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Shake and Spill

Alignments to Content Standards: K.OA.A.3



For each student:

  • 5 two-color counters (e.g., red on one side and and yellow on the other)
  • Cup (optional)


  • The students put the counters in the cup, shake it, and spill them onto the table. Alternatively they can use their hands.
  • The students determine how many of each color is showing and record the sum using drawings or equations.

The students should "shake and spill" several times to show different pairs of numbers that sum to 5.

IM Commentary

The purpose of this task is for students to decompose a number as a sum of two other numbers in more than one way. The teacher should demonstrate how to "shake and spill" the counters as well as how to represent the sum using pictures or equations. The word "sum" is easily confused with "some," especially for young children; take care to use language that the students understand. However, make sure that they understand that they are representing, for example, 3+2, not just 3 and 2 separately. Language like, "How many red? How many yellow? How many all together?" might be appropriate. Although this task uses 5 counters, it can be repeated using any number through 10 to address K.OA.3.

Two-color counters may be purchased commercially or created by spray-painting one side of objects such as dried lima beans.


Solutions for this task will vary, depending on the colors that are showing each time the counters are spilled. Students may represent their solutions with drawings or equations.

Possible equations: 0+5=5; 1+4=5; 2+3=5; 3+2=5; 4+1=5; 5+0=5
Note that the total (5) may appear on either side of the equation (e.g., 5=2+3).