Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Pretzel Math

Carolyn Rosier


Math you can eat is always fun! Demonstrate grouping pretzels into sets of twos, fives and tens on the overhead projector, then provide students with their own pretzels to count, group, tally and eat!


The student counts up to 10 or more objects using verbal names and one-to-one correspondence.

The student counts orally to 100 or more by 1s, 2s, 5s, and 10s using a hundred chart or concrete materials.

The student groups objects in sets of 2 or more.


-Stick pretzels (32 oz. bag)
-Small bowls (one per student plus one for the teacher)
-Overhead projector
-Blank transparency sheet
-Overhead pen
-Clean sheets of paper for a sterile working and eating surface (one per student)
-Number chart
-Pencils (one per student in the small group)
-Pretzel Math checklist (See Associated File)


1. Buy pretzels and small bowls.
2. Set up overhead projector with a clean, blank transparency and a pen.
3. Count out a bowl of pretzels for yourself. Thirty-three (33) is a good number, manageable on the overhead and provides for counting by fives and tens with some leftover.
4. Set out bowls, pretzels and clean paper at tables you plan to use for the activity. Include pencils in a can or basket as you usually do. Fill bowls with a handful of pretzels about the same size as the handful you put in your bowl. This saves time counting but keeps you from giving children too many. Too many pretzels end up rolling on the floor and making a mess. You need one bowl of pretzels and one clean paper per student.


Note: Students have had previous instruction in oral counting by 1s, 2s, 5s and 10s. This lesson provides review and practice.

1. Say: Who likes pretzels? Who likes to count? Who likes to count pretzels? I have washed my hands to get all the germs off so I can eat my pretzels AFTER I do my math, not before I do my math, not while I am doing my math, but when? That's right, after I have done all my counting and shared it with my friends and teacher. Let's do it!

2. Seat children where they can see a projection from the overhead.

3. Put a handful of pretzels from your bowl, at least 30, on the overhead. Say: Boy that is a lot of pretzels. How many do you think there are? How can we find out? We can count, that's right.

4. Show oral counting in a way that does not have one-to-one correspondence. This shows the need for and gets children to suggest that you move the pretzels one by one as you count.

5. Count orally. Record the number of pretzels you have counted in a corner of your transparency.

6. Say: Well, that worked better, but it took so long. Do you think I have enough pretzels to count by fives like we have been practicing?

7. Point to a number chart and rote count by fives.

8. Ask children if they know how to count tally marks. If you have done tally marks with children, remind them that they will put 4 lines side by side and then put the fifth line diagonally across the four. If previous instruction has not been given, take a few minutes to introduce tallies as they are fun and an excellent way to teach counting by five. Point out that it is like a hand. Four straight fingers and then the thumb to tie the lines or pretzels into a group of five that we won't have to count. Because just like we know we have five fingers, when we see four lines, crossed by a slant line, we know that is a group of five.

9. Say: Let's put these pretzels in groups of five. Arrange pretzels beginning with one group of four and then take the fifth and say now how do I put this one? Let children tell you how to place pretzels as you tally count all you can into groups of five. Leave any remaining pretzels in a group by themselves. Ask: Will I be able to count these by fives? Why not? That's right, there are less than five of them, so I will have to count these by what? Ones, that's correct. Let's count out loud!

10. Count orally by fives and ones as needed and record the total amount in an upper corner. Compare this number to the result of your count by ones.

11. Say: See? We got the same answer but we were able to do it more quickly. Let's count our tallies again. Count out loud together with me. Remember first we will count by what? Fives, right. And any leftover we will count by what? Ones, that's correct.

12. Say: We have just counted our pretzels by ones and by fives. What other ways have we been counting out loud together? By tens? Yes. Let's practice with our number chart first.

13. Count orally using the number chart.

14. Say: Now back to the pretzels. What do we need to do first? Make sets of 10? You got it.

15. Orally count out sets of 10. Then orally count by tens. Remind children that we have 10 fingers. Once pretzels have been grouped or bundled into sets of 10, we can put these in rubber bands. This correlates with the bundling activity often done with your math calendar activities.

16. Say: We won't have to count by ones. This will be much quicker, don't you think?

17. Ask children if they know what the answer will be? Say: What number will we count to? That's right. If we make our sets with just the right number and count out loud correctly, we will get the very same answer we got when we counted by ones and by fives.

18. Orally count the bundles and leftovers. Record this number. Count orally again for extra practice.

19. We count orally by twos in my class but I don't worry about mastery above 10. It is hard for many students, but the introduction is important. Remind children that we have also been doing another kind of counting out loud on our counting chart. Say: Do you remember skip counting? Counting by twos? Could we count our pretzels by twos also? Sure, we can!

20. Count orally by twos using the number chart. Then, group pretzels by twos on an overhead and repeat the same counting process done with ones, fives, and tens including similar questioning.

21. Say: Would you like to try this yourself? Okay, we will. Children who wash their hands well and keep their pretzels in a special work space won't get germs on their pretzels and after pretzel math, those kids can have their counting sticks for snack.

22. Send children to center activities, keeping no more than 2 groups of 5-7 children to work with you and preferably one other adult on this activity.

23. Have Pretzel Math kids wash hands and sit at tables where you set out a clean sheet of paper and a bowl of pretzels.

24. Tell children: Let's count out loud, but quietly to ourselves, by ones first. Help each child record the number of pretzels counted in the upper corner of their paper. This will help you check their oral counting and grouped sets as you circulate.

25. Repeat the same procedures done in the teacher presentation above. If you have a group of children who work well independently, instruct them to work on their own, and after they have grouped pretzels into fives and have their tallies ready, to raise their hand and you will come to their table and listen as they count orally. This will leave you a little freer to provide help to others. Again, small groups are the key to success with this activity. Repeat for tens and twos.

26. As children finish, tell them they may eat their pretzels. Some children may want to save their pretzels. This can be done easily by folding their paper and stapling it into an envelope they can put in their cubby for later or to take home. These early finishing children can be paired with other children to listen to them count orally or to provide help with grouping.


In this activity, the teacher formatively assesses children's counting by 1s, 2s, 5s and 10s. As with many kindergarten activities this lesson provides skill practice for more formal assessments to be done individually later on. If done with a small enough group, the teacher can make notes as she listens to each child counting orally, observes grouping objects into sets of 2s, 5s and 10s and making tallies. A checklist is provided in the associated file for skills presented in this lesson. While making tallies is not a kindergarten GLE, it is often presented by teachers using Math Their Way calendar activities and is very helpful in learning to count by 5s.


Academic grouping or pairing with an adult volunteer or aide during this task provides more hands-on help for ESE and other children needing extra assistance to complete the task successfully. Children working on higher levels will need much less help and can work on their own and raise their hand when they are ready for the teacher to check their grouping and listen to them count. Then they can go on to be counting buddies for children needing guidance.
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