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Subitising – Moving from Perceptual to Conceptual

Conceptual subitising is the ability to recognise a whole quantity as the result of recognising smaller quantities. Sayers and others (2016) suggest that conceptual subitising may lead to the later development of arithmetic as it leads to decomposition or partitioning of numbers, the commutativity of addition, and part-whole knowledge. Sayers article is below and is an interesting and easy read.

Conceptual subitising builds upon the ability to subitise perceptually. The previous post explains perceptual subitising and provides activities to support students.

Once children are competent with perceptual subitising they should be gradually introduced to conceptual subitising by adding 1 or 2 more to a standard pattern, as on a die.

Maths Coach’s Corner blog about Subitizing: Moving from Perceptual to Conceptual here.


What Does the Research Tells Us?

The Role Of Conceptual Subitising in the Development of Foundational Number Sense by Judy Sayers, Paul Andrews, and Lisa Björklund Boistrup, Stockholm University (2016)

Subitising Through the Years by Valerie Faulkner,  North Carolina State University, USA and Jennifer Ainslie, Wake County Public Schools, USA (2017)

Early Spatial Thinking and the Development of Number Sense by Janette Bobis, Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom 13 (1) 2008


Different Ways to Subitise

Video from CE Kindergarten talks about subitising using dot patterns (familiar and unfamiliar), tens frames and Rekenreks.

Using Number Talks to Teach Addition and Subtraction

Not sure what a Number Talk is? The Brown Bag Teacher provides a quick explanation here.

Quick Images from the Teaching Channel

Video of a Number Talk by Jo Boaler

Activities for Conceptual Subitising

John Van de Walle talks about subitising in his book Teaching Student-Centered Mathematics: Grades K-3.  He provides blackline masters of dot patterns that can be used with your students.  Click here for the blackline masters.  Maths Coach’s Corner has enlarged versions of Van de Walle’s cards so they would be easier to use, and you can grab them here.

Find It – Add and Count from Mathematical Thinking

Find It – Bingo from Mathematical Thinking

Subitising Freebie from Natalie Lee Kindergarten

Dog House Dots from A Blog from the Pond

Early Years Focus: 10 Subitising Activities by James A. Russo (Monash University, Melbourne)

Domino Maths Games from Fun Games 4 Learning

Gone Dotty‘ Dominoes – a non-standard version of dominoes

Conceptual Subitising Flash Cards on the Whiteboard

Ten Frame Fun Flash

Fun Flash to 20

Interactive Whiteboard Resources

Illuminations offers interactive resources for both five and ten frames. Students can use these to answer ‘How Many?, Build, Fill and Add.’

iPad Apps (These are great resources but, unfortunately, not free)

Subitising Flash Cards from Little Monkeys

Subitize Tree from Doodle Smith Ink

Quick Images 11 from Tom Patten

Number Flash from Mitchell Mark


Conceptual subitising is one of the most important foundational maths skills children need to support them in developing mental images for addition and subtraction. Its development assists students in moving away from ‘counting on’ and ‘counting back’ and from using their fingers as support.

It’s important children receive lots of repetition and visualising it in different ways. For students who are having difficulty, stick to the traditional arrangements, gradually introducing non-traditional and ensuring the new arrangements are explicitly taught.

There are lots of resources out there. Fortunately all the resources, except for the iPad apps, are free!!

Until next time,