Creating Tactile Graphics Images Part 6: Characters and Counting

Continue building math numeracy with fun tactile characters (animals and objects) and counting skills.

In the previous post, Creating Tactile Graphics Images Part 5: Shapes, we continued the discussion on creating simple preschool and early elementary worksheets focusing on shapes. The worksheets in the shapes post included activities to practice identifying the basic shapes along with concepts such as big/little and where the shape is located on the page (top, bottom, etc.). We also discussed the importance of starting with real objects and transferirng the identifying characters of the object to a 2 dimensional tactile graphic. In Part 6, we are going to use more challenging images such as animals or objects; these images are also more motivating for students. In “addition” we will introduce counting. (No pun intended!)

Big Picture: The Importance of Worksheets

In the previous Part 4 Maze post, we discussed the importance of preschool and early elementary worksheets – these worksheets are not simply “busy work”, but are used to teach and practice so many foundational skills. The purpose of this series is to show ways to easily adapt these common visual worksheets to accessible tactile worksheets using a tactile graphics machine and to provide sample worksheets for educators to download and use. Post 5 and 6 are focusing on concepts that build not only tactile graphic skills but also strong math skills.

Graphics with Characters (animals and objects) 

With the shape worksheets, students have been exposed to basic tactile graphics skills, such as how to quickly scan the page to get a quick overview of what is there, and then to trace the edges of the shape to determine the identifying characteristics. (Example: Straight lines and four corners is a square.) Now, students are ready to expand their knowledge with more challenging images! 

[Image: Full page, side image of a cow with braille label, “cow”.]

Side Image of a cow with 4 feet, long tail, 2 horns, and udder. The cow is solid except for the outline around the hooves, horns and udder

Download the PIAF/Swell-ready graphic Cow full size image here.

This PIAF/Swell-reading image was created using a free online coloring page cow which has been traced, filled in, and braille added using the GoodNotes app.

Ask any toddler, “What does a cow say?” and the toddler will moo! Toddlers also learn how to act like an animal. Example: “Can you hop like a bunny?” Animals – and some of their identifying characteristics – are introduced early on. Toddlers with vision will watch cartoons and movies about farm animals, jungle animals, marine life, etc. and incidentally pick up on many distinguishing characteristics of each animal and they begin putting animals into groups. They quickly learn which animals have wings and fly, have fins and swim, have four legs and run or two legs and hop. Preschoolers who are visually impaired often need intentional instruction about these characteristics and exposure to real animals and/or models of real animals. As an O&M, I frequently took preschool and kindergarten students on lessons to a pet store and arranged for the student to hold a fish under water and let a bird walk perch on his/her arm. Preschool and kindergarten classrooms are full animal models/toys that can be used to learn distinguishing characteristics. Remember when beanie babies were so popular? While these popular little animals are not realistic, they often show the main characteristics of each animal.

When Creating Animal (or Object) Graphics

[Image: 3 simple, solid ducks in a row.]

Image of 3 (rubber duck shaped) solid ducks in a row.

Download the PIAF/Swell graphic Counting Ducks 3 here.

Introducing Animal Graphics

The goal of these graphics are to learn to identify the graphic (which animal) and to learn more about the animal iteself. Ideally, introduce a graphic as part of a school activity. Example: If the unit is about farm animals and the class is reading a book about a chicken and eggs, then introduce an egg (real or model) before introducing the egg tactile graphic. Connect the shape of the egg (oval) with the egg graphic. Introduce a model of a chicken then a simple chicken graphic. If the students are coloring a chicken worksheet, then introduce a coloring page of a chicken and talk about the identifying characteristics. This is a great time to also introduce “grouping” concepts; a chicken belongs in the “farm animal” group. A chicken is also in the “bird group”. It has two feet (can walk), has wings (can fly), has a beak and lays eggs (sits on the eggs – image without feet). Also talk about what the chicken does not have – it does not have ears that stick out! Later, when the student understands tactile graphics, then you can show various tactile graphics of the same animal in different positions (sitting, walking, flying, etc.)

As the student’s concepts about animals grow, the tactile graphic can become more detailed. Example: A tactile graphic of a frog for a kindergarten student is going to be very different than a tactile graphic of a frog for 8th grade biology! As the student progresses, students will need to be exposed to detailed tactile graphics with braille labels. In this post, let’s stick to the basic tactile graphics geared for younger students!

Using Tactile Graphics for Counting Activities

The goal of these graphics is to be able to count the number of graphics. The images should be small, partly because of space (multiple images on the page) and because the student should be able to easily feel the individual image with minimal finger movement. If counting two different groups, the two different images should be easily distinguished from each other. Place the images in a line/grid and not randomly on the page. Young students are learning to track left to right (to read). 10 Frames (2 rows by 5 columns) is a foundational piece in math numeracy skills; you might decide to use 2 rows with 5 columns and incorporate these spatial skills early on!

Counting tactile graphic images should also be solid images, which are easier to identify than outlined images.

If your student has been exposed to tactile images, start by using smaller, simpler versions of the animals the student is familiar with. If starting with a gen ed worksheet, you can use the same animals (might need to simplify the animal) or you can re-create the worksheet skill (such as counting 5 objects) with objects/animals that best suits your student. Keep in mind that your student should not stay with simple shape objects if his/her peer is identifying animals or more complex visual graphics. Make a plan to build your student’s tactile skills so that he/she is doing the same work (building the same foundational skills) as his/her peers.

Counting Activity 1

It’s okay if your student does not initially recognize the counting tactile graphic animal!  You (the TVI) can pre-teach the animal graphic. You can ask the student to find the identifying characteristics of the animal (Example: With the duck image below, it might be the round head, the beak, and no legs. If the student has had previous experience with this animal graphic, he/she may be able to identify the characteristics independently and name the animal. If time does not allow detailed exploration, you or the classroom teacher can name the animal. There will be times that the student should just quickly count the animal and not spend time on what kind of animal it is! Again, it is all about the goal of the activity.

[Image: 2 rows, 3 columns with 5 small solid duck images.]

Image of Counting Duck page with 5 small

Download PIAF/Swell-ready graphic Counting Ducks 5 image here.

The goal of this activity is to systematically find and count the ducks. Before the student can count the images, he/she has to learn how to systematically find the images. Students should be pre-taught how to systematically find the ducks before the class does this counting activity. 

Tactile Graphic and Tracking Skills

Ideally, students should do a quick scan of the page (both hands, fingers spread, quick movement down the page to find out what and where things are.) Then, the student should start in the top left corner, find the first duck, then move across the row to the right with the right hand. The student may quickly explore the first image (hopefully determine that it is a duck!) or may simply track across the row. The left hand can stay be used as a place holder and stay on the first duck or can move down to the first duck in the second row. Beginners will need prompts on how to track across the row and move down to the next row. . . just like beginner readers need to learn. Some students may track across the row with both hands, then bring the left hand back as the guiding hand. You, the TVI, can adapt the instruction to best fit your student’s needs. The priority is to develop a good, systematic pattern; the student should not be randomly moving around the page. 

If your student struggles with tracking in a straight line (left to right), then add a line below the animal that the student can follow. This line should only be used short term to teach straight line skills; it should not be used as a crutch!

Note: Young students often initially struggle with physically dragging across an iPad or tablet in a straight line. This skill is an important tech skill; learning to drag across a row in a tactile graphic is a way to support the similar tech skill when using digital resources.

[Image: 5 solid ducks; 3 ducks with a line under them in the first row and 2 ducks with a line underneath in the second row.

Same counting 5 ducks page with a horizontal line under the ducks in each row.

Download the PIAF/Swell-ready graphic of Counting Ducks with Lines here.

Note: Students often only explore one part of the page and miss other areas. That is one of the reasons the student should quickly scan the page first to get that overview. Other students may become fixated on one duck and want to explore that duck in detail again and again. For students who fixate, prompt the student to find all the images on the page, before his/her hands are on the page. Initially, students needs specific instructions on how to systematically find (and count) the images. As quickly as possible move to general prompts, such as “find all the images”, so that the student is thinking about how to do that vs. being spoon fed each and every direction. As soon as possible, literally back away from the student and let him/her become fully independent with the activity. Counting worksheets are a big part of preschool and kindergarten classwork, building into elementary school addition, subtraction, multiplication and division worksheets. Set your student up for success: the sooner your student learns to independently complete the counting worksheets, the more he/she will be independent with similar worksheets in higher grades!


Does your student know these terms and concepts?

Be consistent with terms that you use. Sighted preschoolers may not know left and right consistently; however, these are critical terms that BLV students often fully understand before kindergarten. Rows and columns are a little more challenging, but are very important and are a standard way to organize a page for a BLV student. Rows and columns are also an overlapping technology skill.

Keep in mind the goal of the activity and your student’s level and abilities!

Counting Activity 2: Answers

In this activity the student counts the animals and then has to underline the corresponding number. The student can use a crayon to mark his/her answer. Being able to mark the desired answer is an important skill and is often a method used with tests and assessments. Student who are braille readers need to know how to successfully underline the desired answer and should be practicing these skills early on – just like their peers!

In this activity, students count the ducks and then underline the correct number. Once the student has the basic skills, back away and expect the student to complete this type of activity independently!

[Image: 3 ducks in a row. At the bottom of the page are the braille numbers 1 – 4.

Image of 3 simple, solid ducks in a row. At the bottom of the page are spaced out braille Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Download the PIAF/Swell-ready graphic of Counting Ducks Answers here.

Counting Activity 3: Groups

The next step is to count two different groups of animals. The math goal is to counting two different groups, which leads to more and less than concepts and to simple addition and subtraction. The tactile graphic goal is to be able to quickly distinguish different types of small tactile graphic images. This activity also provides additional tactile graphics practice by scanning the page and then tracking the images in a systematic order while counting.

[Image of 4 small, solid ducks in the first row and 3 cows in the second row.]

Image of 4 small, solid ducks in the first row and three small, solid cows in the second row.

Download the PIAF/Swell-ready image Counting Ducks Cows here.

Creating Images: Lasso Tool

Only the initial duck and initial cow image were created. Once the original image is created, simply duplicate and rename the page (from the home screen with all the documents listed, select the down arrow icon and duplicate). Then, use the Lasso Tool in the GoodNotes app.

You can circle multiple images to copy and paste.


Attached File(s)
By Diane Brauner

Outline of a tree with roots, trunk, branches and leaves.

Our very own tree: Tactile graphics and slide Presentations

Photo of dolphin "stay between the lines" maze and text

Creating Tactile Graphics Images Part 4: Maze Worksheets

Image of a carved pumpkin and text

Creating tactile graphics images part 8: Multiple pumpkin worksheets