Do you wonder where fact families are found in the current standards? The fact is, current standards don’t actually mention fact families at all anymore. Instead, they refer to “the relationship between operations.” An understanding of this relationship is best developed through many hands-on experiences with the combinations of the numbers through ten. We use addition/subtraction number bonds to help students look at the operations through a part/whole lens.

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 why the change? Fact families were often taught procedurally through rote memorization, which led to very little real understanding. Students learned to use three numbers to create two addition and two subtraction equations. How do we know they didn’t understand? First, students who had “mastered” number bonds could not use the addition equations to solve a subtraction problem. When faced with 5 – _____ = 3, students didn’t realize they could use either 2 + 3 = 5 or 3 + 2 = 5 to find the missing number.

Next, it was often easy to tell students didn’t really understand fact families because they would misuse the three numbers when creating their equations! So when asked to create the fact family for the numbers 2, 5, and 3, for example, you’d get students writing 2 – 5 = 3.

With dominoes showing the two parts of the whole, this little activity combines a pictorial representation with a number bond diagram to provide meaning for the equations. It’s a great follow-up activity for students who have been working with concrete objects to compose and decompose numbers and can be used as a math workstation or at your small group table.

Check out this post for a similar activity for multiplication and division.