Dot Cards

UDL 2.5 UDL 5.2

Dot Cards are a visual math strategy in which students develop “subitizing” skills (i.e., ability to ‘see’ a small amount of objects and instantly recognize how many there are without counting) using cards with configurations of dots. Dot Cards display a visual representation of numbers or combinations of numbers (e.g., one color for all dots, different colors for groups of dots) in order to support conceptual understanding of numerical concepts. Students use Dot Cards to practice distinguishing and describing “parts” in numbers easily with a visuals instead of rote memorization by recognizing patterns (e.g., “parts” of 5 could be 1 red dot and 4 blue dots, or 2 red dots and 3 blue dots).

Implementation Tips

Preparing Dot Cards
Prepare sets of Dot Cards for students to use by drawing or placing sticker dots on sturdy cards (e.g., card stock cut in half, large index cards), or print this [[ | free black and white version ]]. Make multiple configurations of each number, such as three dots in a line or three dots forming a triangle, similar to this [[ | example ]].
Pre-plan how Dot Cards will be used once introduced (e.g., in partnerships, small group center work). Vary activity expectations by first using Dot Cards to teach number sense, then progress students to use the strategy to create equations when learning basic addition and subtraction.
Introducing Dot Cards
Introduce Dot Cards to students using smaller numbers first. Tell students, “I will briefly flash a card. Instead of calling out the answer, put a thumbs-up on your chest.” After flashing the card, call on a few students to share how they knew the amount on the card (e.g., “There’s 1 blue dot and 2 red dots, that makes 3!” / ” I saw 2 and 1 more.” / “I just saw 3.”).
Providing Structure
Support student understanding of number patterns by creating [[ | Dot Cards on 10-frames ]] (e.g., simple graphic outline of 10 boxes stacked in a 2x5 array). Random dot patterns of number parts can still be created within these frames using two different colored dots. For free printable 10-frames, click [[ | here ]].
Alternate Representations
Alternate the representation of Dot Cards over time to keep students interested and to expand student subitizing skills. Add images such as, hands with fingers held up, to modify how students recognize part of numbers, similar to this [[ | example ]].
Keeping it Fresh
Increase student engagement by varying the opportunities to use Dot Cards and altering the expectations (e.g., [[ | Dot Flash Cards, Dot Card Bingo ]]). Challenge students with an advanced game (e.g., turn over a numeral card and track how many Dot Card combinations equal the numeral).
Building a Routine
Build a routine by incorporating Dot Cards into daily math activities (e.g., partner work, small group centers). Implement Dot Cards to teach a multitude of number sense concepts (e.g., combine parts into a whole, counting-on, compose and decompose numbers, place value.


Reinforcing Basic Addition Skills
After direct instruction on basic addition, a teacher forms partnerships to practice addition “snap facts” using Dot Cards to visually represent number patterns and build fluency. The teacher explains, “Each student will flip over a card, and whoever can accurately generate the sum the fastest will get to collect the cards.” Next, a set of Dot Cards is distributed to each partnership (e.g., some sets contains multiple dot configurations of numbers from 1-5, others contain numbers from 1-9 for advanced learners). As students engage in the activity, the teacher circulates, offering support as needed. Once a student runs out of Dot Cards, the partnership shuffles the cards, evenly splits the pile, and restarts the game.
Decomposing Numbers
After a mid-unit assessment, a teacher determines that several students are struggling to understand the concept of decomposing whole numbers. To reinforce understanding, the teacher creates a small group activity using visually supportive Dot Cards. The teacher presents sets of Dot Cards to each group member (e.g., cut-up number configurations on card stock) and explains that these cards can be used to form multiple combinations that make target numbers. After the teacher states the target number, each student works individually, manipulating Dot Cards to represent the target number (e.g., 12 = 5 dots + 4 dots + 3 dots), and records findings with a sketched model and number sentence on a tracking sheet.

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