Fun Review of Basic Math Facts – learning addition through the use of beans, and other teaching tips

Fun Review of Basic Math Facts – learning addition through the use of beans, and other teaching tips – Brief Article

Bob Krech

Kick off the year getting K-3 students to discover or review basic addition facts. Here’s an activity to help them learn in an engaging and meaningful way while creating a reference chart that you can use all year.


* Two 16-ounce packages of dried lima beans (20 beans for each child)

* Self-sealing sandwich-sized plastic bags (one per child)

* Red spray paint

* Chart paper and glue


* Empty the bags of beans onto a sheet of newspaper.

* Use the red spray paint to color one side of the beans. Leave the other sides white.

* After the beans dry, count 20 into each plastic bag.


1. Give each student a bag of beans. Allow about 10 minutes of free time.

2. Ask students to put 10 beans in their hands and, at a signal from you, spill the beans on their desks. As the beans scatter, some will land with the white side up and others with red.

3. Ask each student to describe his or her pile of beans. For example, one might say, “I have six reds and four whites.” Another might have five whites and five reds. Ask: “What is the same about all of the arrangements?” (Each contains 10 beans.)

4. Have students draw their arrangements using a red crayon and a “Fact Finders” sheet (see illustration, top left). Under each illustration they should write the equation, or fact, that describes the groups of beans and their sum (e.g., 6 + 4 = 10).

5. After looking at the illustrations, ask: “How many different addition facts are there with a sum of 10? Did we find them all? Are there any others you can show that we might have missed?” Students can use their beans to demonstrate any additional facts.

6. Explain that you will be collecting the “Fact Finders” sheets and using them to make a facts chart. Glue one sample onto the chart paper (see illustration, bottom left).

7. Move on to other target numbers, asking students to spill 12, 15, or 20 beans. The evolving pattern of facts will becomes apparent as you build the chart through the highest sums you wish to investigate.

By physically making math facts, kids learn the process, from physical to pictorial and, finally, symbolic representations of the same concept.

For similar activities, see Mary Barratta-Lorton’s Math Their Way (1994) for K-1, and Workjobs: Activity-Centered Learning for Early Childhood (1987) for Grades 2-3. Both are published by Addison-Wesley.

Bob Krech, an Instructor teacher-adviser, has been an elementary-school teacher for 20 years.

Beginning Your 100th-Day Count

Counting Magic

Math Standards: Measurement; Patterns and Relationships

As you count up to the 100th day of school with your class, throw in a little magic! Locate a small box of any kind to use for your “Magic Penny Box.” Let students take turns placing a penny in the box for each day they are in school. On the 10th day, the children will be surprised to see that the 10 pennies have been turned into a dime. Take this opportunity to teach that two nickels also equal one dime. As the year goes on, children see a pattern–that magic occurs only on days ending in zero. The biggest surprise comes on the 100th day, when 10 dimes disappear and a one-dollar bill or gold coin dollar is found in the box!

Karen Ferretti

J.H. McGaugh Elementary School, Seal Beach, CA

Tip: For older students, “magic” can begin to occur on day five, when five pennies are replaced by one nickel.

Daily Equations

Math Standards: Mathematics as Problem Solving; Mathematical Connections

Challenge your students to develop equations based on the “number of the day.” This “number” can either be the date or the numeral to represent the number of days you have been in school. For example, if it is day 17, students might suggest: 10 + 7 = 17

3 + 14 = 17,

3 x 4 + 5 = 17

100 – 90 + 7 = 17

Record all equations on the chalkboard.

In this five-minute activity, children can be introduced to math concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, associative and commutative principles, the power of zero, number patterns, and the importance of writing operation signs clearly.

Marianne Chang

A.L. Schilling Elementary School, Newark, CA

Natalie Vaughan

Phoenix School, Encinitas, CA

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