Hot Chocolate Play

My brilliant kindergarten colleagues Lauren Nye and Courtney Carroll recently came up with another engaging way to practice counting in a playful way–making pretend hot chocolate.  This counting task mirrors our Halloween Trick or Treat play in which children counted to a specific number, a different kind of task than when children are asked to count all of a collection.

Children were given a set of plastic holiday cups each marked with a number 1-20, indicating the number of marshmallows that a customer would get in their pretend hot chocolate at the hot chocolate shop. The kids loved getting into the play of it. “Oh, this person is so sad, only two marshmallows!” or “You are the lucky one. Twenty for you.” “Seven for you, nine for you, looks almost the same.” Playful, mathematically rich conversation.

As I watched them work, here are the mathematically significant information I was looking for:

1) Does the child recognize the numeral on the cup automatically? Or does she use a tool (number line, number grid) to figure out what number word/quantity the numeral corresponds to?

2) Does the child maintain 1:1 while counting the marshmallows? If not, where does he lose the 1:1?

3) Does the child understand that she needs to stop adding marshmallows at the numeral written on the cup? Early counters will often not yet monitor for the stopping number, but rather continue counting.

4) Is the child consistent in number word order? Watch for children who get lost in the teens or meld 13/14 into one number, forget the decade numbers.


As this task was occurring mostly while I facilitated math exchanges with small groups (with some check-ins from me), I wanted to make sure that the task was truly independent.  This task was a good fit for most of my students. For more struggling students I limited the number of marshmallow cups and taught them to use a number line or ask a friend to help them identify the numeral. Here are a couple of ideas for those who complete this task with ease.

1) Extend the hot chocolate task to larger numbers, 20-30, or 50-60. Do they start organizing in any way (by tens, perhaps) to make sure they don’t get lost in the counting of the higher numbers?

2) Give the child several different size cups. Ask: “Which cup do you think will hold the most marshmallows? The least? Can you test your estimate? When the child has filled the cup half way, “Do you want to stick with your original estimate or change it? Why?”

3) How many marshmallows do you think come in one bag? Is there an easy way you could figure that out?

Leading Into Problem Solving

And, of course, with all counting tasks, I like them to lead into problem solving. Here are some problems we will be solving when we get back from winter break.

1) ___ friends each have a mug of hot chocolate. They put ___ marshmallows into each their mugs. How many marshmallows did the friends use altogether? (Multiplication)

2) Ms. Wedekind has ____ marshmallows to put in Avery, Miguel, and David’s marshmallow mugs. She wants to make sure each child gets the same number of marshmallows. How many marshmallows will she put in each mug of hot chocolate? (Partitive Division)

What counting and problem solving tasks are keeping your mathematicians’ brains warm this winter season?


6 thoughts on “Hot Chocolate Play

  1. This is a great activity, Kassia! I’m going to share it with the Kindergarten teachers in my Board too. I bet they’ll love it! You have me thinking about how I can apply this for use in my Grade 1/2 classroom. Thanks!


    1. Thanks, Aviva. 1st and 2nd graders could certainly benefit from the task of organizing and counting a bag (or a smaller bag you make up) of marshmallows as an inventorying task for a pretend hot chocolate stand. How would they organize and count? In 1st and 2nd grade you should see some more sophisticated organizing and counting strategies by 5s, 10s, 100s. For problem solving, they could thinking about how they could store marshmallows in the hot chocolate store for orders. “All customers get 5 or 10 (strategic numbers—5 will show benefit of not counting by 1, 10 will do the same and start highlighting place value ideas) marshmallows. ___ customers come into the store. How many marshmallows did you use today?” Or, you had ____ marshmallows in your bag. If you give each customer 10 marshmallows in their mug, how many customers can you serve? How many left over marshmallows will you have? It’s a similar concept to the problem solving I talk about in Chapter 7 of my book with the cupcake problems. Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

  2. Hi Kassia and Aviva! (It’s so fun that we all sort of know each other, isn’t it?) Aviva – this reminds of how we introduced the beginnings of division to 1st and 2nd graders at my previous school: using the expression “fair share.” Example: we have this bag of marshmallows, and there are 3 (or 5 or 10 or the whole class) customers in the shop. How can we divide the marshmallows so everyone gets their fair share?” There are, of course, many ways for children to sort this out, depending on their own skill sets. Answers ranged from the sweet and simple: “Give everyone 1 marshmallow, and save the rest for later” all the way up to fractions: “Everyone has 4 marshmallows, and we have 2 left. We need to cut them in half to make it fair.” Lots of ways to manipulate the situation to make it more or less challenging depending on the children, plus it explores the concept of “fair”: is it fair that only customers get marshmallows? What about the shopkeeper? What if someone has a bigger cup? Do they get more marshmallows? What if someone is older/younger/shorter/taller (things that are very important to young children)? What if there are more people than marshmallows? I was always amazed at the many directions the “fair share” concept could go in, especially with the emphasis on the “HOW” and not on the arithmetic of division.

  3. Thank you both for the great ideas! I’ll definitely give this a try!

    On a side note, this post reminded me of when I taught Kindergarten, and I used to make hot chocolate in the water table (mix water with all colours of food coloring to make brown & add in three containers of vanilla for a richer colour and a nice aroma too). I’d put in film canisters for the marshmallows, and I’d throw in laminated words and letters too. Students used to use ladles to pull out the words and letters and read them. Now they could use big cups and the film canister marshmallows for this great math activity. Maybe they could work in some measurement in the water centre too.


  4. Great idea! I will be storing this one away for when winter comes in Australia.

    It reminds me of an activity I used to do with popcorn in Grades 1 and 2. Lots of estimating. Hands-on Maths activities, definately a great way to learn and easier to cater for differing needs.

    Thanks again for your post.

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