Teaching Place Value

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Fresh ideas for teaching place value! Write some riddles and use Base Ten Blocks for these fun number sense activities.

Kids know a lot about numbers when they enter school. However, their concepts are based mainly on a counting by ones approach.

To understand place value, children need to be taught the number sense behind groups of 10. It is possible to also show them that math is fun!

Recognition of equivalent numbers, regardless of the representation, is also critical in teaching children mathematics. Children with poor number sense do not have a conceptual framework of how the balur of numbers change with regards to their "place."

Teaching Place Value with Base Ten Blocks

To begin teaching place value, we have to start with understanding groups of ten.

According to NCTM standards, "Making a transition from viewing 'ten' as simply the accumulation of 10 ones to seeing it both as 10 ones and as 1 ten is an important first step for students toward understanding the structure of the base-ten number system."

Base Ten Blocks are the most useful tool for place value activities, and no classroom ought to be without them.

For the first 6-9 weeks of school I focus strictly on place value, and I rarely bring out another manipulative during that time.

The units represent 1, the longs represent the regrouping of 10 units for one 10, the flats represent the regrouping of 10 longs for 1000, and the cubes represent the regrouping of 10 flats for 10000.

Base Ten Blocks are also proportional, which means they are a concrete, physical representation of groups of 10.

Customer and Banker

When you start teaching place value using Base Ten blocks, begin with a simple lesson of exchanging units for longs. This is regrouping. Two students can work together, one as the banker and one as the customer.

The customer rolls four dice, takes that number of units and counts them out in front of the banker, writing the total number of units on the place value chart. Then the units are put into groups of 10 and the banker takes the units and gives the customer one long for each group. The number is recorded again on the sheet, but this time as longs and units.

Once students have mastered exchanging units for longs, introduce a flat. Begin with only flats and longs and use the recording sheet.

Bring units back into the lesson at another time (you do not want to introduce two new math concepts at once - just work with the idea of exchanging longs for flats, then introduce units to longs to flats).

Guess the Mystery Number

Another way of teaching place value is to play math games like Guess the Mystery Number. All students will need a place value mat and Base 10 blocks. The objective is for students to understand that they must regroup their Base 10 blocks to figure out the mystery number.

For example, tell them to take 12 units and 4 longs. Working with a partner, they will need to physically regroup the blocks by exchanging 10 units for one long. They record the number in their math journals (52). You can differentiate teaching place value with this game by including flats and making it necessary to regroup in two places, such as 15 units, 9 longs and 2 flats (305).

Note: This activity is best done after students have a solid grasp of groups within a base 10 number system.

More Place Value Activities

A free download of games and activities is right here for you, along with 6 ideas for teaching place value that your students will go home raving about! 

A gift from Primary Education Oasis to you - a free ebook full of fun activities for your classroom!

These math games and teaching strategies will be a hit with your students, but will tap into their meta-cognition to deepen their understanding of mathematics.

Here are more ideas for teaching place value that require students to take numbers apart and put them together in multiple ways. Learning to be flexible with numbers and explain ways of creating the same number deepens mathematical comprehension.

Base Ten Riddles

Instead of you teaching place value, let the students do it. They write riddles that require the use of base-ten materials to solve. Examples are:

  • I have 3 hundreds, 5 tens and 4 ones. Who am I?
  • If you add 4 tens to me, I will be 63. Who am I?

Mayan Math

Your gifted students may enjoy learning about Mayan mathematics - they used a base number of 20. Dots and bars were used for counting, with a shell symbol meaning 0, a dot meaning 1 and a bar meaning 5. Whereas we would write the number 53 as 5*10 + 3, their large numbers were written as a power of 20 (2*20 + 13 = 53). Visit Mayan Math for more information.

Poker Chips and the Hundreds Board

Poker chips can easily be used: Whites equal ones, reds equal 10s, and blues equal 100. Have the children make a number that you say and place out the poker chips to represent that number. As you walk around the room, you will be able to ascertain immediately which students are experiencing conceptual difficulties with the concepts of regrouping and exchanging.

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

On your Smartboard or overhead, make groupings of numbers that are compatible, meaning they all can be combined in some way to calculate the same sum, difference, product or quotient.

For example, if the goal is to make "30," then the numbers may be 10, 30, 25, 20, 5, 27, 0, 3.

The students have to solve how to reach 30 using two of the numbers until they are all gone. This also works great if you make the groups on paper to hand out and the kids can play to beat the clock.

(Make it cute by drawing birds on it if you want to. I don't, but other teachers might like that extra touch).

Number Line Madness

Hand out blank number lines with only 0 and 100 marked. There should be a line with a question mark that is circled for 50 (do not write 50 on the number line).

Have 4-5 lines drawn at various points on the number line. Students must guess the numbers based on what they think the ? mark represents and how close or far each line is from 0 or 100.

Differentiate the lesson by going up to the 1,000s or beyond.

And just for fun...

Class Collection

Each month collect a different object with your class, and each month the goal amount should change. Display the collections in jars around the classroom as a point of reference (it also leads into some really great discussions about volume). This creates an ongoing way for teaching place value the entire year.

Just choose wisely what you want to collect: it's easier to collect 1,000 pennies than buttons. 10,000 Cheerios isn't too hard either. Some suggestions are: peanuts, popcorn, buttons, bottle caps, crayons, beans, erasers....or you can get grose and collect 10 baby teeth, 50 pieces of chewed up gum, 100 used band-aids.

What kid wouldn't be interested in that!

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