One of my favorite activities for starting the year in 2nd grade is counting to 1000. 

Imagine this classroom scene – Instructions have been given, materials have been passed out, and everyone is working silently…at least for a few minutes!  I know when I have those rare moments in class that I have found an activity worth doing year after year.  It’s easy enough for struggling students to understand, yet interesting enough for gifted students.  My go-to counting and place value activity every year is Noodles and Cups.


I give everyone a hundreds/tens/ones mat and a blank hundreds chart (hundreds chart file available below as a freebie).  I also put out bowls of noodles (or dry beans work well) and ketchup cups.  As a class, everyone starts by putting one noodle in the “ones” section of their mat.  On their hundreds chart they write “1.”  Then everyone adds a second noodle and writes “2” on their hundreds chart.  This continues until everyone is adding their tenth noodle.  At this point I explain that in our number system, any time there is 10 of something we group it together.  The ten individual noodles are put into a ketchup cup and moved over to the “tens” section of the mat.  As students continue into the teens I point out how when the write a number they are recording exactly what they see on their mat, 1 cup and 4 noodles is 1-4, 14!  This is a big “ah-ha” moment for many students.  I go through up to about number 23 with everybody as a class and then I let them go on their own.  This is when that magic engagement happens that I described above.

When students are nearing 100 noodles, I stop everybody and they watch me put noodles 98 and 99 on my own mat.  Then when I put on the 100th noodle I bring up the rule again about how when there is 10 of something, we group it together.  There are not 10 ketchup cups squeezed and stacked into the “tens” section of the mat.  I stack them all up and put them into a bigger cup.

I like to leave the noodles in their smaller cups and put all the small cups into the big cup because this way you can take tens back out later (this will come in handy when you’re teaching regrouping).
My 2nd grade students will end up writing the numbers all the way to 1,000 although most kids do not need the cups and noodles manipulatives past about 250. 
We get the cups and noodles out again when we start adding and subtracting bigger numbers.  I love how with the noodles and cups it’s so to build and take apart tens and hundreds.  Base-10 blocks are a great visual but you can’t actually take them apart and put them back together again.

 I also think it’s useful to help kids tie together the various ways we represent ones, tens, and hundreds (plus I’m sucker for anchor charts).

Here is the hundreds chart freebie so you can try this activity, too!

Here are some other products I have available for developing counting, place value, and number sense:
Counting and Skip Counting Dot to Dots
Number Representation Worksheets


Here is the book that I adapted the noodles and cups activity from.

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Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun
Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.