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Comparing Numbers to 20 Using Ten-Frames

The numbers from 11-20 can be tricky for students. We want them to understand that each of those numbers is a group of ten and some extras. Or, in the case of 20, two groups of ten.

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We can reinforce these early place value concepts even when practicing other skills within twenty, such as comparing numbers. The key is to start with concrete materials–teddy bear counters, linking cubes, or two-color counters. Showing groups of ten, and using contrasting colors, emphasizes the ten and additional ones. So if the students are building 13, for example, they should use 10 lining cubes of one color and 3 linking cubes of another color.

They do the same thing with the teddy bear counters or two-color counters. It builds the concept of 10 and also makes the comparison much easier for them. It’s much quicker to count a ten and 3 more, instead of having to count 13 one by one.

We also want students to make connections between the concrete (manipulatives), pictorial (pictures), and abstract (symbolic) representations. We can accomplish that using a recording sheet, such as the one shown here. Notice that using the ten-frames with two colors emphasizes the ten and extra ones, just like we did with the manipulatives. You can pair this recording sheet with the use of any of the manipulatives. So, for example, students could build the two numbers using teddy bear counters and record their comparison on the sheet. Consider allowing students to choose the manipulatives they want to use!

You can grab the recording sheet here. Leave a comment describing how you used this activity in your classroom!

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  1. Thanks for sharing Donna! I will use this if I am in Kindergarten and will change the words to greater or less than if I stay in 1st. I have spent an hour looking through all of your awesome posts and products!!! You are amazing!!!

    Thanks again!
    Amy Burton

  2. Thank you, Donna. I always look forward to your posts. You are such a generous, creative teacher.

    I will adapt this for first grade too.

    1. You’re welcome, Julie! Yes, this would be great for 1st grade…especially at the first of the year.

  3. Thank you. I am really trying to key in on ten frames and subitizing this year. These pages will be great practice.

  4. Hey Donna,

    My team is having a debate. Is common core looking at ten frames only in Kindergarten for composing and decomposing numbers? That seems to be the case. What is your opinion on this?

    Rebecca (from A Flip Flop Kindergarten)

  5. I love your stuff! I am a recent follower and have learned so many new things so far. Your facebook updates are great. Any chance you could change the words to greater or less? Or maybe add a page so you have the option of both? Thanks!


    1. So glad you like the blog, Amy! I will add your request to my to-do list, but I can’t promise speedy turnaround. Maybe you could just white out the ‘(bigger/smaller)’ part and instruct the kiddos to use ‘greater than/less than)’.

  6. Thank you so much for all your great ideas. I can’t wait to use this one in my classroom. I started using the 10 frames more this year and I can actually see a difference. 🙂

  7. So straightforward and doable. Using it tomorrow. Thanks! I tell everyone in my district that if they are going to follow any blog, it should be yours. You have an awesome math brain 🙂

  8. Thank you Donna, it was exactly what I was looking for! Perfect for my math based field placement. I can’t wait to implement it in my lesson.

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