Counting On: An Addition Strategy

the counting on strategy for addition


Counting On is a beginning mental math strategy for addition. It is generally taught as an introductory mental math strategy and is usually very easy for students to grasp. The chances are good that some or many of your students are already using this strategy without knowing it.

Counting on means that you start with the biggest number in an equation, and then count up from there. For example, to add 5+3, you want students to start with the “5” in their heads, and then count up, “6, 7, 8.” This is to discourage students from counting like this: “1, 2, 3, 4, 5…..6, 7, 8.”

It is also important to reinforce the commutative property of addition when teaching this strategy. For example, even if students are adding “2+6,” they still should start with the bigger number. In this case we would start with “6” and count up “7, 8.”

The counting on strategy should only be used for adding 1, 2, 3, or 4 to a larger number. If students try to count on with numbers higher than 4, it gets too confusing, and mistakes happen. For example, if a student tried to count on to add 15+12, he would say, “15,” and then count on: “16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27.” This is a very ineffective way to add and should not be encouraged.

Once students learn other, more advanced, addition strategies, counting on will slowly be phased out of your students “addition toolbox.” But it IS an effective beginning addition strategy for young students.




Here are some ideas for how you can reinforce the counting on strategy in your classroom. I have also included a free download to practice this concept at the end of this post.


When first beginning to teach counting on, dot patterns can be an effective tool. Encourage your students to say the big number and then count on from there using the dots. For example, for the first example shown below, your students should say, “19,” and then count on: “20, 21.”



To use a 10 frame, students can represent the equation with two different symbols or colors.



Number lines are a fantastic tool for so many math concepts, so getting students started using them for beginning addition is a great idea. Encourage students to write the highest number and then use “jumps” to count on the smaller number. For the equation shown below – 27+2, students would first write the 27 and then make two jumps to make a sum of 29.





  • If you would like full support for teaching addition strategies in your classroom, check out The Addition Station HERE.
  • Download a FREE activity sheet for practicing the counting on strategy HERE.

counting on strategy task cards

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