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Fun with Ten Frames (And Also Learning Place Value and Number Sense)

A photo of a ten frame with four bolts placed in the spaces. Next to the ten frame is a picture of C3P0 saying "I have [blank]. I need [blank] more to get to ten."

Ten frames are a simple and effective way to teach students about concepts such as:

  • How many more you need to make ten (addition),

  • Exploring different ways to make ten (this promotes fluency with addition, as you learn to quickly figure out addition and subtraction problems because you understand the relationship between 7 + 3 = 10, 10 - 3 = 7, etc.).

  • Indirectly helps prepare students for the concept of fractions (particularly tenths) because you've explored parts of a whole.

  • Using two ten frames side-by-side (to illustrate a two digit number) can also be used along with lessons about place value as an additional way to show this concept (Reference: Way, 2011).

I'll share one way of teaching kids how to use a ten frame, and then some links to games and activities you can do with them. What's great about ten frames is that you can use them with toys, figures, or materials that match your child's interests, like the example above with some droids and some bolts that I got at Home Depot. More photos of this activity are at the end of this post.

Step 1: Let the child look at an empty ten frame, count the number of spaces on it, etc. You want to the child to know that it has ten spaces.

Step 2: Give a simple instruction, using written directions or modeling/demonstration if necessary.

A picture of a ten frame with two dinosaurs on it next to a piece of paper that reads, "Put 2 dinosaurs on the ten frame."

Step 3: Practice counting how many more you need to make ten. Have the student count the blank spaces for how many more to make ten and then add that many dinosaurs to the frame.

A picture of the ten frame with two dinosaurs on it, next to a paper that reads, "Put 2 dinosaurs on the ten frame. How many more do you need to make ten?"

A ten frame with ten dinosaurs.

More Games and Activities with Ten Frames

Another Set of Free Printable Ten Frames (with nothing else on the page):

Three Ten Frame Games and How to Use Them:

50 Ten Frame Activities:

Ten Frame Playing Cards:

Ten Frame Stamp:

Ten Frame Floor Mat:

How I Taught the "Droid" Ten Frame Activity

Step 1: Pretended that this droid needed some bolts for repair. Told student that the droid would tell him how many bolts he had and to put those on the ten frame:

A drawing of C3P0 saying, "Put 6 bolts on the ten frame."

Step 2: Turned the speech bubble over (this text was printed on the other side). Once the student had 6 bolts on the ten frame, I wrote 6 in the first blank.

A drawing of C3P0 saying, "I have 6. I need blank more to get to 10.".

Step 3: Once the student counted the remaining space on the ten frame (with prompting if needed) and saw that there were 4, I wrote 4 in this blank:

A drawing of C3P0 saying, "I have 6. I need 4 more to get to ten.".

Step 4: Turned the speech bubble back over and wrote the math problem with a blank for the student to fill in:

A drawing of C3P0 along with the math equation 6 + blank = 10..

Step 5: The student fills in the blank and we repeat with another speech bubble.

A drawing of C3P0 along with the math equation 6 + 4 = 10..

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