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Grade: 1-2
Subject: Mathematics

#1262. Button Unit

Mathematics, level: Elementary
Posted Thu Aug 19 09:49:03 PDT 1999 by Paulie Schenkelberg (
Hubbard St. School (LAUSD), Sylmar, CA USA
Materials Required: see individual projects
Activity Time: depends on how much you do of it
Concepts Taught: Mathematics/Literature/Games

Presentation on Buttons For Math Integrated Unit - Primary Grades --by Paulie Schenkelberg

1. Corduroy by Don Freeman (Read to class first.) ISBN 0 14 050.173 8

Synopsis: A stuffed bear waits hopefully in a department store for someone to buy him. A little girl and her Mom pass by him and Mom says she will not buy the bear for her daughter because he has a button missing. Later, the girl returns with her own money and buys him, takes him home and sews a new button on him. She tells him she likes him "just the way he is but he will be more comfortable with his shoulder strap fastened." (This introduces the children to topic of buttons.)

2. Chart with kids: (make laminated chart with these words and it can be reused.)

"What do you know about buttons?"

" What would you like to know?"

When finished with unit , you can add:

" What we learned."


3. Sort animal buttons (bought at Lakeshore Learning Store - 2 pkgs. "Animal face Buttons by Roylco): by type of animals only to get students familiar with sorting. Don't worry about any other attribute. Make a "real graph " (using the actual pieces) with a partner. (K) Then make a graph using an X in each row - row-using, make an X and place animal back in container. Compare graphs with other buddy groups in room by teacher asking questions such as, Who has the most _______(insert animal name) of all? or Who has an even amount of animals on their graph? or (name of student) How many more __________ than ___________ do you have? or Add the ___________and the ______________and tell me what you get.

4. Read Buttons, Buttons by CTP --written by Rozanne Lanczak Williams ISBN 0-916119-31-9

(This introduces attributes.)


* Read from Frog and Toad Are Friends, "The Lost Button." ISBN 0-06-444020-6

(also have a tape that could be used or used later in listening center with buttons for activity.)

* Flannel board with K each time they found a button. Use felt buttons of attribute in story.

*With 1st and 2nd, you could actually have the types of buttons that they found and Toad's real button. Have each pair of students locate the button talked about in the story.

-you could ask for sequence of events and list

- you could ask if there is a pattern in sequence when looking for lost button. (every other button found, is found by Frog.) . . . skip counting

-compare the ones found and the attributes for Toad's missing button.

6. Could decorate Toad's coat FOR ART PROJECT (enlarge pictures of Frog and Toad -- Literature Notes - Frank Schaefer publications ISBN 0-86734-212-9 ) with found buttons for gift to Frog.

black - 2 holes - big - square - thin - K could be given laminated paper buttons with Velcro on back and could stick to Velcro places on Frog's new jacket OR older students could locate a button that is from the button can that fits each description.

7. Now that students are familiar with attributes: (You will have to get your own sets of buttons that are like my heart buttons.)

Heart button activity. (black and white hearts, up to 4 sizes of heart buttons and flat and beveled fronts ) If you want to go to extremes, you could sort them by the round or squareness of hole on back of hearts. (One team of teachers did at math Institute.) Spokesman from each groups explains how they made their groups. (Many correct answers)

8. Choose a button and write about it on the frog and toad paper. (This is a xeroxed copy of a picture of Toad and Frog with lined paper from the Frank Schaffer publication listed above.)

9. Add button to seal button groups by drawing. The seal xerox has different groupings of buttons balanced on their noses (by holes, and other attributes.) This is a picture of seals balancing buttons of a certain attribute on their noses - you add more. Sorry, but I can't remember where I got this from. A teacher could easily make up her/his own.)

10. Guess the number of buttons on my sweatshirt for a prize. I have a sweatshirt with yohos sewed on it and a button in the center of each arranged in the shape of a big heart. It was too hot to wear in July when I did this presentation so I hung it up and told them to take note of it at beginning of class. Then I removed it from their sight and let them guess how many buttons for an estimation jar prize full of buttons! Even if they happened to count all the yohos, one button was missing so it gave them a challenge because it was displayed for so short a time.

11. The Frank Schaffer publication listed above also provides activities to do with buttons for first or second graders: There is a template of Frog and Toad writing paper and you could do many things using it. Another one has you complete the sentence to describe the button you have in your hand given you by the teacher. Another is a template to write a friendly letter - could be thank you letters pretending you are Toad.

12. There is a book called The Button Box by Margarette S. Reid ISBN 0-14-055495-5 - Good tie in with Literature and math. The last page has the story of buttons so ties in with Social Studies/History also.

13. Read Monster Math Picnic by Grace Maccarone ISBN 0-590-37127-4 Use the idea of the story for addition and subtraction problems - use buttons to represent the monsters.

14. Play the game of "NIM" using buttons. I used 9 large flat buttons for the game I made in college. These are the directions for the game - print them out and add 9 buttons in an envelope and you have a good game for 2 people. Kids could make their own and have to play (with a neighbor) in a baggie in their desks when they are finished with their work and have "nothing to do."


For 2 players.

Set up this activity in the following way: Put 9 buttons in 4 rows -- 3 in each of the two bottom rows and 2 in the second row and 1 in the top row. It will look like this :


o o

o o o

o o o

Take turns removing (by sliding) buttons using these rules:

*You may take buttons from one row only during each turn and that row may not be on the diagonal.

*You may take all or part of a row but you must take at least one button during your turn.

*The player that takes the last button is the winner.

*All buttons must be taken by sliding them away - you cannot take the center button if there are buttons surrounding it.

See if you can develop a strategy for winning every time.

15. Place value Game:

This is another game I devised in college. You will need cardboard that is about a foot square -- at least two but if for whole center to use, you would want to make 5 Place Value boards. Use marking pen to divide them into three sections vertically. About one inch from the top draw a line across each board. It is in this space at the top, you will glue one button representing each among: ones, tens, and hundreds In my activity, I used a small purple button for the ones, a medium pink button for the tens and a large blue button for the hundreds. I also have a container that has many more of each ot these sizes and colors of buttons in three compartments. I have 4 activities for this gameboard - one for each of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. BUT, this can be used for which ever the student is studying. I cal the boards "chip trading boards." The first one is for addition and I will explain it. The rest of the math activities can be played in a similar fashion depending on whether you are adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing.

Addition game:

Use a spinner - spin two times and add the two numbers. Take that many points represented by buttons from the container and place in appropriate place on chip trading board. If you spin a total of 9 or less for your first turn, take that many buttons and place them on the chip trading board in the ones column. It is then the 2nd person's turn. Let's pretend that they spin 12 total. They get 12 ones but they can trade it in for one ten and two ones . When they have opportunities to trade buttons in for a higher button they get another turn. So player number two takes another turn. Lets say they got a total of 7. They look at their board and see what they have : 2 +7 in the ones column makes only 9 so they cannot trade any more. Their turn is over. Back to player one and the play continues with each player trying to get the most (or 300 points) in the hundreds place of course! (Or the tens or whatever is decided upon.)

16. Floor Puzzle by "Learn to Read" called "Buttons Buttons" -- students will learn color words, classification and math skills besides making a puzzle. It has 27 large pieces. (CTP 4204)An activity Guide is included.

17. Use two colors of buttons to play Tic Tac Toe.

18. Play: Button Button Whose Got the Button?

19. Have large container of buttons mixed sizes: estimate how many non standard scoops will fit in a different size container to fill it up.

20. Measure the length of something with buttons that are the same size. Ex:: my footprint is 17 black buttons long.

21, Tie a piece of yarn together and make a circle and fill with buttons flat on table or floor ; count. Then make yarn string into a triangle shape and repeat. Then make it into a square and repeat. Then make it into a rectangle and repeat. Compare the random number of buttons in each. Graph. Graph by using jars of equal size and looking at how full they are filled by each shape.

22. Could also measure the perimeter of them using buttons of random sizes.

23. Use buttons to form numbers (and ABC's).

24. Graph people wearing things with buttons and those without.

25. Use different size and colors of buttons to count the number of days in school. Small ones for ones in snack baggie, medium ones for 10's in different snack baggie. Large ones for 100's in 3rd snack baggie.

26. Graph letters in first name using buttons for each letter. Do by self and also as a whole group project.

27. Arrange 5 or more buttons in order by size.

28. Use a Venn diagram to sort buttons by color, size and number of holes.

29. Weigh a measurement of buttons of small, medium and large buttons. Notice the difference in weight of each size.

30. Using 10 buttons of two colors (5 each) make a die having 2 sides one color and 4 sides the other. Discover which side would roll ten of their color first. Do this 3 times. Is there any difference?

31. Use buttons to add or subtract or to make doubles. (See story above about monsters.)

32. Develop vocabulary : big/medium/small; more than/less than; shape, color, size, number, thick/thin - same/different.

33. Graph by any attribute.

34. Do any number of these activities in centers that rotate. Compare through discussion after three centers completed by all. (Things to do: estimate number of buttons in container - dump out and count - graph according to at least one attribute. )

35. Use buttons for Bingo markers for Math facts. (or any curricula)

36. Place 5 buttons of two colors in a bag and record with tally marks which color came out -- do this 10 times.

37. Make a place value game with different activities (see one described above for sample

38. Use a button puzzle to help students learn attributes. (Information above)

36. Write in a Math Journal about a problem the class solved using buttons - illustrate.

37. Write a story using numbers of things doing something. Ex.: The sign said there are three bears living in the zoo. I see only two bears. One bear is hiding in the cave. (use buttons for objects to represent whatever you are writing about.

38. Sing button songs -- piggyback songs about buttons are fine. Could sing"Who Stole the Button From the Button Can?" -- a take off of the famous cookie one.

39. One to one correspondence using two colors, or sizes of buttons

40. Empty the container of buttons by rolling dice and taking that many out each time. Older students could write/record what happened each time.

41. Design a quilt using different amounts of buttons in each square - this could use paper buttons.

42. Lace big plastic buttons for fine motor skills.

43. Play Mancala after making your own games - sponsor a tournament. Directions below:



Place 4 similar buttons in each bowl of the egg carton - does not matter what color is where. Do not put anything in the end Mancalas. Place the game between two players with the Mancalas at the left and right of players. Each player "own" the Mancala to the right of them and the 6 bowls of buttons closest to them. Player one starts by scooping up all the buttons from one of the bowls on their own side. The player drops one button in each bowl going to his or her right continuing around the Mancala board including their own Mancala but not opponents Mancala. They will be adding buttons to opponents bowls at times tho. Any time a player puts his/her LAST button into their own Mancala during their turn, they get to have another turn. If a player has an empty bowl on their side and places their last button in that empty bowl, they get to take any buttons in their opponents bowl directly opposite where they just landed. Players take turns moving. Play until one person runs out of buttons on their side - not including the Mancala. The object is not to go out first but to have the most buttons in your Mancala.When one side has all their buttons gone, the remaining person gets to place all the remaining buttons left in their bowl into their Mancala. Then the buttons are counted from each Mancala and the one with the most buttons wins the game. It is not always best to go out first. HINT: Think about how you can place your last button each turn in the Mancala so you can have another turn.


I made home made Mancala games with my 2nd graders a couple years ago. Everyone brought an egg carton. I provided two styrofoam cups - like the size ice cream comes in for each and they tied the cup to each end of their egg carton while it was open and with yarn in a knot. This made the game board. Each child needs 48 buttons in sets of 4 for each of the 12 "holes" in the egg carton. When not playing the buttons were kept together in a small snack baggie inside the carton. The carton was closed with the lid down and placed in a clear plastic bag I got donated from the store bakery where they make French bread -- long bags. Twist a tie on it and Mancala game can be stored in desks for rainy days or a class tournament.

HAPPY LEARNING WITH BUTTONS! Should you have any additional ideas, please email me with them. Thanks!


DearMrsS2 (school screen name)