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ZERO: A fun book and some great activities for teaching numbers all the way from basic counting to place value!

Updated on March 16, 2012

I love to use literature to teach math whenever I can.  At the beginning of each year I choose a math book and use it to review and assess basic skills.  This accomplishes two things.  One it lets me see where kids are at and what we need to work on to accomplish our math goals for the year and two, it lets us start off math in a fun engaging way. Here is the book I found for this year, it is my very favorite yet!


The illustrations are amazing and the story is great not only for counting and place value, but for a review of how we all have value!

Supplies For This Math Project
Book: Zero by Kathryn Otoshi
2 Set of Math Cards 1-9
9, "0" cards
My middle girl doing her "number walk"
My middle girl doing her "number walk"
My oldest "adding value"
My oldest "adding value"
My girls playing "number up and down"
My girls playing "number up and down"
What to do With the Other Kids Waiting Their Turn
Give each child a white board or piece of paper to write down the numbers as you call them out
Give each child a set of number cards to hold up their own number as you call it out
Encourage them to count out loud with the players whenever possible

Here's how we used the book for our first week of math. (I currently have a kiddo in kindergarten and one in third grade. We did this project together and they both really enjoyed it, you could do this in small group or with a whole class as well.)

Read the Book:

1. Give a brief introduction to the book explaining that there are some really special words in this book and that they might mean more than one thing! Then explain that the author did the illustrations as well and came up with a fun way for kids to notice these special words. Challenge your kids to notice the words and to think about what the words might mean.

2. Read the book out loud. Be sure to hold the book so kids can see the book. Stop often to enjoy the illustrations and point out how they really give readers clues about the story. Notice the words "count" and "value" and talk about how they have more than one meaning in this story. Count means not only to put numbers in order, but also to matter or to be important. Value means not only what the number stands for, but also that it is important. Enjoy the book and the story together. Then tell the kids you'll be using this story to think about math some more.

Use the book: We used the book to play these three games. I made my own number cards by simply writing numbers on a 3x5 card but you can buy number cards as well.

"Number Run and Do" (number recognition and number association)

1. Lay your number cards 0-9 out in an open area in random order.

2. Tell your kids that the cards are your tools for today's game. (I remind me to be gentle with them, to stand beside, not on them.)

3. Explain that you will call out a number and then a child's name. No one moves unless their name is called.

4. When their name is called, they are to run and stand beside the number you called out.

5. Once they arrive at that number they are to hop that many times. As they hop the other kids count out loud with them.

6. Play so that everyone gets several turns. You can change the action as many times as you like. You can also let other kids do the number calling and you call out the names.

7. As you play you'll notice who is confident with the numbers and what they look like (number recognition, and who is able to associate what that number means-by doing the corresponding number of hops.)

"Add Some Value" (counting, place value)

1. You will again need number cards. This time line them up in number order from 1 to 9 across your playing area leaving a little space between each card.

2. You can have your kids do this one at a time or in pairs, if you do pairs have them stand side by side so the number line is in front of them.

3. The first time you'll do a number walk, by simply walking down the line and saying each number out loud as you pass it.

4. As you do this point out that these numbers are "single digit", there is only one number and it means just that number. (This is easier demonstrated by picking up a number, counting out that many blocks and saying 7 all by itself really means, 7 of something.)

5. Then tell the kids that just like in the book, you are going to use 0 to add value to these numbers.

6. Start at the 1 and put the 0 card behind it, ask the kids what number that is, 10.

7. Then remind them that it's not a "single digit" number any more, now there are 2 numbers each in a special place that are working together to make a new number.

8. Explain that the 0 is in the one's place. The 1 is in the tens place. That means that there is one group of 10 and no ones.

9. Go down the line adding a zero to each number and saying it's "new" name 20, 30, etc until you get to 90.

10. Remind the kids that they'll learn more about this later, but that in math each number matters and each has a special place where it adds value to a number.

"Up and Down Numbers" (comparing number value)

1. You'll need two sets of cards 1-9 for this game and then 9, 0 cards.

2. Line the cards up in random order in your playing area. Make sure you have the single digit numbers 1-9 and then the 2 digit numbers 10-90.

3. Explain to the kids that while lots of these numbers look the same, the zero makes some have more value then others.

4. You'll call two kids at a time. Send one to the single digit number (2) and the other to the 2 digit number (20).

5. After the kids are there say "Number up and down!"

6. The child on the number with less value will crouch down and the child with the higher value number will reach high.

7. Play several times and remind the kids that zero at the ends adds value because it puts the other number in the 10's place which makes it worth more.

8. If you are playing with older kids you can mix the 2-digit numbers so the comparing is a little harder!

Here are some more great ideas for teaching place value!

By reading and playing together you can relieve some of the "math anxiety" the beginning of the year can bring and set a precedent for learning together in a fun way where everyone has something value to add!


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Just cause it's simple doesn't mean it's not super hellufp.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Great review of a math book!

    • whitneyz profile image


      7 years ago from Crown Point, IN

      These are really great! Very creative and fun!


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