What is One-to-One Correspondence? How to Teach through Activities.

1 to 1 correspondence is one of the foundational skills that young children need for beginning counting and math skills such as adding, subtracting and other math concepts. Young children with math skills including 1 to 1 correspondence are more successful later on in math and understanding math concepts.

1 to 1 correspondence is very important for young children to learn!

This article is for teachers and parents alike . Sometimes the jargon of teaching can weigh down what skills are needed to learn, but this is a simple skill to understand and part of the counting process for math.

What is 1 to 1 Correspondence?

1 to 1 correspondence combines the skill of rote or sequential counting to count objects one at a time with only one object counted per a sequential number. For instance, if you are counting blocks, point at the first block and say ‘1’ and repeat the process counting up per a block counted.

1:1 correspondence is one of the key components for counting. Counting is actually an involved process with many skills needed to accurately count objects.

To learn about the counting process, check out this article:

For adults that have mastered counting, the process sounds simple. However, 1:1 correspondence and counting takes practice and time to master.

This article will point out some learning strategies and common pitfalls along with activities and ideas to practice counting with 1 to 1 correspondence.

The more you practice a skill – the better you become at the skill.

Give your child lots of opportunity to practice with fun activities and they won’t even realize that they are learning!

What Skills Are Needed Before Learning 1 to 1 Correspondence?

Young children need basic number sense up to at least the number 5. This includes knowing the sequence of numbers, or rote counting, from 1-5 and understanding that objects can be counted to acquire the total set. This principle is known as cardinality and is another component of counting.

To learn more about cardinality and beginning counting….

Rote counting is saying numbers in order starting with the number 1 – that is usually the number children start counting from at the beginning. Children don’t have to count things like blocks, just know the sequence of numbers ‘1, 2, 3, 4….’

Many children begin rote counting at a young age due to the exposure to simple rote counting at a young age. Before beginning 1:1 correspondence, children should be rote counting, just saying the sequence of numbers, to at least about 5 on their own.

How to Begin Teaching One To One Correspondence

One to One Correspondence is the rule that each object is one number. Simple enough? This principle can actually be very tricky for learners to master.

In order to find out that number, we must teach them the numerical sequence – rote counting – and that each object is ONE number in the sequence. It is understanding that one number in a sequence goes with each thing that you are counting. Each is worth the same – one!

Remember, this is not a one day activity to teach young children the skill of one to one correspondence, it’s a process of learning counting and early numeracy. This will not happen overnight or even over a couple weeks. These skills are the foundation of future math skills and take time to learn and axquire the skills to count and basic number sense.

Time Out: A Counting Problem For You. Developing Strategies from More Complex Problems.

While we are concerned with teaching children learning strategies, sometimes that best way to devise teaching strategies is to solve a complex problem so that we can recognize and utilize learning strategies.

We see a pile of rocks and know that there are 5 rocks – probably without even counting or employing any strategies. However, this level of mastery doesn’t help teach young children the strategies they need to master counting with 1:1 correspondence.

Let’s tackle a similar but more difficult problem and see what strategies we use in order to the solve the problem.

Given the picture above, how many rocks/seashells or other objects do you see?

Right away, we know from “how many” that we need to count the objects in the picture. However, we want to come up with strategies to count the rocks, so a rephrase of the question might be:

Presented with these objects, what strategies would you use to make sure that you counted all of the objects?

Because most of the opportunities for counting with young children are everyday objects and can be manipulated or moved, I would like to explore methods or strategies which ….

Some of the strategies might include:

  1. After counting an object, moving the object to another pile
  2. Putting the objects in a line and counting each object by point at the objects down the line.
  3. Marking pieces with a pen or market after counting.
  4. Counting left to right or up to down very carefully – pointing at each piece while counting.
  5. Separate the objects into groups such as 10 and then skip counting each group. This strategy is often used for counting money.

Some of these counting strategies we will use with young children, while some are more advanced and could be used to count faster as children mature in their math skills.

How To Start Teaching 1 To 1 Correspondence

When children can count to probably at least 5 by rote, then they are ready to start practising 1 to 1 correspondence. Please remember, this will not happen over night! It is more of a process than an event.

There are some excellent simple things you can do regularly that get them going.

Learning Strategies for 1:1 Correspondence

Just like the more complex problem above, the strategies for young children to begin counting objects is very similar.

Strategy 1: Point at each object

This strategy is self-explanatory. Pointing provides tracking of the object with movement. Use an index finger and point to each object as you count them. Pointing is an excellent strategy and can be combined with other strategies to count objects.

Strategy 2: Move Objects into a Line

Most of the time, counting objects like blocks presents a problem with organization. How best should children organize the blocks to count them? Lining up the blocks from a random pile into a straight line provides that organizational piece to help them in counting.

Young children can create a line, then count from left to right using pointing as well.

Strategy 3: Move objects into another pile after counting

Another organizational strategy for counting objects is to move the object from the original position into a pile of objects that have been counted. This creates organization from the non-counted blocks to the counted ones.

Strategy 4: Use rhythm to count

With my experience with early learners, I have seen many early counters, either count way too fast or too slow and lose the number from their executive or working memory. One way to enforce a good pace for counting is to count to a rhythm. This strategy works well with small groups as well.

Using rhythm usually incorporates some movement as well which creates a fun multisensory activity as well. Teachers can use clapping, head nodding, small bounces, clapping or even a musical instrument to create a rhythm for children to count with on the beat.

Again this same rhythm can be encouraged with independent counting practice by modeling the effective technique for counting objects in play.

Strategy 5: Count left to right using pointing (more complex)

For more advanced counters in early learning, they can benefit from other strategies to help them count faster and more efficiently. Counting left to right is an easy strategy to employ and is faster than some of the other strategies. Pointing and using rhythm are still excellent strategies to use in conjunction with this strategy.

Strategy 6: Move objects into sets and then count (more complex)

As young learners become better at counting objects, new strategies can be employed to help them count larger amount of objects while being accurate with counting.

One of these strategies is to group objects into sets such as 10, and then skip count by 10.

Again, this requires a few additional skills include understanding sets and skip counting as well.

We explore counting with sets here.


Modeling the Learning Strategies for 1:1 Correspondence

Modeling is important to teach these strategies

Whenever you try out any of the four strategies I’ve just outlined, there is a process to through which looks a bit like this:

Step 1– The adult shows how to count using the strategies mentioned above such as pointing to each object while counting the set of objects.

Step 2 – The next phase involves childrens’ participation. Having them point with you as you count or help with the rhythm of counting.

Step 3 – The young learner begins counting on their own with some help from the adult. Adults may still need to choose the strategies for the children, but children should be more independent as practice continues.

Step 4 – The young learner counts objects independently – but might need an occassional reminder. Because let’s face it – we all do every once in a while.

These steps sound simple, however, they can takes weeks, month or years. Don’t force the strategies. Make it fun, light hearted and incorporate into everyday activities.

Incorporating Counting and 1:1 Correspondence into Daily Activities

There are some easy and great ways to include counting and 1:1 Correspondence into everyday activities. Remember – practice, practice, practice!

Counting Stairs

I started counting stairs when my babies were tiny and just continued everyday. That house had 14 stairs btw. This is an easy activity to incorporate a few times a day.

At first, the focus should be on just counting and not necessarily the 1:1 correspondence with the steps, but as children begin to count try to focus more on one number per a step. Added bonus is the natural rhythm of climbing and descending stairs.

Counting Toys

Counting during play time is very easy to incorporate daily – often times a few times a day. Naturally times to count toys:

  • Putting toys away, especially blocks
  • Counting toes and fingers on dolls or action figures
  • Counting the number of bins or baskets or toys
  • Playing counting games like Hi-Ho Cherrio
  • Counting cars that are about to race or as they finish

Remember to point and use other strategies when counting toys and other objects.


Counting Outdoor Objects

Counting objects through the day is simple and fun way to practice counting. Going for walks, playing at the park or just being outside presents great opportunities to learn about the world around us and even practice counting.

  1. Flowers
  2. Cracks on the sidewalk
  3. Cars
  4. Birds
  5. Cars
  6. Leaves
  7. Houses
  8. Different items on the playground or in the park

Some of these counting opportunities presents the need for children to remember the number, which is a great executive or working memory skill. Very young learners shouldn’t be expected to complete all of the activities without strong adult guidance.

Counting Actions

Counting actions is a great way to practice rhythm counting. Children can jump, walk, clap, etc and count the number while performing the action.

Adults might want to step in with a head nod or clapping to help keep the rhythm, especially for young counters.

Counting at Meal Time

Meal time is a great time to count food, utensils, etc.

For younger counters, you can count everything on the plate – strawberries, goldfish crackers, etc.


Counting Using Books

Most children love to curl up and listen to a good book. In fact, they can really help focus children specially in a group setting.

Books present great counting opportunities, including:

  1. Counting objects like trees, flowers, clouds, etc.
  2. Books where you find characters and objects to count
  3. Reading counting books and count the objects on each page

Summary: Tips For 1 To 1 Correspondence

  1. Learning to count objects is a long process – be patient!
  2. Model, model, model the skill, especially in the beginning, as much as possible
  3. Teach them strategies like pointing
  4. Make it a fun experience – use songs, books and multisensory activities
  5. Incorporate into everyday life

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