What Math Is Taught In First Grade?

Written by Dan

Last updated

Are you the parent of a first-grader who is wondering what they’ll be learning in math this year? Many parents are uncertain about exactly what each grade covers in mathematics and it can sometimes feel like we’re talking a different language!

In this post, we’ll delve into what your child will learn during their first-grade math curriculum so that you have some context to understand as your child progresses in their academic endeavors.

Read on for an overview of key topics, tips about where children may need extra support, and activities to help them build their skillset!

Related: For more, check out our article on How To Improve Writing In First Grade  here.

quotes about school

Table of Contents

Overview of the Common Core Math Curriculum for First Grade 

The Common Core Math Curriculum is a set of educational standards that outlines the knowledge and skills students should acquire in mathematics from kindergarten through high school.

Many states across the United States have adopted these standards to provide consistency and quality in education. This article will focus on the first-grade Common Core Math Curriculum, highlighting its goals and main components.

Goals of the First-Grade Common Core Math Curriculum

The primary goal of the first-grade math curriculum is to build a strong foundation in mathematical concepts and skills. It aims to develop students’ understanding of basic mathematical principles and help them become proficient in problem-solving, critical thinking, and reasoning.

The curriculum is designed to:

  1. Foster a positive attitude towards mathematics.
  2. Develop number sense and an understanding of the base-ten system.
  3. Encourage fluency in addition and subtraction within 20.
  4. Introduce the concept of measurement and data analysis.
  5. Build a basic understanding of geometry and spatial relationships.

Main Components of the First-Grade Common Core Math Curriculum

The first-grade math curriculum is divided into four main domains, each covering specific topics and skills.

1. Operations and Algebraic Thinking

In this domain, students learn about addition and subtraction within 20. They are introduced to various problem-solving strategies, such as counting on, making ten, and using doubles. Students also learn to understand word problems involving addition and subtraction and to represent these problems with equations.

Key topics covered in this domain include:

  • Understanding addition and subtraction
  • Solving word problems
  • Applying properties of operations
  • Working with addition and subtraction equations

2. Number and Operations in Base Ten

This domain focuses on helping students develop an understanding of the base-ten system. Students learn to count, read, and write numbers up to 120 and to compare two-digit numbers using the symbols >, <, and =. They also work with place value concepts, including tens and ones, to add and subtract two-digit numbers.

Key topics covered in this domain include:

  • Counting and understanding place value
  • Comparing two-digit numbers
  • Adding and subtracting within 100

3. Measurement and Data

Students learn to measure lengths indirectly and by iterating length units in the measurement and data domain. They also learn to organize, represent, and interpret data using various methods such as bar graphs and line plots. Additionally, they are introduced to the concept of time and money.

Key topics covered in this domain include:

  • Measuring lengths
  • Comparing lengths
  • Representing and interpreting data
  • Telling and writing time
  • Working with money

4. Geometry

The geometry domain focuses on helping students develop an understanding of shapes and their attributes. Students learn to identify and describe common two-dimensional shapes, such as triangles, squares, and rectangles, and three-dimensional shapes like cubes, cones, and cylinders. They also explore concepts related to partitioning shapes into equal parts and understanding fractions.

Key topics covered in this domain include:

  • Identifying and describing shapes
  • Analyzing and comparing shapes
  • Composing and decomposing shapes
  • Partitioning shapes and understanding fractions

The first-grade Common Core Math Curriculum provides a comprehensive framework for developing students’ mathematical understanding and skills.

By focusing on operations and algebraic thinking, number and operations in base ten, measurement and data, and geometry, the curriculum helps students build a strong foundation in mathematics that will serve them well in later grades.

Related: For more, check out our article on The Importance Of Teaching Graphs here.

Building a Foundation with Number Sense and Counting Skills 

In first grade, developing a solid foundation in number sense and counting skills is crucial for students’ success in mathematics. Students will be better equipped to tackle more complex mathematical concepts in later grades by cultivating a deep understanding of numbers and their relationships.

Importance of Number Sense and Counting Skills

Number sense refers to the ability to understand and manipulate numbers and their relationships. It is a critical component of early mathematics education, as it serves as the basis for all other mathematical concepts. In first grade, students with a strong foundation in number sense can:

  1. Recognize and represent numbers in various ways, such as through numerals, words, or objects.
  2. Understand the relative magnitude of numbers and how they compare to one another.
  3. Perform basic arithmetic operations like addition and subtraction with ease and fluency.
  4. Develop problem-solving abilities and apply mathematical reasoning to real-life situations.

Counting skills, an essential aspect of number sense, involve counting objects accurately, identifying numerals, and understanding the relationship between numbers and quantities. Strong counting skills enable first graders to:

  1. Grasp the concept of one-to-one correspondence between numbers and objects.
  2. Understand the cardinality principle, which states that the last number counted represents the total quantity of objects.
  3. Use ordinal numbers to describe the position of objects in a sequence.
  4. Apply skip-counting patterns to solve problems and develop a foundation for multiplication.

Strategies for Building a Foundation in Number Sense and Counting Skills

To help first graders develop strong number sense and counting skills, educators and parents can employ various strategies and activities:

1. Engage in Hands-on Activities

Use manipulatives, such as counters, blocks, or beads, to represent numbers and quantities. These hands-on materials provide a concrete way for students to explore number concepts and develop their counting skills.

2. Play Number Games

Incorporate games that involve counting, comparing, and ordering numbers. Games like “War” with number cards, “Number Bingo,” or “Roll and Compare” help reinforce number sense in a fun and engaging manner.

3. Connect Math to Real Life

Please encourage students to apply their number sense and counting skills in real-life situations. For example, have them count the number of items in a grocery cart, determine how many more minutes until a specific time, or calculate the change they should receive when purchasing.

4. Practice Skip Counting

Introduce skip counting by 2s, 5s, and 10s to help students recognize patterns and build a foundation for multiplication. Use songs, chants, or visual aids like hundred charts to support skip counting practice.

5. Encourage Mental Math

Develop students’ mental math abilities by asking them to solve simple arithmetic problems without using paper or manipulatives. This practice will help strengthen their number sense and improve their mathematical fluency.

Building a solid foundation in number sense and counting skills is essential for first graders’ success in mathematics. Educators and parents can support students as they develop these crucial skills by engaging in hands-on activities, playing number games, connecting math to real life, practising skip counting, and encouraging mental math.

First grade math

Developing Understanding in Addition and Subtraction Concepts 

First grade is a crucial period for developing foundational mathematical skills in children. One of the most important concepts to be introduced at this stage is addition and subtraction.

These two basic arithmetic operations serve as building blocks for more advanced math concepts. Fostering a solid understanding of addition and subtraction in first-grade students will set them up for success in their future mathematical endeavors.

Introducing Addition and Subtraction Concepts

When introducing addition and subtraction concepts to first-grade students, it’s essential to use hands-on activities and visual representations. This helps young children grasp the meaning behind these operations and relate them to real-life situations. Some effective strategies for teaching addition and subtraction include:

1. Using manipulatives

Manipulatives are physical objects that children can easily move and manipulate to help them understand abstract concepts. Examples include counters, blocks, and beads. Teachers can use these tools to demonstrate addition and subtraction problems, allowing students to see how numbers can be combined or separated in various ways.

2. Number lines

A number line is a visual representation of numbers arranged in order along a straight line. It can be used to teach addition and subtraction by encouraging students to count forward or backward along the line. Number lines help students visualize the relationship between numbers and understand the idea of moving from one number to another through addition or subtraction.

3. Word problems

Word problems are a great way to connect addition and subtraction concepts to real-life situations. By presenting mathematical operations within the context of a story, students can better understand the purpose and application of these skills. Word problems also encourage critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

4. Group activities

Collaborative learning can be an effective way to engage first-grade students in addition and subtraction concepts. Group activities, such as solving problems together or playing math games, can create a supportive environment for learning and help students develop their social skills.

Building Fluency and Confidence

First-grade students need ample opportunities to practice these skills to develop a strong understanding of addition and subtraction. Teachers can build fluency and confidence in their students by:

  1. Providing various practice materials, such as worksheets, flashcards, and online games.
  2. Encouraging mental math strategies, like counting on, doubles facts, and making ten.
  3. Offering differentiated instruction to cater to individual learning needs and abilities.
  4. Providing positive reinforcement and celebrating progress to boost student confidence.

Monitoring Progress and Assessing Understanding

Regular assessment ensures students develop a solid understanding of addition and subtraction concepts. Teachers can monitor progress and assess knowledge through:

  1. Observations during class activities and group work.
  2. Written assessments, like quizzes or tests.
  3. Student self-assessments and reflections.
  4. Parent-teacher conferences to discuss student performance and areas for improvement.

Working with Shapes, Graphs, and Measurement Practices 

First grade is an exciting time for young learners as they begin to explore the world of mathematics. One of the most engaging topics for students at this age is working with shapes, graphs, and measurement practices.

These concepts help build a strong foundation for more advanced math skills in the future. Let’s examine these areas and how they are taught in first grade.


In first grade, students are introduced to various geometric shapes and their properties. They learn to recognize and name basic shapes such as squares, circles, triangles, and rectangles. Teachers use a variety of hands-on activities, games, and visual aids to help students understand these shapes and their characteristics.

For example, students might:

  • Sort objects by shape
  • Create pictures using different shapes
  • Identify shapes in the environment

As students become more familiar with each shape, they explore their properties, such as the number of sides and vertices. This helps to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


Graphs are an essential tool for displaying and interpreting data. In first grade, students learn about simple graphs like bar graphs and pictographs. They are taught how to collect and organize data using tally marks, count objects, and represent their findings on a graph.

Some activities that can help students understand graphs include:

  • Conducting surveys within the classroom (e.g., favorite snacks, pets, or colors)
  • Creating a class graph to display the results of the survey
  • Analyzing the data and concluding the graphs

These activities help students grasp the concept of graphs and encourage them to work together and communicate their ideas effectively.

Measurement Practices

First graders are introduced to measurement through various hands-on activities and real-life examples. They learn about different units of measurement, such as length, weight, and capacity. Students are taught to compare objects using non-standard units like paper clips, blocks, or their hands and feet. They also learn the concept of time, understanding the basics of hours, minutes, and seconds.

Some activities that can help students develop measurement skills include:

  • Estimating the length of objects and then measuring them with non-standard units
  • Comparing the weight of different objects using a balance scale
  • Filling containers with water or sand to explore the capacity

As students become more comfortable with these concepts, they can gradually transition to using standard units of measurement, such as inches, feet, and centimetres.

Fostering Problem-Solving Strategies with Word Problems 

Teaching first graders to tackle word problems can be a challenging yet rewarding endeavor. Word problems are essential to math education, as they help students develop crucial problem-solving skills and apply mathematical concepts to real-world situations.

To foster these skills in first grade, it is essential to introduce word problems early on and incorporate various problem-solving strategies. Here are some effective ways to do this.

1. Start with Simple Word Problems

First graders are just beginning to grasp basic mathematical concepts, so starting with simple word problems involving addition and subtraction is essential. Use familiar contexts and objects to make the problems relatable and engaging for young learners. For example:

Sarah has 3 apples and she buys 2 more. How many apples does she have now?

2. Teach Different Problem-Solving Strategies

Introduce various problem-solving strategies to help first graders approach word problems with confidence. Some effective strategies include:

  • Drawing a Picture: Encourage students to visualize the problem by drawing a picture representing the given information. This helps them understand the situation better and identify the operation needed to solve the problem.
  • Using Manipulatives: Provide hands-on learning experiences by using manipulatives like counters, blocks, or number lines to represent the problem. This helps students physically see and interact with the numbers involved.
  • Acting it Out: Have students solve the problem with their classmates using props or role-playing. This makes the problem more concrete and enjoyable, leading to better understanding and retention.
  • Writing a Number Sentence: Teach students to translate the word problem into a number sentence (e.g., 3 + 2 = ?). This helps them recognize the mathematical operation required and practice writing equations.

3. Model the Problem-Solving Process

Demonstrate the problem-solving process step-by-step using the strategies mentioned above. Walk through each step, explaining your thought process and reasoning. This helps students understand how to approach a word problem and apply the appropriate strategy.

4. Encourage Collaboration and Discussion

Fostering a collaborative learning environment allows students to share their ideas and learn from one another. Divide students into small groups or pairs to work on word problems together. Encourage them to discuss their strategies and explain their reasoning to their peers. This promotes critical thinking and communication skills.

5. Provide Opportunities for Practice and Reflection

Give students ample opportunities to practice solving word problems using the various strategies. Provide a mix of problems that require different operations and challenge students to think critically. After completing a problem, please encourage students to reflect on their strategy and why it was effective.

6. Offer Praise and Support

First graders may find word problems challenging at first, so it is crucial to offer praise and support throughout the learning process. Celebrate their successes and encourage them to keep trying when they face difficulties. Providing positive reinforcement helps build confidence in their problem-solving abilities.

Understanding Place Value and Basic Algebraic Thinking

In first grade, students begin to grasp the foundational concepts of mathematics, which includes understanding place value and basic algebraic thinking.

These skills are essential for developing a strong mathematical foundation to serve them throughout their academic journey. This article will explore the importance of place value and basic algebraic thinking in first grade, and how teachers can help students build these crucial skills.

Place Value

Place value is the concept that the position of a digit in a number determines its value. In our base-10 system, each position represents a power of ten. For example, in the number 123, the digit 1 represents 100 (1 * 10^2), the digit 2 represents 20 (2 * 10^1), and the digit 3 represents 3 (3 * 10^0).

Understanding place value is critical for first-grade students as it lays the groundwork for more complex mathematical concepts such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Teaching Place Value in First Grade

To teach place value effectively, teachers can use various strategies and tools, such as:

  1. Using manipulatives: Base-10 blocks, counting rods, and other manipulatives help students visualize the concept of place value. Students can group these manipulatives into tens and ones to understand the value of each digit in a number.
  2. Number charts and grids: Number charts and grids can help students see patterns in numbers and understand the role of tens and ones in determining a number’s value.
  3. Games and activities: Engaging students in games and activities, such as matching numbers with their corresponding base-10 representations, can make learning place value fun and interactive.

Basic Algebraic Thinking

Basic algebraic thinking involves recognizing patterns, making generalizations, and understanding relationships between numbers. In first grade, students begin to develop these skills by exploring number patterns, solving simple word problems, and learning about basic operations like addition and subtraction.

Teaching Basic Algebraic Thinking in First Grade

Teachers can use various strategies to help first-grade students develop their algebraic thinking skills, such as:

  1. Pattern recognition: Encourage students to observe and identify patterns in numbers, shapes, and other objects. This can be done by creating repeating patterns with manipulatives or identifying patterns in a number sequence.
  2. Word problems: Introduce simple word problems that require students to use their understanding of addition and subtraction to find solutions. This helps them develop problem-solving skills and learn to apply mathematical concepts in real-life situations.
  3. Using symbols and variables: Teach students to use symbols and variables (e.g., +, -, x) to represent mathematical operations and unknown quantities. This will help them become familiar with the language of algebra and understand the concept of solving for an unknown variable.

Math is essential to master early on as it sets the foundation for future mathematics problems and concepts. It is important to note that math skills in first grade can vary depending on the teacher and the individual student.

This article has outlined the fundamental concepts of mathematics typically taught in a first grade classroom. However, staying informed about what content is being prepared is always beneficial. If you have any doubts or questions, speak with your child’s teacher or contact relevant authorities for more information.

Additionally, if this article has sparked an interest in learning more about other topics covered in different grade levels, explore our other articles and learn more.


1. What are the main math topics taught in first grade?

n first grade, students learn basic math concepts such as addition, subtraction, number sense, place value, measurement, time, and money.

2. How do first graders learn addition and subtraction?

First graders learn addition and subtraction through hands-on activities, visual representations, and solving simple word problems. They start with single-digit numbers and gradually progress to two-digit numbers.

3. What is number sense, and why is it important for first graders?

Number sense refers to a student’s understanding of numbers and their relationships. In first grade, students build number sense by counting, comparing, and ordering numbers up to 100. Developing a strong number sense is crucial for success in future math courses.

4. How do first graders learn about place value?

First graders learn place value by working with two-digit numbers. They are taught to recognize the value of each digit in a number, understand that the placement of a digit determines its value, and use place value to compare and order numbers.

5. How are measurements taught in first grade?

Measurements are introduced in first grade using non-standard units, such as paperclips or blocks, to measure length, weight, and capacity. Students also begin learning standard units like inches, feet, pounds, and cups.

6. What do first graders learn about time?

First graders learn to tell time to the hour and half-hour using analog clocks. They also gain an understanding of basic time concepts, such as morning, afternoon, evening, and night.

7. How is money introduced in first grade?

n first grade, students learn to identify and count coins (pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters). They also begin learning how to make simple transactions using coins, such as buying items with a given amount of money.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.






Join our email list to receive the latest updates.

Add your form here