Sunday, February 1, 2015

Composing a Ten

I have recently heard from many parents, homeschoolers and teachers about teaching firsties to compose a ten.  Do you want to know the secret?  It's really quite simple: remember that first graders must follow the concrete-pictorial-abstract progression! ANNNDDD remember that they may not get to the abstract-only stage in first grade! :)

1- Build numbers with base ten blocks                               
1- Draw the pictures of the base ten blocks
2- Build two numbers, count to find the total                     
2- Draw two different numbers (try two
    colors- it helps!!) Count to find the total
3- Build two numbers (that compose a ten);                     
    count to find the total
 3- Circle groups of ten-- label it, count it :)

 If your kiddos are struggling, figure out where they are going wrong on this continuum-- go back to that and give them some more practice.

A few tips:
#1-Have them use a different color for each number and a third color for circling-- especially great for visual learners! :) 
#2- Have them draw the "ones" in the center-- this takes direct instruction-- and it's easiest if you have them get in this habit before they start *needing* it to be this way. 
#3- Encourage them to keep their ones organized-- five in a row works best. :)
#4- When counting the picture, START with the newly composed ten. It is so easy for them to skip it after all of that hard work :)

It is complex.  It is multi-step problem solving. But, it is POSSIBLE! Yes, your first grader can learn to do this independently.  Just take it slow-- follow good teaching practices-- and encourage them to try it on their own! (Even if you aren't sure they are ready-- let them see what they can do!)

What tricks do you use for teaching your students to compose a ten?

Happy Sunday!


  1. Thank you for sharing your Math Toolbox materials! Have you checked out Number Talks? Excellent resources for making 10 strategies and many others!

  2. I am a big fan of Number Talks! I actually had the privilege of meeting the authors of that fabulous book!

  3. Thank you for sharing all your toolbox materials! I just finished up my first year teaching 2nd grade and have been searching for differentiated materials. This will be a huge help.

  4. Hi Sarah. I am trying to find your Math Toolbox materials. Is there any chance you are still sharing those? I find it simple and concrete and would love to use it with my first graders. Thanks again. my email is