Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Counting Creatures

Christy Clanton
Bay District Schools


Counting Creatures gives students an opportunity to use the base three number system as they learn more about place value.


The student recognizes and compares the decimal number system to the structure of other number systems such as the Roman numeral system or bases other than ten.


-Chart paper and various colored markers
-Individual place value bags for teacher and students (sealable bags of small clear plastic, medicine cups and a handful of kidney beans)
-Plain paper for place value boards (newsprint works well)
-Individual student Place Value Journals


1. Gather materials
2. Set up overhead and supplies


1. The teacher explains to the class that she has heard a rumor that the local insects have their own counting or number system. It is believed that the insects have based their number system on the number of segments in their bodies, three. However, they call it -bug- instead of three.
2. The teacher demonstrates on the overhead, using beans and cups as place value materials. The students use beans and cups at their tables. The teacher writes on the overhead:
One bean = 1 body segment
Two beans = 2 body segments
Three beans = 1 cup = -bug-
3. The teacher tells the class that they are going to use their -body segments- (beans) and -bugs- (cups) to build a -colony,- based upon the insect counting system. Students are directed to fold their piece of newsprint into four columns and trace the three vertical folds with their pencils, so the four columns are visible, creating a four-place place value board.
4. The teacher leads at the overhead, as the students use their beans and cups at their tables, adding one -body segment- at a time. The amount is read in -bug- language as the teacher records on a piece of chart paper for the class to see. They build on their boards until they build one -colony,- recorded as 1000. Then the teacher challenges the class to dismantle the colony, one body segment at a time, and record the results. Once again, the teacher leads at the overhead modeling and recording the numbers on the chart in the -insect counting system.-
5. After the students reach 0000, the teacher leads the class in searching the chart for number patterns in this -insect counting- or base three-system. As students identify patterns, the teacher circles them with colored markers, identifying different patterns with different colors.
6. The students record a response to this prompt in their Place Value Journals: Compare the -insect counting system- or base-three system to our decimal number system (base 10 system).


Student writes a paragraph comparing the base three number system to the decimal number system (base 10 system). Teacher reads the student's journal to assess place value understanding.
Return to the Beacon Lesson Plan Library.