreds that trip them up!)
I would often run my students through those trouble spots several times before continuing. For example, while practicing skip counting, you might hear my students say:
51, 61, 71, 81, 91, 101, 91, 81, 91, 101, 111, 101, 91, 101, 111, 121, 111, 101, 91
It sounds really silly, but that 91-101-111 transition is difficult for them! Especially if the numbers don’t end in 0. Often when we reach a new 10 or 100, they want to switch to ending the numbers in 0. So, work those areas until they get it down!
My Favorite Skip Counting Activity
Regularly practicing skip counting is important, but it can get tedious doing the same thing over and over again. Here is one of my favorite skip counting activities that can be used to help switch up how your students practice each day.
How to Play Sparkle
Sparkle is one of my favorite games to use in the classroom. It can be used in many different subjects in a variety of ways, and is commonly used for practicing spelling words. It can also be used for skip counting practice as well. Here’s how to play Sparkle with skip counting:
- Before starting, determine what you will have students count by, the number they will start with, and the number they will end with (if you want a set end point). You also need to determine your “sparkle” numbers, which are basically little stopping points along the way. For example, you may choose to have your “sparkle” numbers be every tenth number. You may wish to list your sparkle numbers on the board for students to see. (For example, if counting by 2s starting with 0 and going up to 100, your sparkle numbers could be 20, 40, 60, 80, and 100).
- All students stand.
- The first student begins by saying the first number in the sequence. The next student says the next number, and so on.
- When a student says one of the “sparkle” numbers, the next student should say “sparkle” instead of the next number. When a student says “sparkle,” the next student whose turn it is is automatically out and sits down. Then, the pattern picks up where it left off with the next student.
- If a student says the wrong number or says “sparkle” at the wrong time (or doesn’t say it at the right time), they are also out.
- Repeat until there is one student standing.
If you assign an end number to your skip counting sequence, then it is possible the game will end before you have one winner. In this case, you can either declare multiple winners or start again with a new sequence.
I hope these strategies and tips have been helpful to you as you navigate how to teach word problems!