Thursday, January 17, 2013

Topple Tally Tray: An Activity for Practicing and Assessing Tally Marks

On New Year's Eve, as Luke and Daddy played Upwords together, it became apparent to me that Luke had not mastered tally marks yet.

The Inspiration
Some of Luke's tally mark sets contained the requisite four perpendicular strokes with a fifth horizontal stroke crossing through them.  But, others had only three vertical strokes.

Someone needs more tally mark practice.
Thus, one of our first math focuses for the New Year became the practice and assessment of tally marks, which is a Kindergarten and first grade skill that both Nina and Luke have enjoyed working on... and mastering! 

One activity I made up to help Luke and Nina practice tally marks was:

The Tally Mark Topple Tray
a math game for practicing tally marks, counting and fine motor skills while also exploring balance

Nina plays Tally Topple.
  • a piece of paper, folded into eight parts
  • a writing utensil
  • a tray
  • the Topple Game


  1. To prepare, fold a piece of paper into eight parts.  
  2. Put the paper, a writing utensil and the Topple game pieces and an assembled Topple game balance on a tray.

  1. Invite your child to watch you play Tally Topple.
  2. Place a Topple piece on the Topple balance.  Mark one tally mark in the top left rectangle of the folded piece of paper.
  3. Place another piece on the balance and make another tally mark.
  4. Continue this way, occasionally stopping to count the Topple pieces and your tally marks to be sure they are equal.
  5. When you topple the balance, begin again, marking tally marks in the next rectangle of the folded piece of paper.
  6. Then, of course, invite your child to play by him or herself, using your tally marks as a model.  

  • Math (tally marks and counting)
  • Fine Motor Control and Pincer Grasp (making tally marks and manipulating Topple pieces)
  • Science
    Nina counts pieces to double-check her tally marks.
Assessment/Quick Tips/Extensions

  • Through observing your child doing this activity, you can easily glean if your child understands how to make tally marks or needs some further demonstrations and teaching.
  • For variation, play using one color at a time.  Or, use the dice that comes with the  Topple Game to determine which row of the Topple balance to place pieces on.  However, try not to layer on variations until your child begins to master the tally marks themselves.  (Focusing on mastery of one or two skills at a time usually works best.)
  • If placing the pieces and making the tally marks is too confusing for your child, make it a two-person task.  One person does the pieces and one the tally marks.
Nina was excited to have tallied up all the Topple pieces without tipping the balance over.

As a side note, of course, Luke played this game, too, but I happened to have the camera handy when Nina was playing it.  Both children opted to play it a number of times, and through this game, as well as another adapted game I made up with Tumble, mastered tally marks while having a lot of fun.

What regular games might you adapt into independent learning challenges?

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