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.

I 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.

For 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.

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