BackBright Hub EducationBrowse

Tally It Up! Activities for the Primary Classroom on Tally Marks

By Carole Bruzzano

Using varied lesson circumstances improves student learning, as educational research consistently shows. Teaching tally marks to students using the activities presented here provides interactive lessons requiring students' active participation through full body movements and hands-on activities.

Making the Mark

Through the process of tallying and gathering data, students in primary grades will have the opportunity to interact with peers, while addressing their different learning styles (visual, auditory and kinesthetic). Students also apply interpersonal and intrapersonal skills through learning reflections at the completion of these types of exercises. These tally mark activities are specifically designed for 2nd grade students and modifications for first grade and kindergarten follow each activity description.

Tally Mark Straws

For this activity you will need two packages of different colored drinking straws. Line students up in the back of the classroom in two separate lines to form two teams; A and B. Students face the blackboard. Provide each student with a straw that has a piece of rolled tape on it so that it sticks to the board.

Set up the board for this activity by doing the following:

  1. Write Tally Mark Straws on the top center of the board.
  2. Underline it.
  3. Draw a line down the center to create a T chart.
  4. Write Team A on one side of the vertical line and Team B on the other side.

Inform students that they will be taking turns adding tally marks as a song plays. When the song stops, the team with the most tally marks (crossed correctly at each 5th tally) wins. Tell students that each person walks quickly to the board, places the straw on their team's area to represent a tally mark, then comes back and touches the next person's hand; that person repeats the process. Students repeat these steps until the music stops. The team with the most tally marks correctly placed wins.

Helpful hint: Have a basket of extra straws with rolled tape on each ready for students who are going a second and third time to the board.

1st grade modification

Have a set of five tally marks already represented with straws for each team's playing area. Orally review the model set of tally marks for the students pointing out that the fifth tally mark crosses four tally marks before starting a new set. Inform students each one will add a straw to their team's playing area and everyone stops moving when the music stops playing.

Kindergarten modification

Do not use a T chart. Place four straws on the board to represent tally marks. Model for students how the fifth straw is crossed over the four straws to respresent five. Allow students to take turns crossing the four tally marks. As each student is called up to the board, ask the following question: How many tally marks do the straws show? Students will say four. Tell the student to add the other straw to show five tally marks. Remove the straw after each student and give it to the next one called to the board.

Tally Mark Totals

This activity is performed in student pairs. Students are placed in pairs to count objects in the room with specific characteristics. The results gathered are entered onto a simple, teacher-created chart. Totals are then compared to identify which object characteristic is most common in the classroom.

To create a chart draw a line down the center of a piece of paper and two lines across the paper to create three separate sections. You will have a total of six boxes, three in the first column and three in the second. Write one characteristic in each box in the first column. Leave the second column boxes blank for students to record tally marks. You may choose from items from the list below to create a chart or choose your own three items for this activity:

  • objects made of wood, objects made of plastic, objects made of paper
  • blue book bags, red book bags, multicolored book bags
  • square objects, round objects, rectangular objects

Provide each pair of students with a copy of the teacher-made chart and a blank sheet of paper. One student in each pair marks the tallies into the chart and the other student uses the blank sheet of paper for recording simple drawings of the objects identified.

1st grade modification

Identify one item for students to count. For example, how many posters on the wall include the letter A or the color red. Provide two sheets of paper to each pair, one for the tally marks and one for the simple drawings.

Kindergarten modification

Count specific items with students and model tally marks on the board. Have students identify the objects by walking up to them and pointing them out for you. Record a tally mark for each object identified by students on the board.

Lesson Closings Using Learning Reflections

These tally marks activities for primary grades provide an excellent opportunity to include lesson reflections into their designs. This allows for students to look back on the learning activity and clarify any misunderstandings or confusions that may exist. For the two activities presented here, students participate in an oral learning reflection as the lesson's closing. To use oral learning reflections with each group, ask the following questions at the end of the lessons:

Grade 2

  • For Tally Mark Straws and Tally Mark Totals: What does the information presented in the chart tell us?
  • For Tally Mark Straws and Tally Mark Totals: How will this information help us to answer questions about the items represented by the tally marks?

Grade 1

  • For Tally Mark Straws: Which Group of students added the most tally marks as the song played?
  • For Tally Mark Totals: Which object was found most in the room? Which object was found the least?


  • For Tally Mark Straws: How many tally marks do we make before we cross the marks with another tally mark?
  • For Tally Mark Totals: What other types of items in the classroom can be counted using tally marks?

Class Surveys as Extension Activities

To challenge the advanced students in your group, pose questions that require students to analyze information gathered from the tally marks. Class surveys are a great way to do this. Class surveys not only allow for challenging questions to be answered by students, but they also provide you with the opportunity to model appropriate social skills for the students, assess appropriate social behaviors among the students and correct inappropriate behaviors as they arise.

Another extension activity is to allow students to create their own survey questions. This can be done as a whole group activity. You list the students' questions on the board then allow students to choose one question from the list created. That question is then used as a homework assignment. Students survey family members and share the results in class the following day.