Addictive Game for Practicing Combinations for Ten

Written by Donna Boucher

Donna has been a teacher, math instructional coach, interventionist, and curriculum coordinator. A frequent speaker at state and national conferences, she shares her love for math with a worldwide audience through her website, Math Coach’s Corner. Donna is also the co-author of Guided Math Workshop.

Because ten has such importance in our number system, students need lots of opportunities to explore the combinations for ten. I pull small intervention groups for grades 1-5, and I have been playing this game with all of my groups! They absolutely love it.

This post contains affiliate links, which simply means that when you use my link and purchase a product, I receive a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, and I only link to books and products that I personally use and recommend.

So, a lesson actually preceded the game. My first graders were working on Friends of Ten, or the pairs of numbers that have a sum of ten. This is such a critical skill for fact and computational fluency, and it is actually listed in the CCSS as a Kindergarten standard. We created the anchor chart you see by using two-color counters on a ten-frame. We put out ten red counters and I asked the students how many yellows we would need to put on our ten-frame to make ten. Zero. We added 10 and 0 to our chart and wrote the equation, 10 + 0 = 10. We cleared the board and put out nine red counters. How many yellows to make 10? The students put out one yellow counter to show that it would take one more to make ten. We added 9 and 1 to the anchor chart. We continued this process until we had all the “friends”. I drew the “rainbow” to show the connections in the equations. Lots of oohs and ahs. First graders are easily amused.  🙂

The practice game that followed is called Seven Up by the program we use (Do the Math), not to be confused with the game you play by moving around the room and pressing down thumbs. All you need to play is an ordinary deck of cards. Before beginning, take out the face cards (jacks, queens, and kings). Aces will be used as ones. To play, lay out seven cards face up. I feel a bit like a blackjack dealer when we play! The game is played cooperatively, that is, students don’t play against each other and there is no winner. Students are looking for pairs of numbers that make ten. If they see one, they show me a silent thumb to the chest. I call on a student and they say the equation and take the cards. The ten is used by itself, but the students must say 10 + 0 = 10. Replace the cards that were taken with two more from the deck, always leaving seven cards facing up. Continue finding pairs, taking them off, and replacing them. If there are no pairs for ten in the seven cards showing, lay down another seven cards on top of the others. Now when students take off two cards, the cards underneath will be revealed, so you don’t need to replace them with new cards. I hope that makes sense.

You can actually play this game for the combinations of any number, not just ten, but removing some cards from the deck. For example, if you are practicing the combinations for 5, use only the Ace through 5 cards.

While this is a Kindergarten skill, I have found that all of my students need the practice, and my 4th and 5th graders like to play it as much as my 1st and 2nd graders.
If you are looking for another engaging way to practice tens, check out my Make a Ten Bingo game!


  1. Storie

    I always have a group of 2nd graders who struggle to know their 10s partners. This game will be perfect for small group help. Thank you for sharing!!

  2. Robin Nehila

    Glad you mentioned the 4th and 5th graders who still like to play, because I’m finding some 5th graders that still NEED to play this game!!!

  3. Kerry Marshall

    I love this! We play a game called “Make 10” which is in Investigations. The kids put out their cards like the Memory Game and they flip over two. If the pair make 10, they keep the cards! I have the kids write all of their equations in a math journal, and they circle the equations that make 10!

  4. TheElementary MathManiac

    So many kids benefit from more practice with the make ten partners! This game could also be played with 10 frame cards with kids who need even more support with friends of 10.

    The Math Maniac

  5. Sarah M

    I will add this to my Make Ten arsenal! :0) Thanks so much for sharing! FUN!

  6. Mariana Spitzberg

    This was great! So simple, yet to effective and engaging! The kids loved it and wanted to play again and again. It also gave me the great way to teach about the “Make a Ten” strategy. And I felt like I was at the casino! 🙂

  7. Kathlyn Wolfe

    I will be a new (new building position) academic intervention specialist (math) for grades 1-5. Could you tell me a bit more about the program you use, Do The Math?

    • Donna Boucher

      Do the Math is great for developing number sense and flexibility with numbers. It is a very methodical program and must be used with fidelity to yield results. I find that I have to supplement it with lessons on place value and to incorporate more problem solving. If you’d like to learn more, you might check out their website.

  8. Sue

    You could use this same game to decompose any number. if you took out all the 8, 9 and 10’s you could use the same format to make 7’s and so on!

  9. Mujahid Hussain

    So many kids benefit from more practice with the make ten partners! This game could also be played with 10 frame cards with kids who need even more support with friends of 10.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This