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4 Strategies for Teaching One-to-One Correspondence

One-to-one correspondence lays the foundation for more complex mathematical concepts and skills. Learn four strategies for teaching this important skill to young children.

4 Strategies for Teaching One-to-One Correspondence

4 Strategies for Teaching One-to-One Correspondence

One-to-one correspondence is an important beginner math skill that children learn in their formative years. It refers to the ability to match one object or number with another, understanding that each item corresponds to a specific quantity. While it may seem like a simple concept, mastering one-to-one correspondence is essential for a child's cognitive development and lays the foundation for more complex mathematical skills later on.

In this article, we’ll define one-to-one correspondence, discuss its importance, and share strategies for teaching it to young children.

A child sitting at a table with a bin of multi-colored pom poms on the right and a green animal with a brown hump that has hallow cardboard circles on it on the left. There is a pom pom in almost every hole.Source

What is one-to-one correspondence?

One-to-one correspondence is an early math skill that involves a child's ability to count in ascending order while touching or transferring each object in a set, one by one, and only once. It is a skill that families and teachers can teach toddlers and preschoolers to help them understand the rules of counting.

In one-to-one correspondence activities, children count several objects. As they count, they touch or move each object, assigning one number to each object that they move. Children who have mastered one-to-one correspondence will not skip numbers or touch an object more than once.


Why is one-to-one correspondence important in developing math skills in young children? 

Adults use one-to-one correspondence skills daily and probably don’t even realize it. For example, when following a recipe, you need to know how much of each ingredient you need, and that is based on how many servings you want your dish to yield. When you’re paying for those ingredients at the grocery store, you need to know how much money to pay the cashier. When the time comes to feed your family or guests, you’ll use one-to-one correspondence to determine one serving size for each person. 

As a teacher, you often use one-to-one correspondence to calculate how many crayon boxes, glue sticks, and other materials you need for your children. As you can see, one-to-one correspondence is used a lot in our day-to-day activities. 

One of the benefits of learning one-to-one correspondence at an early age is that it sets the stage for learning basic math concepts such as addition and subtraction.  Eventually, it helps children with more complex math skills such as multiplication and algebra. Without the foundation of developed one-to-one math skills, children will most likely struggle with basic math concepts.

A teacher and child lying on a purple mat with little yellow, blue, red, and green plastic bears lined in rows according to color in front of them.Source

Benefits of learning one-to-one correspondence

Learning and mastering one-to-one correspondence provides numerous benefits for children's cognitive development, mathematical understanding, and overall academic success. Here are some key advantages of developing strong one-to-one correspondence skills:

Builds a strong number sense

One-to-one correspondence is the building block of developing a strong number sense. By grasping the concept that each object or number represents one unit, children begin to understand the meaning behind numbers. This understanding is vital for counting, addition, subtraction, and other mathematical operations.

Enhances cognitive skills

Engaging in activities that promote one-to-one correspondence supports the development of various cognitive skills in young children. Counting objects, matching quantities, and sorting items all require children to focus, concentrate, and make connections between numbers and objects. These activities help improve memory, attention to detail, and critical thinking abilities.

Develops fine motor skills

One-to-one correspondence activities can also contribute to the development of fine motor skills in young children. Actions such as placing objects in order, manipulating counting materials, or using markers to tally objects require precise hand-eye coordination and dexterity. These activities strengthen children's finger muscles and hand control, preparing them for handwriting and other future motor tasks.

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How to teach one-to-one correspondence 

Children start learning to count between the ages of one and two years old. Some toddlers can count to 10 by the time they turn two. When children first start counting, they may recite numbers randomly, skip numbers, or say them out of order. At first, toddlers are most likely reciting numbers from memorization without truly understanding what the numbers mean or represent. 

When children begin to recite numbers in order from memory, this is called rote counting. Rote counting is the first step to learning how to count. Rote counting is an essential step in knowing how to associate each number with the correct number symbol and learning the correct sequential order, such as “one, two, three, four, five….” 

Children must master the order of counting before they can begin to learn one-to-one correspondence. Once children master rote counting, there are several strategies and activities you can use to teach one-to-one correspondence.

Here are four effective strategies you can use to help the children in your class learn one-to-one correspondence:  

1. Incorporate real-life connections

Help children make connections between numbers and everyday objects or situations. For example, ask children to count the number of apples on the table or the number of chairs in the classroom. This encourages children to apply their one-to-one correspondence skills in real-life contexts.

2. Use hands-on manipulatives

Provide a variety of counting manipulatives such as blocks, buttons, or counters. Encourage children to touch and move the objects as they count, reinforcing the concept of one-to-one correspondence.

3. Try counting games

Engage children in interactive counting games that require them to match numbers with objects or engage in group counting activities. These games make learning fun and interactive while reinforcing the concept of one-to-one correspondence.

4. Include visual representations

Use visual cues such as dots or tally marks to represent quantities. Teach children how to match each representation with the corresponding number, reinforcing the concept of one-to-one correspondence visually.

Activities to promote one-to-one correspondence

Engaging children in hands-on activities is a highly effective way to develop and reinforce their one-to-one correspondence skills. These activities allow children to actively participate, manipulate objects, and make connections between numbers and quantities.

Counting gems one-to-one activity

For this activity, you'll need paper or flashcards, writing utensils, and colorful craft gems.


  • Draw a rainbow or any other shape of choice on a piece of paper or flashcard. 
  • Write a number under each shape.
  • Pour the gems into a bowl or onto a table. 
  • Have the children count the number of gems associated with the number under each shape and place them beneath the paper. 


Counting goldfish one-to-one activity

For this activity, you'll need a dice, a handful of goldfish crackers, and a counting worksheet (create your own or print one here). You can also use cheerios or similar types of cereal or snacks for this game.


  • Roll the dice and ask your children to count the dots.
  • Have the children count the same number of goldfish crackers as dots rolled on the dice and place the crackers inside the goldfish bowl on the worksheet that has the corresponding number. 
  • As children learn to count beyond 6, add another dice and more numbers.

Popsicle sticks one-to-one activity

For this activity, you'll need popsicle craft sticks, clothespins, and a permanent marker. 


  • Write a number (1-5) at the bottom of each popsicle stick. 
  • Draw corresponding lines or circles on each popsicle stick. For example, draw one line on the popsicle stick labeled ‘1’.
  • Optional: If your popsicle sticks are colored, color the clothespins to match the colors of the popsicle sticks. Otherwise, they can be plain.  
  • Have children match the correct number of clothespins to each popsicle stick.

This activity is also a great way to sharpen fine motor skills, and concentration skills because the children must pinch the clothespins and attach them to the popsicle sticks.

Ice cube tray one-to-one activity

For this simple activity, you'll need an empty ice cube tray or muffin baking pan, dice, and small objects of choice to fill the tray or pan (e.g. pom poms).


  • Have the child roll the dice and count the number of dots on the dice.  
  • Have the child place the correct number of objects in each cube. 


  • Write a number at the bottom of each cube tray or muffin tin space. 
  • Have the child count the objects and fill the tray or space with the quantity of objects corresponding to the number.

When you use your imagination and get creative, there are so many exciting ways to teach children how to count one-to-one.

One-to-one correspondence FAQs

What are the best ways to teach one-to-one correspondence?

The best ways to teach one-to-one correspondence involve a combination of hands-on activities, visual aids, and guided instruction. Provide children with counting materials like blocks, beads, or buttons that they can physically touch and move as they count. Incorporate visual aids such as number charts, number lines, or pictures with quantities.

Play counting games that require children to count and match objects with the corresponding numbers. Finally, provide context to connect one-to-one correspondence skills to real-life situations. For example, during snack time, ask children to count out the correct number of crackers for each student.

How do you know when children have mastered one-to-one correspondence? 

A child who has mastered one-to-one will have mastered these four principals:

  • Each object is assigned only one numeral. 
  • The number names are counted in a fixed, ascending order. 
  • No matter what object the child starts counting with or ends counting with, the end quantity is the same. 
  • The final number counted is the total number, or the cardinal number.

What can you do if a child is struggling with one-to-one correspondence? 

Pay close attention to whether the child has mastered the four areas listed above. If you find that the child is struggling in any of those areas, let that become the main area that you focus on helping the child to grow in. 

There are questions you can ask as you observe children counting one-to-one: 

  • Are they touching, tapping, or pointing to each object only once?
  • Do they say all the numbers in order or are they missing any? 
  • Do they remember how many they counted or what the final number is?

Add one-to-one correspondence to your curriculum 

One-to-one correspondence is a crucial skill that lays the groundwork for future mathematical understanding. By implementing these strategies and providing ample opportunities for hands-on exploration and practice, teachers can help young learners develop a solid grasp of one-to-one correspondence. This foundational skill will pave the way for success in mathematics and other areas of academic and cognitive development.

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