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Early understanding of number is a crucial building block for mathematical achievement and must be thoroughly explored using concrete manipulatives before moving to the abstract. There are many wonderfully colourful and tactile resources available, but one of the best-loved by children and teachers alike are number frames.

10 active ideas for using number frames

Here are a few fun ways to use them!

Idea 1. Counting the pennies

Put pennies inside the holes of the number frames to decide how much each is worth. Give out a number of pennies, e.g. 10. How many number frames can you buy with 10 pence? Add price tags to the frames.

Idea 2. Odds and evens

Label two containers ‘odd’ and ‘even’ and place them a little way apart. A child draws a number frame from a bag. If it is an odd shape they must do a silly walk to place it in the container, if even, they must walk in a ‘normal’ way to place it in the even container. Retrieve the containers. What numbers are in each? Can they order the odd and even numbers separately? What do they notice?

Idea 3. Musical guessing game

Give each child a number frame and get them to stand in a circle. They must hide their frame as best they can. Choose a volunteer to be ‘it’. As the group sing ‘In and out the Dusty Bluebells’, the volunteer weaves in and out of the circle. When he or she gets to the ‘Tippy tippy tap tap’ part, they stand behind whoever they have reached and tap on their shoulders as they sing. They then get to ask 3 questions to try and guess the number frame that person is holding. Whether it is guessed correctly or not, the children swap places and the second child becomes the guesser.

“In and out the dusty bluebells

In and out the dusty bluebells

In and out the dusty bluebells

Who will guess my number?

Tippy tippy tap tap

On my shoulder

Tippy tippy tap tap

On my shoulder

Tippy tippy tap tap

On my shoulder

You will guess my number”

Idea 4. Touch, but don’t look!

Without looking, a child selects a number card from 1-10. They must then feel inside a bag to try and find and pull out the matching number frame by touch alone. If they pull out the correct frame, they keep it; if not it goes back in the bag for the next person to take a turn.

Idea 5. Get creative on a large scale!

Put out a large expanse of paper (rolls are good, including old wallpaper), flat trays with paint and number frames. Allow the children to use the number frames to create pictures or patterns by printing with them. (The frames will easily wash clean.)

Idea 6. Number balance

Use a balancing scale to compare number frames. Place a number frame on one side, e.g. a six and get the children to use different values to balance it. “How many ways are there to equal the six?” Use the large number frames and ask a child be a human balancing scale! Ask the volunteer to put their arms out to the side. What will happen if they hold a 9 on one side and a 3 on the other? Get them to tip their arms appropriately.

Idea 7. One more/one less

Provide a group with a selection of number frames. Hold up an example and ask the children to choose and hold up a number frame that is one more or one less than the one you are showing.

Idea 8. Tweezers

Encourage number awareness along with practise for fine motor skills by providing a tray containing number frames, tweezers and suitably-sized small objects that may be picked up and placed in the holes.

Idea 9. Seeing double

Get children to match identical number frames in order to talk about the concept of doubling. Put the odd numbers together and they will clearly see how doubling will always make an even number.

Idea 10. Bingo!

Ask each child to choose 4 number frames and place them on a board. Pull either number cards or number frames out of a bag. If a child has the matching number on their board, they may remove it. When someone has removed all 4 frames, they shout “Bingo!”

View our range of Maths Number Frames and Rods here

10 active ideas for using number frames

With thanks to Beverley Smalley for writing this blog. Beverley is an education specialist, writer and former primary school teacher.

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