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! 


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