Why is this? Maybe because we are a decimal culture. Maybe because 10 is stronger than 5 or 3, but not overwhelming like 50 or underwhelming like "a dozen." The power of 10 is as great as, but very different from, the power of 3.
I teach both The Rule of 3 and The Rule of 10 as essential elements of literacy. "3" is concise. It is a comfortable number of repetitions that can be changed incrementally without the reader becoming lost or bored. It is symmetrical but also edgy. In almost any array of 3, no matter how presented or communicated, one element will come first, one will be in the middle, and one will be at the end, which is both satisfying and suspenseful (variations on this are more interesting). "3" is the foundation of the standardly taught paragraph and the 5-paragraph essay (BOO to both).
However satisfying, The Rule of 3 is also childlike in its simplicity. It is the stuff of tales that wrap up neatly and of short-lived arguments. It is about keeping within the frame.
On the other hand, "10" begs for busting out. Any list of 10 is really just a tenth of a list of 100. Any list of 10 can easily be expanded. Readers intuitively understand this. A list of 10 is affirming, authoritative, solid, and, potentially, endlessly entertaining.
The Rule of 10 is about growth and possibility, change and conflict, energy and age. I have also always found something compellingly chilly in the combination of the loneliness digit and the emptiness digit. Flipping them creates a neat reduction, repeating them results in a confusion of binary code streaming across a pale green monitor... 10 is the stuff of the digital age as well as The Age of Kings.
The Rule of 10 is a rule for today's students.
So how can we make it work for us in the classroom? Here are 10 Ways to Use of 10 at any grade level:
- I think lists are basically boring, but if you must make lists, require 10 items. 10 favorite... 10 examples of... 10 expressions... 10 adjectives... 10 poems... 10 novels... Where once you stopped at 3 or 5, to make it easy, make it challenging with 10. Work with ordering or sorting the list in various ways. 4 + 6 is calming. 5 + 5 is a study in antithesis. 3 + 3 + 3 + 1 is a powerful structure for making meaning and conveying emotion. Write about choices made.
- 10 letter words are wonderful. There are many collections online. Study them, record them rolling off your tongue, play vocabulary games with them. Require them.
- A great middle school exercise to improve listening and communication is pair-drawing. Allow only 10 lines. On partner draws (allow 10 seconds) behind a screen. He then gives oral directions for his partner(s) to create the same drawing. Practice!
- Read 10 (blog posts, articles, opinions, analyses, summaries, novels, poems). This can also be applied to visual literacy. Draw 10 connections.
- Write (draw, illustrate, record) 10 different/connected/overlapping...
- Memorize in groups of 10. Old school, yes, but it worked then and it works now. Use the same groupings from #1 to create mental collections. Very powerful skill.
- Model the 10-sentence paragraph (most students will quickly see how this can be expanded). In fiction study, have students seek out 10 sentence passages that convey meaning, theme, etc. Share them and use them as models.
- Study The Gettysburg Address. It has 10 sentences. Why? How is it organized?
- Apply The Rule of 10 to a longer text as a framework for analysis. Where is the Rule found? How does it improve or effect the overall construction? (characters, chapters, settings, conflicts...)
- Expand or contract something 10 times. This is a ripple or pattern exercise that can be used for multiple outcomes: a slippery slope argument (or the reverse, which I call "up the ladder"), brain storming, visual thinking, story-telling, creative narrative, description, development of arguments, coding... I like to start with If You Give a Dog a Donut and also to use a simple paper-chain group activity to demonstrate how 10-step growth can create a complex or straightforward product. The math link is obvious (multiplication, division, permutation - and what is a fraction anyway?).
And why stop at 10? If you remember playing Crack the Whip as a kid, on the field or on the ice, you know that the longer the whip the more forceful the lash. 3 is simply not much fun. Sometimes it hurts to be at the end of the whip, but it's worth it.