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Fast Five–Unleashing the Power of Ten Frames

My 1st graders and 2nd graders have been adding numbers using ten frames, and our work has led me to make some observations. Ten frames are powerful tools for building the critical benchmarks of 5 and 10, but only if students are guided to understand and use the structure of the ten frame. If students are counting each counter or dot on a ten frame, they are not capitalizing on the power of the tool. Students should understand that if one row is filled, either the top or bottom, that row contains 5 and does not need to be counted. Likewise, if the entire ten frame is filled, it shows 10…without counting. These ideas are fundamental to moving children past counting by 1s and toward more sophisticated strategies, including counting on and decomposing numbers.

I discussed with the students that when a row is full, it’s five. They proved it by counting each counter. Yet each time the students needed to count counters greater than five, they still reverted to counting the top row by 1s. So we started practicing what I call a Fast Five. We run our finger along the top row and when we get to the end of the row, we say 5. Then we count on from 5. So to count the ten frame shown below, we’d say 5, 6, 7.

Now, each time my students start to count a full row by 1s, I ask them if they can use a Fast Five. It’s helping them break the habit of counting by 1s, and they’re getting much better at counting on. My 2nd graders are doing numbers greater than 10, so we do a Fast Ten as well.

So then a curious thing happened. We were doing a missing addend story. Sue had $4. She needed $10 to buy a gift. How much more money did Sue need to buy the gift? We had been practicing this type of problem, so the students put out 4 red counters and added yellow counters until they got to 10. I asked them how much money she needed, in other words, they had to count the yellow counters. They started counting them one by one. I asked if they could use a Fast Five. Every one of them ran their finger along the top row and started to count on the yellows in the bottom row. Whoa, now. I asked them to stop and think about where they saw a Fast Five. They quickly realized that the five was on the bottom row, not the top. So now we practice Fast Fives on both the top and bottom rows.

A great way to use ten frames is through quick flash routines. You can download your own set of quick flashcards by clicking here. Remember to not only ask what number the students see, encouraging the use of a Fast Five, but also how many more to make ten. As students grow in their understanding of 10, they will begin to recognize 7 because 3 squares are empty.

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  1. Terrific post and reminder about making ten. I love the Flash Five as even my best mathematicians are still counting by 1’s on the 10 block. Off to shop in your store!

    1. Thanks, Joanne! Counting by 1’s is a hard habit to break. The reminder to do a Fast Five seems to be doing the trick!

  2. Ahh, this is perfect. Many of my kids have made the transition to the concept of 5 on the ten frame, but I’m totally using the fast five idea now to help others make it as well. Thank you.
    ❀ Tammy
    Forever in First

  3. Thank you for this. We have been working on subitizing in our math journals the past few weeks and this is a great resource. My kinders LOVE the word subitize. I’ll hear them using it throughout the day. One little girl was playing Subitize Tree on iPads and she said “I can’t right now, I’m subitizing”. So funny!

  4. Love this! Your point proves why I show kids 10 frames in a variety of ways. Grab those 10 frames and hold them upside down and mess the dots up. It will improve the kids ability to think flexibly and use the 10 frame as a thinking tool.

    The Math Maniac

  5. Thanks so much for this! I plan on beginning to use ten frames with my pre-k students. I love the idea of using the fast five idea, once they grasp the concept of the 10 frame. I can’t wait to take this back to my classroom. We all know the importance of manipulatives and getting the students to connect math conceptually. A part of effective instruction is being able to incorporate different levels of representations in lessons, and this is a great way that students can learn and represent numbers.

  6. My Grade 4 students are Math Buddies with one of the Kindergarten classes at my school. I love the Fast Five and Fast Ten idea and shall share with the Kindergarten teacher.

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