top of page
  • by Blaine Helwig

The Numeracy Power of Making 10, 100 or 1,000

We live in a Base 10 world. Base 10 is everywhere!

Of course, a math person may counter with clock time – hours and minutes. Time is kept in Base 60, and humans revolve around their work day by being on time to appointments and schedule demands.

Now, what about computers? They work with binary code of 0’s and 1’s. Base 2 is incredibly important. Computers are everywhere, too. Don’t we also live in a binary world?

Yes. Those number systems are important – wholeheartedly agree.

But, our Base 10 system or decimal system is the system children learn during their natural numbers counting years after they enter elementary school. Their arithmetic learnings transition into algebra, geometry, trigonometry and eventually multivariable calculus. Base 10 numbering system rule those worlds, and student mastery paves the road to success in all other math areas.

The Elementary School Base 10 Kid World

Children begin counting to the number 10 when they first arrive at school. If a clear plastic jar holds exactly 10 blocks, then as 10 blocks are placed in a jar – the jar is full. With a full jar, we need another jar to begin afresh with a 10 blocks. As 1 new block is added to the second jar, the number 11 is made. In base 10 and two digit whole numbers, when the integer 10 is reached – we start the pattern over. Without a doubt, the number 10 is important. For adults, this is accepted as is the sun appearing on the horizon each morning; however, to a child, it is a monumental day of learning.

Learning to Make the Number 10 – An Obvious Number of Importance

With primary aged children, learning to ‘Make 10’ is an easy activity – given two numbers with one of the numbers less than 10. The known number and add the missing number to sum to the number 10. It is an extremely valuable skill for young children to learn. As with any skill, it must be consistently practiced to possess mastery.

Tactile mastery comes first. Teachers can create a 1st grade center using a die and jar. One student rolls the die and the other one or two student(s) count up to make the number ten. Another tactile cooperative activity is when a child removes a number of small objects (e.g. ten or less objects each time) from a container and the other child(ren) in the group compute the number of objects needed to sum to the number 10. These are basic activities and there are many more. If you are a new teacher, ask a veteran colleague or search the Internet for other activities. But, the pedagogical point, regardless of the activity, is the following – begin with tactile objects and provide adequate practice until the skill is thoroughly mastered – using physical objects. A teacher can transition this practice daily in an oral, whole group lesson by providing a number that is ten or less, and the students respond silently by holding up their hand(s) showing the number of fingers needed to make the number 10. The children’s fingers act as a tactile manipulative.

After tactile mastery, it’s a smooth transition to paper-pencil. A simple skill sheet with multiple problems where student(s) fill in the missing number that is required to make the number 10 (i.e. 6 + ___ = 10). As students are learning this skill, it is recommended to let them count the missing integer on their fingers. After a short time, children will naturally transition to only mental math on this activity.

Mental Math Practice: a sheet can be divided into columns of two boxes per row. A number that is equal to 10 or less is in one box, and students write in the missing quantity to make 10, as shown below in red font in the right column of the two boxes. The teacher can make their own or download the different versions from the Formative Loop Resource Library at

After Making 10 is Mastered – Transition to Making 100 and Making 1,000

For ending 2nd graders and older aged students, once Making 10 is mastered, continue with Base 10 understanding to teach students how to ‘Make 100’ or ‘Make 1,000’ by simply adding zeros. As those skills are mastered, introduce the skill using intermediate size numbers. For example, if students are given the number 64. They ‘Make 10’ to the number 70 (e.g. 6 spaces) and ‘Make 100’ from the number 70 (e.g. 30 spaces) – combining the quantities to mentally arrive at a total of 36 spaces. With sufficient practice, students’ Base 10 number sense and numeracy is dramatically heightened, and kiddos become Making 10, 100 and 1,000 Masters!

All versions of Making 10, 100 or 1,000 are available for free download in the Resource Library at

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page