How I Integrated the Ten Frame into Everyday Activities

How I Integrated the Ten Frame into Everyday Activities

Math has never been a strong suit of mine. In fact, I’ve pretty much always hated it. Science is a close second, especially when math or any kind of equations are involved. It was during an annual Early Childhood Education (ECE) teaching workshop where I was struck by a serious revelation – most of my students were enrolled in school for the very first time and it was up to me to introduce positive, fun and exciting experiences that would hopefully awaken a lifetime of love for learning.

From that day on it became a goal of mine to be intentional in my teaching. In order to provide for them a fruitful learning environment, I needed to be willing to seek out more knowledge myself.

Thank you Pinterest, Google and all those future ECE conferences! I also had to force my “perfectionist” self to accept the fact that I didn’t have to know or understand completely everything in order to start incorporating it into my classroom.

I went on a search for subtle (and not so subtle) ways to integrate concepts into as many aspects of the day. My idea was to give my students as much exposure as I possibly could without them really noticing that they were learning. I took this route for every subject; how could I tweak an art project, for example, to touch on literacy/language development, letter recognition, math and science and all while working on fine and gross motor skills?

I’m “We didn’t learn Common Core in school” years old, which threw an entirely new wrench into my insecurities once it became a part of school curriculum. In my planning process, while trying to decide on where to start because, let’s be honest, you can’t just dump it all out at once and hope they understand, I focused on something they would end up using at every grade level – the Ten Frame.

For those of you not familiar with what a Ten Frame is,

“Ten-Frames are two-by-five rectangular frames into which counters are placed to illustrate numbers less than or equal to ten, and are therefore very useful devices for developing number sense within the context of ten. The use of ten-frames was developed by researchers such as Van de Walle (1988) and Bobis (1988). Various arrangements of counters on the ten frames can be used to prompt different mental images of numbers and different mental strategies for manipulating these numbers, all in association with the numbers’ relationship to ten.”

Jenni Way - February 2011


“Ten frames are a highly effective way to teach the skills required to recognize and understand number patterns that are essential for operational fluency in math tasks including the ability to add and subtract mentally, to see relationships between numbers, and to see patterns.”

Jerry Webster - November 2019

Now remember, I was looking for subtle ways to expose my students to concepts. A few brainstorming sessions later (I spent a day in a jury duty waiting room working on this) and I decided on two that could both be used first thing in the morning (welcome circle) and referred back to throughout the course of the day.

A portion of our first circle involved issuing classroom jobs, one of them being the “counter.” The child given that role would then count (their choice) either all of the girls or all of the boys one at a time, then move onto the next group once I notated the total on our Ten Frame on the board.

Because I’m like that (kill a few birds, one stone kind of gal) I used green marks for the girls, since green and girl both start with “G,” and blue for the boys – blue and boy are both “B” words. Color recognition, letter association and math all in one.

With a visual representation now in sight, we would count and add together the checked off spots as a class.

When or if any students came in later that morning, the chart would be referred back to by adding another blue or green mark and updating our total. If you want to take it a step further for older children or later in the year as the concept is understood, you can also take away marks as people leave, introducing subtraction. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they all will catch on.

It’s important to note that EVERY TIME we started counting and marking the Ten Frame, I was reintroducing the concept to them. It became a reoccurring conversation, “Now remember, a Ten Frame has ten spots,” or “How many places are in a Ten Frame,” and “How many kids can we add to one Ten Frame.”

There were twenty four kids in my class. One Ten Frame was not sufficient enough to use nor teach the material efficiently. With more than one empty diagram on the board my daily dialog had to effectively explain adding in tens in a way a four year old could comprehend. Since only two of the frames were completely and regularly full in our morning count, I focused primarily on two Ten Frames making twenty.

Starting with the first round of repeated discussion, I moved forward by continuing to count on to twenty. “One Ten Frame has ten squares, so there are twenty squares when we have two Ten Frames. Let’s count them all together.” I then went on to point out and write next to each complete set of ten. “Since we have ten boxes full in this Ten Frame (writing a 10 next to the box) and ten full boxes in this Ten Frame (writing 10 next to the second diagram) we know that we have at least twenty kids here today, because two ten frames is twenty (writing a plus, equals and then the total of twenty). But look, we still have more kids in this third Ten Frame! How many boxes did we fill in here?” The students would shout answers so then I continued with, “Let’s count together and see. 1, 2, 3, 4. Wow, you guys were right! We have four boxes full in this Ten Frame with the other two, which is twenty. So twenty plus four more gives us…” Surprisingly there would be a few students, without skipping a beat, shouting out the correct answer right away. We then always recounted as a class to confirm our grand total.

You might just fall over in shock and disbelief when I tell you that my twenty four lovies where not always little angels. To encourage those little ears to listen and help their owners make wise choices I developed a behavior chart.

With a Ten Frame to calculate points earned for good deeds and another to chart when rules were not being followed, a competition ensued between the teachers and the students. If the kid’s Ten Frame filled up first, we celebrated by having some sort of fun activity (i.e. a dance party, silly songs, extra time outside etc) but if the teacher’s Ten Frame filled, we picked a “boring” activity. The teachers never won.

All eyes watched to see if points had been added and to calculate how many more were needed in order to achieve their daily goal. The kids buzzed with excitement as they played together, cleaned up messes, leant helping hands and encouraged one another one point at a time. All the while learning math, without even being aware of it.

So now that you’ve read what I did, how do you plan on implementing a Ten Frame into your daily schedule?

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