Numeracy in a School for the Deaf

From the time I spent observing and teaching in a school for the Deaf, I found that maths lessons were the ones most like lessons in a mainstream school. The main difference is the fact that because class sizes are so much smaller (between 5 and 9 children), lesson objectives are more targeted for each individual child rather than having the same objective for a whole class or whole set.

There is also more support – two to three TAs in each classroom – so during independent activities each group still has an adult to support them. The children are mainly below the level of their peers in mainstream schools, because of their delay in language acquisition. However, teachers still have high expectations and lesson plans have both age-expected learning objectives, to make sure that staff bear in mind where these children *should* be, as well as realistic objectives.

To help the children catch up, they have two maths lessons a day – an hour-long one in the morning in their own class,  and a 15 minute ability-grouped one in the afternoon which focuses on particular areas of weakness such as mental calculations and maths vocabulary.

Teaching is, obviously, very visual and kinaesthetic and happens mostly in English with signs to support.

In the lower school, children can choose whether they record their maths in figures or pictures. Some  are happy to write 4 + 3 = 7, but many prefer to show this as   4+3=7

and either is considered acceptable. Higher up the school they record their work in figures only.

One thing I became very aware of during maths lessons, is that for some children, having BSL as their first language hinders their maths. For example, hearing people naturally count on both hands whereas counting in BSL is done on one hand only: you start with your thumb for one and put up an extra finger for each number up to 5; then you come back down again, so 6 is represented by just the little finger, 7 by the little finger and ring finger together and so on. Now imagine trying to do 7 take away 2 on your hands: you put up two fingers to show 7, and then take away 2……  Hardly surprising that 7-2=0 appears so often in their books…

With so many extra obstacles in their way of their learning, it’s a true testament to their perseverance, and their teachers’ dedication that they manage to learn.

Related posts: Literacy in a School for the Deaf    Deaf Studies in a School for the Deaf

Teaching Telling the Time – Putting the two hands together

So, you’ve introduced the hour hand and then introduced the minute hand. What next?

Now it’s time to put the two hands together. I have blue for my hour hand, and red for my minute hand, and around the clock I have the numbers 1 to 12 in blue, and the words five to thirty, quarter and half in red to help the children remember which hand goes with which whole number.  This is more for their confidence than a necessity, because we have made sure they are confident with hours and minutes first.

We move both hands round the clock at the same time so that the children can see that in the time it took the hour hand to move from 1 to 2, the minute hand went all the way round the clock.

We looked at the fact that when the hour hand is pointing exactly at a number (o’clock) the minute hand is always pointing at o’clock. When the hour hand is pointing halfway between two numbers (half past), the minute hand is always pointing a half past.

When the hour hand is between o’clock and quarter past, so is the minute hand – and now they know how to count the minutes to find out exactly what time between o’clock and quarter past it is.  The children now begin to realise that they can tell the time to the nearest five minutes. They can look at the hour hand first to work out the time more or less, and then the minute hand to add in the detail.

I’ve taught a few year 6 children to tell the time in this way. They had been mystified by the hands, the fact that the numbers had two values and by the ‘to’ and the ‘past’. More conventional ways of learning to tell the time had not worked for them, and they were feeling stupid that they couldn’t grasp something that their classmates understood.

By splitting the hands up, it took away a lot of their confusion. Suddenly it all made sense to them. Their confidence grew, which then had an impact on their feelings about maths lessons in general. Their teachers noted that they were participating more in class, and this helped them to improve in other areas of maths. And that’s why I really love my job.

For maths and English tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

Related posts: Teaching Number Bonds, A Multisensory Approach to Reading

Teaching Telling the Time – Introducing the Minute Hand

Now that the children are happy with the hour hand, and confident that they can tell the time more or less with just this hand, it’s time to introduce the minute hand. We compare the size to the hour hand and note that it is longer.

I explain that this one counts the minutes round the clock, and make sure they are happy that there are 60 minutes in an hour and 30 minutes in half an hour.

I show them a clock face that has the positions of the numbers marked on, but not the numbers themselves. We start at the top, and count to the bottom in fives, stopping at each mark as we go, to establish that 30 minutes is half way round. We repeat, this time writing o’clock at the top, and the numbers five to thirty in words on the clock. We put ‘fifteen’ and ‘thirty’ in brackets and write ‘quarter’ and ‘half’ underneath them.

We then return to the top of the clock and count in fives anti-clockwise, writing on the numbers as we go round. Again we put fifteen in brackets and write quarter underneath. We then look briefly at the symmetry of the clock face, with the fives opposite each other, tens opposite each other etc.

Finally we move the minute hand all the way round the clock, noting that to start with it is going past the o’clock, but that when it passes the bottom it starts getting closer to the o’clock. We compare this to the hour hand going past one hour and getting closer to the next one.

We practise showing different minutes on the clock: ten past and ten to, twenty past and twenty to, and so on.  I always keep the times in pairs, and always ask for the ‘past’ first to give children time to sort out in their own minds which side is ‘past’ and which is ‘to’. If necessary I will draw a line between o’clock and half past and label each side of the clock with past and to for a visual clue.

When the children are confident with the minute hand, move on to putting both hands together.

For maths and English tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

Related posts: Teaching the Times Tables, Teaching Number Bonds

Teaching Telling the Time – Introducing the Hour Hand

Telling the time is difficult. For starters there are two, sometimes three, hands and they have to remember which is which. Then, although there are only 12 numbers written on the clock face, they have different values: sometimes the 1 really is a 1, but sometimes it’s 5. As for the 3 – sometimes it’s 3, sometimes it’s 15, sometimes it’s only a quarter. And we haven’t even started on ‘to’ and ‘past’. It’s not surprising that children struggle with it.

Most children do manage to learn to tell the time without too much effort, but for some it remains a mystery, often until well after they have left primary school. This series of posts is aimed at those children who need additional help learning to tell the time.

When I teach telling the time, I start by stripping away everything that is non-essential, leaving me with a clock face and the short hand. I explain that this is called the hour hand because it counts the hours round the clock. It takes one hour to move from one number to the next, and this means that we can tell the time (more or less) with just this hand.

We move the hour hand around the clock face. When it points exactly at the 1 it is one o’ clock. When it points exactly at the 2 it is two o’clock and so on. When the child is happy with this, we stop the hour hand exactly half way between two numbers. We talk about the fact that because it takes one whole hour to move from the 1 to the 2, when it is exactly half way between the 1 and the 2 it is half past one. Exactly half way between the 2 and the 3 is half past two, and so on. To check understanding I will get the child to show me four o’clock, half past seven, etc still using just the hour hand.

After this we look at where the hour hand will be at quarter past an hour – ie exactly half way between the hour and half past, or a quarter of the way from one hour to the next.

Once they are happy with this, I get them to move the hour hand slowly from one number to the next so that they can see that to begin with the hand moves past the first hour, but after the halfway point it is moving closer to the next hour. This deals with that tricky concept of ‘past’ and ‘to’ that confuses so many children, without the distraction of the minute hand. We look at where the hour hand is at quarter to an hour.

Now the children can tell the time correctly to within fifteen minutes (o’clock, between o’ clock and quarter past, quarter past, between quarter past and half past etc) without needing to look at the minute hand at all. This then gives them lots of confidence to move on. When they are ready, you can introduce the minute hand.

For maths and English tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

Related posts: Teaching the Times Tables and Teaching Number Bonds

Addition 17-08-16
I’ve just found this blog post which explains the concept of looking at just the hour hand in a different way. I like their idea of rooms! Teaching telling the time

Teaching Number Bonds

Number bonds. We all use them in our adult life without even realising it. When adding up items in our basket at the supermarket, we know that 3p and 7p is 10p, and that 2x 50p is £1. When we buy something for £5.60 at the market and hand over a £10 note, we know that £5.60 + 40p is £6 and another £4 makes £10, so we know to expect £4.40 change. Knowing our number bonds is extremely useful, but a lot of children struggle to learn them.

Over the years I have successfully taught many children how to remember their number bonds. As with times tables, the key is to find multi-sensory ways to teach, and to make practising fun.

Some children respond very well to visual clues, and to help these I use colour strips. These are strips marked out in 10 sections and coloured in contrasting colours, so that children can see clearly that 2 red squares plus 8 green squares equals 10 squares altogether, and that 8 green squares plus 2 red squares also equals 10 squares altogether. They are small enough to hold in the hand, and I tend to use them in conjunction with other methods. The children I tutor find them really useful to refer to during games.

Snap and pelmanism are always popular games, and I have made two sets of cards for this. The first set is colour-coded, so when the children turn the cards over there is a visual clue as to whether the two cards add up to 10. When they turn over the first card, I encourage them to work out what number they need to find to make 10. When the children are a little more confident I switch to the black and white ones to remove the visual clue, but we still play the same games to keep some familiarity.

Another card game I play is Imprison the Villain, which is played in the same way as Old Maid/Donkey/Chase the Ace. I use these lovely monster cards, which I downloaded from Primary Resources. I coloured mine in for added attraction and laminated them for durability.

Bengali - number bonds to 10I have one last set of number bonds cards which I made especially for one boy. He was struggling with number bonds, and as his home language was Bengali not English, as an experiment I found the numbers in Bengali on the internet and made him a set of dual language numbers cards. They have the numbers in words and figures in Bengali and English. They worked! When he saw them his eyes lit up and he pointed excitedly saying “I know these numbers!” The cards really increased his motivation and it didn’t take him long to learn them.

There are also a couple of fun number bonds games on Sue Kerrigan’s Let Me Learn website. I have Number Bombs and the similar but seasonal Elf Splat. There are two game boards for each of these games, one for addition and one for subtraction, which are both versatile enough to use for number bonds to 10 and 20. I haven’t tried this game with any girls yet, but the boys love it, and now I get greeted with “Are we going to play Number Bombs today?” My answer is always “We don’t need to now – you already know your number bonds to ten!”  However because it is so popular we do sometimes play it at the end of a session as a reward for good work!

Another game that children seem to love is ping pong. I can’t remember where I first heard about this game, but it’s played like a game of table tennis except that you bounce numbers backwards and forwards instead of a ball. I begin by establishing a rhythm – I say ‘ping’ and the child replies ‘pong’. Then I start calling numbers from 1-10 and the child gives me the corresponding number that adds to 10.  As we speak we swing an imaginary table tennis paddle to hit the numbers. For extra fun and an exercise involving whole body movement, stand opposite sides of the table with real paddles.

dominoesFor progression to 20, I have found a dominoes game which you will find if you follow the link to Primary Resources and type dominoes in the search box.  It takes a little practise because many children don’t know how to play dominoes, but once they get the hang of it, it proves quite a popular game.

For moving children on and helping them to see that when they know their number bonds to ten, and understand the pattern for making twenty, it’s quite easy to use this knowledge to find bonds for any multiples of ten, Sue is developing some resources based around football which highlight the patterns for making 30. I have been lucky enough to trial these resources. There is a write-on wipe-off card which explains how to use your knowledge of number bonds to make 30, and then a booklet to practise in.   There is also a game to play – similar to Number Bombs, but with the added excitement that if you land on certain squares you can get ‘sent off’ and you have to remove one of your counters. I have only recently starting trialing this game, but it is proving popular so far. Finally, the set includes a match report card, where you can tick off each goal as you achieve them: working out number bonds to 10 on fingers, knowing number bonds to 10 from memory etc.

Games are fun, but sometimes children need other ways to make those numbers stick, and word association is often helpful. I have found a few number bonds rhymes on the internet, but I find it works better when the children write their own. I have helped children to write their own rhymes, such as “5 plus 5 like to go for a drive” or “7 plus 3 go to Devon for their tea”. They then illustrate each of the rhymes with pictures such as two number 5s in an open top car, or the numbers 7 and 3 having a picnic under a sign saying Devon.

One Year 6 girl I worked with found it really hard to remember which numbers added to ten, and she was really down-hearted at being so far behind her classmates. We used this word association method and she found that she could remember her own poem and the pictures really easily. To begin with she said her rhyme every time before deciding which numbers went together. Eventually the numbers became so well embedded that she was able to dispense with the rhyme.

By the time she moved on to secondary school, she was still behind her classmates, but she now knew that she could achieve in maths which really increased her confidence. And that’s why I really love my job.

Related posts: Teaching the Times Tables    A Multisensory Approach to Reading