Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Tricky Teens

After a lifetime of helping young children count past 10, I've seen many many many children get confused and stay confused by the teens. I feel for them!

 If I had the power, I would invent nine new English words to replace nine standard English words.

I'd invent

  • Oneten-one to replace the word, "eleven"
  • Oneten-two to replace the word, "twelve"
  • Oneten-three to replace the word, "thirteen"
  • Oneten-four to replace the word, "fourteen"
  • Oneten-five to replace the word, "fifteen"
  • Oneten-six to replace the word, "sixteen"
  • Oneten-seven to replace the word, "seventeen"
  • Oneten-eight to replace the word, "eighteen"
  • One-ten-nine to replace the word, "nineteen"

(If I were allowed to banish only four number words, they would be "eleven," "twelve," "thirteen," and "fifteen."  That is to say, I could live with fourteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen. Those words don't obscure the underlying numerical meaning as much as the others do.)

Next week's focus in math will be teaching the teens. We'll play games with teens, build block buildings with a 15 blocks, do some arts and crafts projects involving the teens. And sadly, still, at the end of the week, some students will be confused about the teens.

Right now about a third of the class cannot count from 1 to 20 without making errors. It's very very common to hear kids skip 15. That's because once they arrive at FOURteen they think they're home free. They hear that "four" in fourteen and go straight to SIXteen, SEVENteen, EIGHTteen, and NINEteen. I suppose this would not happen if fifteen were given its natural name, FIVEteen.

By the way, the word, "teen" means ten. So, you know, seventeen is trying to say "seven and ten"—with a weird accent.


Parents, please, please help your child. Help your child learn to count out loud (by rote) to 20 without making a mistake. For many children this takes lots of practice. If they're skipping 15, help them. Fill in the fifteen if they're skipping it. Encouragement in the key. Remember, INDIVIDUAL practice is how your child will get from here to there. I've got 28 students in class, so it's difficult for me to provide your child the individual practice he or she may really need.

Also help your child learn to recognize the teens by sight. The activities we're doing next week will be stressful for the students who look at 16 and have no idea what it is and what it means.

When you point to 13, can your child say, "thirteen"? Students who can count aloud to 20 and who can recognize the teens by sight will get a whole lot more understanding out of next week's activities than the students who cannot.

Thanks in advance for your help...and remember, keep it fun. Frustration and tears interfere with learning.


Anonymous said...

I'd settle for teen-one, teen-two, teen-three, etc. I totally agree, I have so many kids that drop a number when they are counting, usually in the area of 14, or 15. The whole English language could use a good overhaul. Fix all those words that don't actually follow phonics rules. "The" there is nothing in the word to indicate it would sound the way we say it, not even the "th" really.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Teach 5--

Or how about

Onety-four, etc.

That way, it would match


We could change twenty to "Twoty"
And thirty to "Threety"
And fifty to "Fivety"

Then, at least, it would be consistent with forty, sixty, seventy, eighty, and ninety.

I think I'll have my puppet, Archy, insist on this way of counting because it's more logical. My students listen to Archy more than they listen to me, so it may get through to some of them.

Michelle said...

II would have thought any sensible teen would want to skip 15.....horrible age :)

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Michelle--

I think I was most insufferable at 17. At 17 I knew everything there was to know, and no one could tell me otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Why DO children tend to skip number 15 when rote counting? I teach preschool and have seen this trend and finally figured there must be something to it.

Dan Gurney said...

So, Anon, now you know, at least, my theory on the subject. If "fifteen" were called "fiveteen" we'd have far fewer skips.

As far as teaching it, get a puppet who counts,

"ten, eleven, twelve, threeteen, fourteen, fiveteen, sixteen, seventeen, etc."

Using the puppet to teach, you can praise the puppet for counting into the teens and explain over and over that we don't say threeteen or fiveteen even though it makes perfect sense to do it.