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Using a picture book to develop fluency and understanding

Published about 1 year ago by Ann Baker


This story has a strong moral:


Okay, this book is a bit tasteless, but it is great for number sense activities, even though it is not intended as a maths book. I suspect that you will either love or hate this book. Johnny hates it; I kind of love it.

The number sense activities that could arise from this book are plentiful!

Part way into the book we meet a team of seven nose pixies all lined up and easy to count. But the on the next page they are skydiving from a rocket, with one still in the rocket, and six with their parachutes open:


So now we can see that our team of seven can be seen as one and six more.

On the opposite page there are six on a lip and one in a nostril so now we have a visual for the "turn-round fact": six and one more:


But wait who jumped out of the rocket, 1st, 2nd... and are they still in that order on the opposite page? Now we have a purpose for using ordinal numbers to seven.

Number Stories and Number Sentences

Of course, I started teaching in the good old bad old days, a hundred years ago and before we had worksheets, text books or technology. We had to invent every lesson from the ground up.

Well this book jerked my memory and set me thinking about the numeracy diet that we used to offer our students. One item on the menu was always the creation of number stories that could then be translated into, number sentences. The belief was that children should be able to look at a picture or, group of objects and make up number stories about them.

For instance, in this picture, learners might describe the number story as: “Three at the top, three at the bottom, and one on the side.” Or “Two in the top corner, two in the other top corner, two in the bottom corner and one on the side.”


Now that the number story has been described a numerical number sentence can be written to match. For instance we would have constructed ‘sums’ that looked like these:


Thank goodness time does not stand still though, because doing this today we would be focused on the strategies used as much as the answers so would probably set the sums out using mini chunking or jumps on an empty number line with the secret code helping us to follow the students thought process:





The secret codes used here ("d" for double and "co" for count on) are used to show how an answer was arrived at.

There are also opportunities in this book not only to explore ways to make to 7 but also to introduce the idea of a missing addend or subtrahend.

A great example of this is the final and rudest page of all where the nose pixies end up mining the bottom pit. There are three on the page and the others we assume are in the smelly bottom pit. To find out how many in the smelly pit we can either find the change unknown:

There were 7. Now there are 3, what has changed?

We can do this as an addition story or as a subtraction story as shown by the diagrams below.


Want more, well there is also a page where lots of nose pixies are lined up and crying out to be counted in 3s. It is not every day we find a purposeful reason to unitise and count in 3s.

Imaginative Play

The book can be explicitly used as described above or can be used creatively for imaginative play. To stimulate some related imaginative play set out 7 play people, lego people or materials to make paddle pop pixies next to the now familiar book "The Nose Pixies".

Add any extra props such as a rocket picture, a nose or a mouth or a face, whatever takes your fancy. Then watch and listen as students interact with the invitation to follow up on the activities that you have been doing with the book. It is fine to interact and prompt but do not take over. Keep some focus on the number sense and number opportunities that arise. For instance, prompt for subitizing and counting on during play:

“I can see you put 3 nose pixies in the rocket. How many have jumped out? So how many are there altogether?”

Mixing number sense with artistry

I love to get messy and a bit creative, and so do many of our learners. I always had stamp pads and pastel blocks available for quick finger print activities.

The finger pixies below were very quick to create and now it is possible to create number stories and matched, number sentences about them.


For instance: 2 with picks, 5 without, 3 blue, 2 red, 2 green 4 smiling, 3 not. 1 with gunpowder … kerboom!

Lots of ways of making 7 but of course there could be more pixies if your team were ready to experiment and explore.

Want to learn more with Ann? Join her on her new online course PREVENTING THE NUMERACY GAP. Learn the key concepts essential to young mathematicians to ensure the numeracy gap doesn't open up!

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