How To Make Tens In Math: A Quick & Easy Card Game [VIDEO]

Learning to make tens is, hands down, the most important addition skill your child will learn in the early grades. 

Here’s the deal: your girl has one hundred and twenty-one addition facts to memorize—a gargantuan task to a second grader (who will then have to move on to 121 subtraction facts, then 144 multiplication facts…!!

Ah, but what if learning math facts didn’t have to be an endless to-do list of memory drill, but instead a mere handful of strategies that help her quickly and fluently find any answer she needs? 

The “making ten” strategy is one of the most important of these strategies. It’s a powerful building block that your child will continue to use both now and later as she learns to add larger numbers, work with decimals, etc. 

Wait a sec—what do you mean when you say “make tens”?

The “make ten” strategy simply means knowing the pairs of numbers that add up to ten: 

You’ll notice that some of these, like 1-9 and 9-1 are the “same fact”, but your child may not necessarily understand this. There’s a cool pattern that can really help her learn these facts. Show her this list and ask, “What do you notice? What pattern do you see?”

Learning these number pairs is a first step in thinking of numbers as groups of tens. Later on, when she’s learning 76+4, she’ll see the hidden ten in 6+4 and use it to help her quickly solve the larger problem. 

There are so many fun ways to practice this skill, you’ll never again need to make your kid do flash cards or resort to boring drill. Instead, start with this card game, which I call the Make Ten Game. 

How To Play The Make 10 Game

YOU’LL NEED a regular deck of playing cards. Take out any jokers, but go ahead and leave in the face cards (jack, queen, king) since kids think they’re cool. Aces are worth 1. 

PLAYERS: 1 or 2 players. 

Shuffle, then turn 10 cards face up to look like this:   

The jack, queen, king, and ten each equal ten. I see four cards in the picture that equal ten. Remove these cards. 

Next, look for any PAIRS of numbers that equal ten. I see just one pair of numbers in this picture that equals ten. Take out those two cards. 

(You may not take bigger groups of cards, such as 2+3+5, that equal ten.)
Once you have picked up all available cards, there will be some gaps in your board. 

Fill in the gaps with more cards. There should be ten cards face up on the table. 

Continue taking cards that add up to ten, then fill in gaps when you need to. The goal at the end of the game is to have no cards left. 

NOTE: If your child does the math right, and if you started with a full deck of cards, she should be able to win almost every time! (This is a real plus for 1st and 2nd graders, for whom winning is ALL important!)

How To Play With 2 People 

This game works great as a solitaire game, but most kids between 5-8 years old prefer playing with a partner. Here are two variations that work with two players: 

1) Help each other out so you both win. The goal is to have no cards left at the end. Both players are on the lookout for tens, to make sure you catch them all and can win the game.

If you and your child are playing together, you will likely see pairs before she does, but you want her to spot them most of the time. Pretend to still be searching, saying, “Let’s see…four…hmm…”  Young children can get overwhelmed with many numbers at once, and this helps focus her to search for the pair for that one number. 

2) Compete to see who can get the most cards. In this version, each of you try to be the first to spot the tens. It’s a game of speed as each calls out, “Four and six!” and tries to be first to take the cards. The player with the most cards at the end wins. 

Again, you’re likely to be faster than your child, so to keep this fun you’ll need to slow yourself down a bit. It’s a lot of fun to beat mom or dad, so make a big show of “missed opportunities” (darn!) when you move a little too slow…

To sum up: One of the best ways you can help your child learn to make tens is by playing games for lots and lots of practice. The Make Ten Game takes just a few minutes to play and gives a ton of practice building an important addition skill that she’ll use for many years to come. 

Want more fun practice learning addition facts? The kid-famous card game Clumsy Thief now has a junior version for adding tens–and your child can quickly graduate up to pairs that add to 100!


  1. Monty Harder says:

    Is there a rule for when no 10s/face cards are in the 10-card layout, and no pairs can be made? Suppose you have four aces, four eights, and two threes. Do you add an 11th, 12th, etc. card until you get a match?

    1. Great question! Yes, this is exactly what I do. When there’s not a match that makes ten, add a card at a time until your child can play again.

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