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One of my passions in Primary Teaching is Numicon as a master maths manipulative. I absolutely love it. Firstly, it is colour coded. I adore colour and colour code most things in my life. Not my bookshelves though. I do that by height. Back on point, I love how it is tactile, useful for every Primary grade and finally? It is versatile. Ridiculously so.

5 ways with Numicon

Today I am going to be preaching to you 5 ways with Numicon, and hopefully converting the uninitiated to the greatness of it, whilst maybe encouraging users who know about it to try something different with it too.

Just before I start my love letter to Numicon, I want to let you know that the individual pieces are known as “plates” and so I am using that terminology interchangeably with “piece”. Hope that is all clear – now let’s begin!

5 ways with Numicon

The best way I find to introduce the Numicon plates is to let the learners play with the pieces. Sometimes the best way to do this is with a Numicon baseboard, and a box of pieces and invite the children to create a picture. Then as they build I like to question them as they work and use phrases such as:

  • Why did you pick that piece?
  • How many holes do you need to cover to fill that piece?
  • What shape have you made/do you need?
  • Which piece is bigger/smaller? How do you know?

5 ways with Numicon – Number sense

Young children, and those with Special Educational Needs, find practical learning beneficial. The old adage of involving learners in their studying is especially important in Maths. Are children going to remember the weighing worksheet or will they learn more weighing out ingredients to follow a recipe (and also read, compare amounts, watch the science of temperature at work….)?

So give the children a set of 10 Numicon pieces, each with its own colour, and the children will start to associate the shapes with the number in sequence. In one school I worked in the kids were so familiar with it that they would occasionally say things like “The missing one is the yellow one” find the yellow plate and then work out that it is the number 3. That is an important first step to understanding concepts such as greater than (>) and lesser than (<).

Get the kids to draw round the Numicon shapes, and ask a partner to identify the plate they used. They particularly using whiteboard pens on the table as it feels naughty, but it will come off with a baby wipe! It feels fun, teaching it themselves embeds it, and the kids are able to show off to their friends (or try and trick them…). You can also extend this to drawing round a larger piece and they have to find 2 (or 3) pieces to make it and record the number sentence.

5 ways with Numicon

Children will easily see concepts such as one more and one less by constructing Numicon numberlines.

Numberlines and Numicon

Next, move on to asking children to make a numberline. At this point I would use some Assessment for Learning to know whether to offer just one plate of each number, or give them the box and let them decide which pieces they need from a larger selection.

Once the 1-10 (or 20) number line is complete, I would ask the children to match a number card or number magnet to each one. More able children could have a go at writing the numbers themselves too.

5 ways with Numicon – addition and subtraction

Part part whole is a method that makes it easy for the children to break numbers down and see the relationships between them. Numicon plates are a brilliant introduction as the plates are easy to combine to make numbers and also build upon to find the number pairs.

This method can be used for addition number sentences as the children can use the plates like a jigsaw and place them next to each other to work out the total. Numicon also sell die that have pictures alongside the numbers to represent the Numicon which allows added reinforcement. I love the die because one of my bug bears is that I am incapable of making varied sums! Often a set of 10 questions will all have the same number, or bizarrely all the answers will be 7. It doesn’t have to make sense to be true. As much as I can, I like to use die, or dominoes or something similar to generate the number sentences. It also means that the children are creating their own learning – which is always a popular thing!

5 ways with Numicon

When subtracting I take the largest plate, and show the children how to cover it with the smaller plate to represent the “take away”.  Then count the remaining uncovered holes. There are Numicon Pegs available which are a brilliant way to bring subtraction to life and understandable. So if the sum was 7-3, I would ask the children to take a 7 plate, fill it with 7 pegs in the holes, then remove 3.  How many pegs left? Boom! Bosch! And other words that indicate it is as easy as that. However, if you don’t want to be getting pegs, I love using pompoms for the same effect, just like on the Inspire My Play Blog.

5 ways with Numicon

5 ways with Numicon – Number bonds

As the children become familiar with the plates this visual really makes number bonds to 10 a cinch.The children can use the plates to build a tower of 10 by putting a base plate of 10 (10+0), then make 10 on top with a 9 and a 1 (9+1) and so on until all the bonds are in the tower. Then you can record the pairs as number sentences like the Bedford Tutor illustrates in this post.

5 ways with Numicon

I love how it is colour coded in the number sentences as well as the visuals! Totally borrowing that idea…

5 ways with Numicon

Once the children have done some practical number bond work with the Numicon, it is time for some more paper based work to go alongside. I know that if a child knows it, they know it, but hey – leadership teams, management and moderators love a bit of paper evidence so it’s best to comply.

5 ways with Numicon

Use this set of worksheets to make the number pairs to 10, find the missing plate to make 10 and match the number sentence to the pictoral representation.

5 ways with Numicon – Place Value

Oh my goodness there are so many learners who get confused by Tens and Ones until they use the Numicon and then *ping* the lightbulb in their heads switches on in their gorgeous brains, and their eyes light up as they say “ooooh yeah!”.  I love those moments.

Rods and deines, once Tens and Ones are secure, are great. However, I believe the visual of seeing the ten plate really makes the difference. 32 is 3 ten plates, and a 2 plate, so when you ask how many tens are in 32, they can immediately understand you mean the ten plates.

5 ways with Numicon

Numicon to investigate Odd and Even Numbers.

I love a good open-ended investigation and odd and even numbers lends itself to this perfectly.  I encourage the children to have 1 plate of each number to 10, and then sort them into 2 groups any way they like, but they must have something in common. This lets them have a play, then we can get to noticing the “bump” on the odd numbers and then talking about odd and even.

5 ways to use Numicon

The image above is from Inspire my Play, written by an EYFS teacher (like me!) who also loves STEM activities, learning through play and Numicon!

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive! Use Numicon for practical multiplication (5 x 3 – grab 5 sets of the 3 plate), practical division (make 21 and then see how many 7 plates cover the holes) and looking at remainders, problem solving, decimals, perimeter, volume and area.  There are a whole load of videos you can use to support the learning too. And (unusually) every year group has been catered for from EYFS to Year 6!

Oxford Owl offer some free Numicon shapes to print out on just 1 page here, which is a useful introduction to using these maths manipulatives.

Do you agree?  Have you any different ways to use Numicon? Please let me know by writing a comment and sign-up for my zoedidthat site updates!

PS – Stay tuned for more unexpected Numicon uses in a future post right here on!

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