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Why Use Ten Frames for Early Maths Skills?

Counters placed on Ten Frames illustrate numbers from 1 - 9.
A simple, useful, hands-on visual aid for teaching counting and place value is the Ten Frame. What is a Ten Frame you may ask? It is a drawing of a rectangle on paper or cardboard divided into ten squares. It stands on its shorter end and is divided into five rows and two columns. Counters are placed on the Ten Frame starting at the bottom, filling the bottom row then the row above and so on (See the way that numerals 1 – 9 are shown in the accompanying picture). It is very useful for teaching counting, place value, ‘subitising’ numbers (showing parts that make up one whole number) addition and subtraction up to 20 and children enjoy handling the colourful counters to make the required numbers.

Here are some tips on how to use Ten Frames:

  1. Give a child an ‘empty’ Ten Frame and counters to place inside the squares to make the required numerals. One free template for use with small counters (you will need to purchase counters from a craft or games shop) is available online here.
  2. To count past 10, when one Ten Frame is full, start another one on the right of the first one (See the example for 14 at the bottom right of the picture). When the second frame is full, start another one on the right of it.
  3. A filled Ten Frame holds 10 ones but can, and should, be renamed as 1 ten. This is the beginning of understanding the concept of Place Value.
  4. Count filled Ten Frames as 1 ten, 2 tens, 3 tens 4 tens etc before the child learns the names twenty, thirty, forty and so on.
  5. ‘Teen’ names should first be taught as one ten and the number of ones, e.g. 1 ten and 5 ones instead of fifteen until the child can easily read and sequence the numerals.
  6. Place some counters (all the same colour) on a Ten Frame and ask the child to tell you how many. Then ask the child to add one more counter in a different colour and tell you how many altogether. Repeat this with a different number of counters to start with.
  7. Repeat the previous activity adding two counters to various numbers of counters.
  8. When the child knows all the addition facts with one or two counters, add three counters and teach the child to count on from the first number shown on the Ten Frame, e.g. the starting number is 5, so the child counts 6, 7, 8. Discourage starting at 1 to count the total number.
  9. Starting with a ten and adding a four, six, seven, eight or nine is a good way to introduce the ‘teen’ numbers and then teach the special names for eleven, twelve, thirteen and fifteen.
  10. When the child can add a ten to any digit between one and ten, teach adding nine by placing nine counters on one frame and the required number, e.g. five, on the other frame and then taking one counter from the 5-frame to fill the gap on the 9-frame to make it up to ten, leaving four counters on the other frame and a total of fourteen. (See the bottom right-hand corner of the picture).
  11. Teach adding eight in the same way taking two counters from the other frame to make the eight up to ten.

There are plenty of other ideas for using Ten Frames on the Internet. These are the ones I have found the most useful when tutoring students.

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