Using a Counting Stick for the development and mastery of Mental Maths skills is a great teaching strategy in the classroom. It can be used for teaching many concepts in maths from the most basic to more complex operations. It can be used with all age groups from Junior Infants to sixth class. It is also a great visual aid for visual learners. Counting Sticks can be purchased commercially but it is quite easy to make one for yourself. We have made simple ones in school – just get a piece of wood one metre in length, divide it into 10cm strips and paint the strips in lots of colours or just two colours.

The Counting Stick can be used for all sorts of oral counting activities in the classroom. For example, the teacher holds the Counting Stick and points to the beginning of the stick on the right hand side (remembering that this is the left from the point of view of the pupils) and tells the pupils that this is 0; he then points to the left of the stick (the pupils’ right) and says that this is 10. Pupils then count, starting at 0 and continuing up to 10 with the teacher moving a finger to the end of each section as pupils call out the next number. Pupils can also be asked to count backwards starting from their right, from 10 back down to zero. This counting activity can be extended as pupils begin to master larger numbers. So the teacher could say that one end of the stick is 20 and the other end is 30 and ask pupils to use the stick to count from 20 to 30.

At the end of 2nd class, when pupils are beginning to learn repeated addition (skip counting), the Counting Stick can be useful to consolidate this concept. If pupils are counting in 2s, the teacher holds the stick and says that the right side of the stick is 0 and the left side of the stick is 20. The pupils then count 2, 4, 6, 8 etc. all the way up to 20 with the teacher moving his finger to the end of each section on the Counting Stick. Similarly, the teacher could say that one end of the stick is 0 and the other end is 100 and ask the pupils to count in 10s. Pupils could also be asked to count backwards using any number pattern.

In older classes where pupils are learning decimals, the teacher could say that one end of the Counting Stick is 0 and the other end is 1 and ask the pupils to count in decimals; so pupils would call out 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 etc. all the way up to 1. This activity can be repeated many times giving the pupils any two numbers and asking them to count in decimals between those two numbers.

The Counting Stick can also be used for adding activities. So, for example, if the teacher is teaching numbers that add up to ten, he could tell the pupils that one end of the stick is 0 and that the other end is 10. He could then place a finger at a certain point on the stick and ask the pupils what number that represents. Perhaps he places his finger at the end of the fourth section and pupils would say that this represents the number 4. The teacher then asks, pointing visually, what number added to 4 makes 10. So all sorts of combinations of numbers that make ten can be shown in this way. A similar activity can be done with any larger numbers.

The Counting Stick can be used in many other similar ways to help teach fractions, decimals, percentages. It is used to best effect when it is used little and often, perhaps for five minutes at the beginning of each maths lesson.

How do you use a Counting Stick? Share with others activities that you do with a Counting Stick by adding a comment below. If it’s your first time to comment on the site, your comment will not appear automatically until it’s been verified that the comment is not spam. After that, you’ll be able to comment as much as you wish.

Find the counting stick great for mental maths….

Variation: a hoola hoop is a circular version and is handy for mental work on the clock and for revising the months of the year. Also knew a teacher who used it to work on angles.

Use insulating tape to create the ‘strips of colour’.