In kindergarten, we use a variety of dot arrangements for Number Talks. We started with under 5 dots in the beginning of the year, and after few months in, we are under ten. From the beginning, I observed various strategies and the most popular strategy has been to find a smaller number inside a larger one and count the rest. Other strategies are grouping smaller numbers in a large group, and quickly and mentally counting the arrangement by ones.
As time has passed, students are making faster and faster calculations and they are quicker at finding smaller numbers in a large arrangement. For example, in an 8 dot arrangement some students will quickly see 4 and 4 dots, while others will see 5 and 3 or 6 and 2. This type of grouping has evolved as we are working with bigger numbers and it is especially relevant now that we are working in a Unit with addition. Their explanations of their thinking have also evolved with time. Students not only see 4 and 4 dots, now they are more specific in explaining their dots location with a more sophisticated language. I see 4 dots in the center and other 4 dots around the center. I see five on the top and 3 on the bottom. I see six in the left side and 2 other dots in the right side.
Of course I still have a little group that is working with numbers under five and we are meeting daily to work on larger numbers and to use more specific language to explain their thinking.