Here’s an Easy Way to Incorporate Subitizing into Your Math Routine

Subitizing – if you teach elementary math you’ve probably heard this word, but may be unsure of what it actually means or how it can be used effectively in the classroom. Before I get into the definition of subitizing and tips for using it to help your students build number sense, let’s try a couple of fun activities.

Let me ask you a question. How many do you see?



Now I want you to think about how you saw them. Chances are good that you didn’t count them one by one. Did you see 4 groups of 3? 2 groups of 6? Are there any other ways you can see them?


subitizing image



Let’s try another one.

How did you see them this time? Do you see 4 diagonal groups of 3? Do you see 3 horizontal rows of 4? Maybe you saw 2 groups of 6. Are there any other ways you can see them?

What you just did is called subitizing. You recognized a quantity of objects without counting them one by one.

When you practice subitizing, you become a flexible thinker, realizing that there are many different ways to make a number. You also build a strong foundation for number sense as you visualize numbers in different ways.

Subitizing is common in kindergarten and grade 1, but did you know it can be just as beneficial to students in older grades? Imagine the conversations you might have with a class of grade 3 or 4 students using subitizing images like this:

subitizing with multiplication



Or what about the conversations you might have with a grade 5 or 6 class using a visual like this?

subitizing with fractions


Research supports the relationship between subitizing and strong number sense. But it can be a difficult routine to implement if you don’t have the proper visuals available to you.

Dot Talks are here to support you as you implement this routine in your classroom and work to close the number sense gaps that your students may be struggling with.

Dot Talks are intended as a whole-class, low-floor high-ceiling activity that will get even your most reluctant students involved. There is no wrong answer, as long as you can justify it!

subitizing dot talks


Simple Tips for Getting Started Subitizing with Dot Talks

Begin with visuals that seem “too easy.”

Even though you might think the visuals look too easy, it can be fascinating to hear how different students see the dots. This is also an opportunity to begin with something that seems “low-risk” to students who don’t generally participate in classroom discussions. As students get better at subitizing, use slides with more dots or more complex patterns.


Consider leaving images on the screen before getting into Quick Looks

Often, subitizing activities are done as quick looks. This means that the teacher flashes the image for the students, giving them enough time to see it, but not enough time to count the dots one by one.

But when you first introduce subitizing to your class, you may want to simply leave the dot image on the screen and have a discussion about different ways to see the dots. Then move to quick looks once students are comfortable.


Use Dot Talks as a way to ease into number talks.

If you plan to implement number talks this year for the first time, it can be intimidating to get started. Dot talks are a great way to ease into the number talk routine. It only takes 5 minutes, and your students will beg to do more! When you are ready to get into more complex math talks, your students will be used to the routine and more willing to participate.


About the Dot Talks Subitizing Routine

Using Dot Talks for your subitizing routine will help your students:

  • build number sense
  • visualize numbers and strategies
  • become strategic and flexible thinkers
  • boost math confidence

Dot Talks are available in three different grade level packages and can be found here (be sure to download the free previews using the links below for an in depth look at what’s included):


Or grab them as part of a Number Talk Bundle along with Math Conversations to have your entire year of Math Talks planned out (no prep required)!

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