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Button Math
(And Button BINGO)



  • Mathematics


  • K-2

Brief Description

Use buttons to teach the math concepts of more than, less than, and equal. This lesson can also be used to teach the concepts of sets and attributes.


Students will
  • identify objects that have a given attribute.
  • create a set that corresponds to a given number 10 or less.
  • count the elements in a set up to ten members.
  • write the number of elements in a set with up to ten members.
  • create sets one more, one less, and equal to a given number up to ten.


buttons, addition, more than, less than, equal to, set, sets, attributes

Materials Needed

  • a wide variety of buttons of different sizes, shapes, colors
  • ten large cards, each with a different number 1 to 10 written on it (optional)
  • sets of three cards (one set for each group of three students); in each set there should be one card that has the word equal written on it, one that says less than, and one that says more than
  • dice (one die per group of three students)
  • BINGO cards (see instructions in the Before the Lesson section below)
  • math journals (optional)

The Lesson

Before the Lesson
In advance of this activity, collect a bunch of buttons. Write on 3 x 5 cards some of the attributes that describe those buttons; write one attribute per card and be sure each button has at least two attribute cards that apply to it. Possible attributes might include shape (round, square), color (white, blue, gold, silver, black, gray), number of holes (two-holed, three-holed), type of material (plastic, metal).

If you plan to end the lesson with a game of Button BINGO, you will need to create BINGO cards in advance. Do that by taking a blank BINGO template and, in the spots where the letters B-I-N-G and O would appear write in place of each letter one attribute of some buttons; for example, the five attributes might be white, round, four-holed, plastic, and gold. The rest of the card (where numbers usually appear) it totally blank; students will fill in those spaces with buttons as you call out attributes.

Lesson Detail
To start the lesson, have each student choose a button. Randomly pull one of the 3 x 5 cards from your set of attribute cards, read the attribute, and ask students who have a button with that attribute to stand.

Call out, one at a time, the other attributes listed on the 3 x 5 cards. Call out attributes until everyone is standing.

Next, randomly distribute or allow students to select ten (10) buttons of different sizes, shapes, and colors. Display a large card with a number between 1 and 10 on it. (Option: Write a number between 1 and 10 on the board.) Ask students to make a set with that many buttons in it. Did students count out the correct number of buttons? Repeat this activity several times, each time displaying a different number.

Review the concepts of equal, more than, and less than. You might give students some group practice by displaying buttons on an overhead projector. Have students identify the number of buttons (a number between 1 and 10) displayed on the overhead. Then ask them to identify how many buttons would be one less than and one greater than the number of buttons displayed.

Next, arrange students into groups of three.

You might do this by preparing ahead of time a group of three cards that have the outlines of two buttons drawn on them, a group of three cards with three buttons drawn on them, a group with four buttons, five, and so on Give each student one of the cards and have them find the other two students who have the same number of buttons on their cards. When they have found their "partners," the three students will form a group. Remind students that they are expected to follow group rules and behavior: Ask others for help, help others if they ask you, share the work, and work quietly.

You might call for one student in each group to gather materials, or you might pass out the materials students will need. Give each group a die, and give each student in the group a card; one student will receive a card that says equal on it, another will receive a card that says less than, and the third student will receive a card that says more than. Tell students they are going to use their buttons to make sets that are equal to, one more than, and one less than a number.

  • Instruct each student to take one of the three cards labeled equal, more than, or less than.
  • Identify in each group the student who selected the card that says equal on it. That student will roll the die, name the number showing (1 to 6) on the die, and make a set of that many buttons.
  • The student with the more than card will count out a set of buttons that has one more than the number that appears on the die.
  • The student with the less than card will make a set of buttons that has one less than the number on the die.

Have students take turns using different cards. That way, each student gets turns at rolling the die and making sets that are equal to, less than, and greater than the number rolled on the die.

If your students have math journals, they might draw the sets in their journals and label how many buttons are in each set.

Give students about 15 minutes to do this as you circulate around the classroom making sure they are on task and grasping the concepts.

Lesson Closure
When the activity is over, have students put away their materials and gather on the meeting carpet. If students have drawn pictures of their sets, you might have them share their journal drawings and explain their sets.

Then introduce a game of "Button BINGO." Pass out a handful of buttons to each student. Provide prepared BINGO cards that have attributes of the buttons listed across the top. (See instructions for creating BINGO cards in the Before the Lesson section above.) When the students are ready, call out an attribute and ask all students to find one button among those they have that matches that attribute. If they have such a button, they should place that button in the appropriate attribute column. The first student to fill a column wins the game.

After playing Button BINGO, ask questions to determine if students can name the number that comes before or after a specific number without using buttons. For example, What number comes before 4? What number comes after 9?


Observe if students could identify buttons based on a given attributes; how well students were able to create a set that corresponds to a given number 10 or less; how well students counted the elements in a set with up to ten members; and how well students created sets of one more, one less, and equal to a given number up to 10. Evaluate students' journals after they do the activity. Make sure sets are drawn and labeled correctly.

Submitted By

Mindy Martincic, a student at the University of Pittsburgh in Johnstown, Pennsylvania

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