Get access to all Printables for just $9.99/mo with Premium!

Using Color By Number In Your Instruction

September 27, 2021 by Heather Wagoner

I love Color by Number activities as do my students. Color by Number or Color by Skill can be classified as coloring activities with a math or other skill embedded. However, if you’re like me, then I’m sure you’ve been met with hesitation a time or two by colleagues or admin. Here are a few of the comments I’ve received over the years:

  • “How is that academic?”🤦🏼‍♀️
  • “It’s not challenging.”🤯
  • “They’re just coloring.”😡
  • “You can’t assess those.”🙄
  • “They can tell the image.”😂
  • “My kids don’t color.”😢
  • “You’re just using that to get a break.”🤬

That last one really bugs me. Over the years, I crafted responses to each of those comments to showcase HOW I use Color by Number and WHY I fully believe it is an academic tool appropriate for the classroom. Read on to see how you can include Color by Number in your classroom. Make sure you check out my response to the last comment. 🙌🏻


“How is THAT academic?”🤦🏼‍♀️

This is the comment I get most frequently and is the easiest to answer in my opinion. For my classroom, I chose color by numbers (or color by skill) based on concepts we recently covered. I used them for station work, morning work, and even partner work at times. I took the time to look for ones aligned with the skills/standards. At ETTC we have sets aligned to skills for Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade! If you’re taking the time to find activities that align with what you’re teaching, how could it be anything other than academic? If your district uses the Common Core Standards, any one of our ETTC Color by Number (Color by Skill) can be matched to a standard. 

For example, this page from our Kindergarten set aligns with K.OA.A.4 “For any number from 1 to 9, find the number that makes 10 when added to the given number.” 

“It’s Not Challenging”🤯

When I hear this comment my immediate response is, “Why do you think that?” Is it because my students are working independently? Is it because they are working with a partner and talking while they work? (Yes, they can talk and work at the same time if you have expectations set in place.) Is it because you have an assumption that coloring cannot be challenging to students? Sure, if you don’t put any effort into choosing which Color by Number activity you give your students, then it might not be challenging. 

Let’s take a look at 4 different Color by Number activities across 4 different grade levels so you can see how the complexity changes. This way, you can showcase how you can differentiate for your students depending on where they are. Below are samples of addition practice in the Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade Summer sets. Look at how the complexity increases from subitizing, simple addition facts, 2-digit/2-digit addition, up to 3-digit/2-digit addition.

“They’re Just Coloring”😡

No. Nope. Don’t even go there. Yes, they are coloring BUT there is an academic component too. With a 2nd grade addition Color by Number activity, students have to complete the addition problem in order to find out which answer range their sum falls in. For a 1st grade CVC word Color by Skill activity, they have to look at the image in the code and identify the CVC word that matches before coloring. Make sure you know what the skill is that they’re working on so if someone says to you, “They’re Just Coloring.” then you can dispute that by pointing out the skill attached.

“You can’t assess those.”🙄

Thank you, Captain Obvious. While I agree, I would not use them for summative assessments, I would use them as a form of formative assessing. This WILL require effort by you, the teacher. Grab a clipboard and a spreadsheet with the activities/skills you are using with the Color by Number. Now, WALK AROUND and observe the students while they are completing the activity. Ask the students what they are working on, have them show you their work, or read a part of the activity. Ask each student a different problem (there’s PLENTY on each page, I promise) so that Susie doesn’t copy what Dameon said. Use this formative assessment to form small groups or pull for one-on-one practice.

“They can tell the image.”😂

You don’t say? Of course, they can tell the image, that still doesn’t mean they will color it correctly. Want to increase complexity? Have the students write out the answers in the spaces, or on a separate piece of paper, BEFORE they color. This is especially important for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division activities. Those often have “answer ranges,” so in order to find the color, they are required to have the correct math completed. If it is an ELA skill, have them read a couple first, so you get a feel for how they’re doing. Again, this requires you, the teacher, to move around the room, talk with the students, and make the activity interactive. 

“My kids don’t color.”😢

Well, that’s a shame. To this comment, I always ask, “Why the heck not?” Even if you don’t feel “artsy” enough as a teacher, why take that away from your students? Studies show that coloring can have wonderful benefits for children and adults alike! Not only does it help the brain focus, but it also helps improve fine motor skills! Great news for our Kindergarten teachers out there! In addition, coloring is a great way to calm the mind and refocus the body. Turn on some soothing music, bring out a Color by Number or Color by Skill activity, like these, and review skills. Want to read more about it? Check out these articles:


Ripple Kindness

Color Psychology

“You’re just using that to get a break.”🤬

Yes, someone said this to me. It took every fiber in my being to keep a positive attitude. I think my teacher bestie down the hall heard my jaw hit the floor. When someone comments on your method of instruction like that, it hurts. If you’re a teacher then you know VERY WELL, we DON’T get breaks. Even when we think we have a break, something always comes up. After I picked my jaw off the floor I responded, “I’m sorry you feel that way but no, I do not use them to ‘get a break’. I use them because they are tied to our standards and my students enjoy the calming effect of coloring. They love listening to our coffee shop tunes while they work. I roam and check in with students the entire time. If you’d like to come in and see, you’re more than welcome.” Boom. 

Using Color by Number as an educational tool is simple; know your skills, walk around a bit, and be confident. Don’t be afraid to use a resource for fear that it will be met with hesitation by others. Use it and know how to advocate for it. Psst…be on the lookout for our FALL Color By Number for kinder and first and second and third grades

Written by – Heather Wagoner

At Education to the Core, we exist to help our teachers build a stronger classroom as they connect with our community to find trusted, state-of-the-art resources designed by teachers for teachers. We aspire to be the world’s leading & most trusted community for educational resources for teachers. We improve the lives of every teacher and learner with the most comprehensive, reliable, and inclusive educational resources.

If you enjoyed what we have to offer at ETTC, be sure to join our email list so that you won’t miss a beat.