BY MELISSA GLENN, CERTIFIED EDUCATOR AND READING SPECIALIST

*Inside:* *Discover the magic of using ten frames in your classroom through hands-on activities in math that build number sense and boost understanding of addition and subtraction.*

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I was overwhelmed sifting through all the new math manipulatives and materials that came with our shiny new curriculum. Fresh new workbooks filled with scary new approaches (thanks *Common Core* *math*), colorful counters… but one particular item had me *really* scratching my head – a set of small plastic boards, each etched with a 5×2 grid.

“What is this?” I wondered, turning the frame over in my hands. I hadn’t used them before. Had never *seen* them before.

But these grids were everywhere in our new program. And when I say everywhere- I mean everywhere. The ten frame was practically on every page of our math practice books.

I couldn’t help but wonder *why* we needed these grid frames when students could just use counters on their desks or rely on finger counting. Or use a number line? Or touchpoints?

Reluctantly, I learned about using ten frames alongside my students that year.

But before long, I couldn’t deny their power as a model for building concrete number sense and arithmetic skills.

Those little guys were absolute game-changers in making math hands-on and understandable for my students.

## Table of Contents

## Using Ten Frames: A Simple Tool for Building Number Sense

I didn’t really get it when I first learned about ten frames. Why did we have to bother using these things? But I quickly realized that using ten frames is pretty amazing when it comes to helping young kids build number sense, understand addition and subtraction, and lay a strong foundation for future math skills.

Ten frames are a simple and accessible tool that can make your math lessons more successful. Let’s explore what ten frames are, why they are so incredible, and how you can effectively use them to support your kids as they become great mathematicians!

## But… What *Are *Ten Frames?

**Definition and Description:** Ten frames are rectangular grids with two even rows of five squares each. They help students visualize numbers up to ten. Each square can hold one counter, and by filling or emptying these squares, kids can easily see and understand numbers and their relationships.

**Visual Aids:** You can fill ten frames partially or entirely to show different numbers. For example, placing five counters in the top row and three in the bottom row helps students see the number eight clearly and concretely.

After using ten frames for a while, students will start to subitize—that is, they will be able to identify the number on the ten frame without even needing to count the individual counters! This skill is very helpful as students start engaging in more complex math tasks.

## Why You Need Ten Frames in Your Math Lessons

**Building Number Sense:** Ten frames are fantastic for helping students understand number relationships and part-whole concepts. These skills are crucial for grasping more complex math ideas later on.

Using ten frames, kids can see how numbers combine and separate, significantly enhancing their overall number sense.

When students use ten frames regularly, they start to recognize patterns and relationships between numbers, making math less of a mystery and more of an exciting puzzle.

**Simplifying Operations:** Ten frames also make addition and subtraction much more accessible for young learners. For example, to solve 5 + 3, students can place five red counters and three yellow counters on the ten frame. Looking at the counters together, they can see that 5 and 3 make 8.

This visual method is intuitive and helps students understand the concept of addition concretely.

Similarly, when using ten frames to subtract, they can start with some counters on a ten frame and remove a specific number to see what’s left, making the process clear and straightforward.

And if you want to take it a step further, you can highlight the relationship between addition and subtraction by using counters on the ten frame to make related facts. For example, with 5 red counters and 3 yellow counters, you can show that 5 + 3 = 8 or 3 + 5 = 8, and then demonstrate how to create a subtraction sentence like 8 – 3 = 5 or 8 – 5 = 3.

Ten frames are truly a game-changer in the classroom. They transform abstract math concepts into something tangible and understandable. Plus, they set the stage for more challenging strategies like *making ten to add* and *breaking apart to subtract*.

## Low Prep Hands On Activities in Math Using Ten Frames

Using ten frames can transform how your students grasp number sense and basic operations. I’ve got several **low-prep, **hands on activities in math that you can implement **right away**.

These activities require minimal materials, most of which you likely already have in your classroom.

**Materials Needed:**

- Ten frames
- Red and yellow counters (or other manipulatives in two colors)
- Dice or spinners with numbers 0-10
- Paper and pencils (or a ten frame stamp, if available)

**Basic Number Sense Activity:** One simple and effective activity to build number sense involves students rolling a die or spinning a spinner to get a number (0-10). They then show that number on a ten frame using counters. Students can record the number they made and create a quick picture of the ten frame to show their work. A ten frame stamp can be incredibly helpful for this activity!

**Basic Addition:** To teach addition with ten frames, students roll the die or spin the spinner to get two addends, then show them on the ten frame to solve. For example, if they roll a 3 and a 4, they place three red counters and four yellow counters on the ten frame, seeing that 3 + 4 equals 7. They can record the number sentence on a sheet of paper. This activity is low prep and hands-on, making it perfect for young learners.

**Using Ten Frames to Subtract:** The process of subtraction is similar. Students roll the die or spin the spinner to find numbers to subtract, ensuring the greater number is the minuend (whole). They start with that number of counters on the ten frame, then remove counters to represent the subtraction. For example, to solve 10 – 4, they begin with a ten frame filled with ten counters, remove four, and count the remaining ones to see that 10 – 4 equals 6. This hands-on activity makes subtraction tangible.

**Teaching Related Facts:** Teach related facts by having kids roll or spin two numbers and show them on the ten frame. Then, have them write four related facts using the parts and whole. For example, if they roll 5 and 3, they show 5 red counters and 3 yellow counters on the ten frame. They can write the related facts 5 + 3 = 8, 3 + 5 = 8, 8 – 3 = 5, and 8 – 5 = 3. This reinforces the connection between addition and subtraction in a visual way.

**Using Ten Frames to Make Ten:** Making ten is a fundamental skill for more advanced arithmetic. One activity involves students rolling a die or spinning a spinner to find a number, then showing it with counters on the ten frame. They determine how many more counters are needed to fill the ten frame, essentially figuring out the number’s partner to ten. For instance, if they roll a 6, they put six red counters on the ten frame and easily see that it needs four more, understanding that 6 and 4 make ten. This activity is low prep and impactful, taking abstract ideas and making them concrete.

All of these activities are hands-on, making abstract concepts tangible and understandable for young learners.

For a ready-to-use activity like this, check out my freebie “Ways to Make Ten Math Center.” It includes a recording sheet and a printable ten frame to help your students master all the combinations to ten in a fun and engaging way. You can download it here.

These low-prep hands on activities in math are perfect for reinforcing number sense, addition, subtraction, and making ten, providing your students with a solid foundation in essential skills.

## Your Next Steps: Get Ready for More Advanced Math Strategies

**Why Understanding Ways to Make Ten is Crucial:** If we want our students to apply more challenging math strategies successfully, they must have a solid understanding of all the ways to make ten. There’s no way around it. **This** is why ten frames are so important. They provide a visual and hands-on way for students to see how numbers combine to make ten.

**Engaging Activities for Making Ten:** One of my favorite resources for helping students understand ways to make ten is my “Ways to Make Ten Craft and Centers Bundle.” This bundle includes hands on activities in math where students can create a rainbow craft and record all the ways to make ten. This craft not only reinforces the concept of number partners but also serves as a visual aid that students can refer back to.

The bundle also includes several centers and worksheets designed to help students practice making ten in a fun and memorable way. Repeated exposure is necessary, and these hands-on activities in math give students the practice they need. After all, students *must* know how to make ten to use more challenging strategies, like making ten to add!

These activities ensure a solid foundation in essential math skills, and the completed rainbow crafts can be displayed as an adorable bulletin board or taken home as a study aid.

**Making Ten to Add:** Once students are comfortable with making ten, they can move on to the strategy of making ten to add. (Oh, this is a fun one. 🙄)

This strategy involves breaking numbers apart to make a ten, simplifying addition problems.

For example, to solve 8 + 5, students can break 5 into 2 and 3, add 2 to 8 to make ten, and then add the remaining 3. Yeah. When it’s put like that, it seems *impossible* to teach to first graders.

And yes, this method can be challenging, **but** it builds upon their understanding of number partners and can be very helpful once mastered.

My “Make Ten to Add” practice pages provide students with differentiated exposure to master this valuable strategy. These worksheets offer plenty of practice, helping students become confident in using ten frames. It includes three levels of practice, catering to different learning levels. You can give all of your students just the right amount of support.

## Upgrade Your Math Lessons with Powerful Resources

Using ten frames in your classroom can transform your students’ understanding of math. The visual and hands-on nature of ten frames makes abstract concepts concrete, fostering a strong comprehension of addition and subtraction.

Grab this adorable free resource to help your students master all the combinations to ten! My free Ways to Make Ten Math Center includes a printable ten frame and recording sheet. This fun math center will give your students the practice they need to learn all the ways to make ten. (Plus, it’s super low prep!) Download it here now!

Using ten frames and hands-on activities in math will make math more fun for your students *and* help them build better number sense and understanding of operations.