Place Value Lessons

Students can learn about place value using interesting lessons, activities, and games.

By Christina Lee

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place value lessons

Place value is one of those key concepts all students should understand. Without this understanding, they will have difficulty performing most math operations. They need to know that the digit’s place determines its value. A lack of understanding of this basic idea leads many students to believe that in the number 185, the value of the 8 is 8. Students should understand that the value of the 8 in 185 is 80. A strong understanding of place value enables students to add, subtract, multiply and divide two and three digit numbers, compare values, and so much more.

I like to introduce place value using concrete tools such as base 10 blocks and a place value mat. This hands-on activity allows students to understand each digit’s value by actively determining the meaning of each digit. First, I have each student create their own place value chart (or give it to them already made with a very young group) so that they have their own chart to keep and take home for practice. A simple 8x11 piece of construction paper is divided into thirds. The first column from the left is the hundreds place, then the tens place and lastly, the ones place.  For differentiation purposes, some students can even trace the blocks onto their place mat for reference.

I would make sure that students understand the value of a unit (1), a rod (10), and a flat (100). It is also possible to use different terminology to define each type of block. After assessing students’ understanding of the tools, I start off with a one digit number such as 5, and model 5 units in the ones place. Then we show 85, by adding 8 rods in the tens place. Finally, we model 100, by adding a flat in the hundreds place. After modeling 185, I would write the number 42 on the board and ask students to show 42 using the blocks on their place value mat.

After giving students the opportunity to practice modeling numbers on their place value mat, I challenge them by giving them the number 100. Students who understand the value of the 1 in the hundreds place would place a flat in the hundreds place, and the other columns would be blank. After giving students many opportunities to practice working with their place value mats, I encourage them to use the place value mats when solving other math problems. They can even quiz each other. What follows are more lesson plans that can help your students understand place value.

Place Value Activities:

Place Value Game

In this activity students play a game about place value. The game can be altered to work for first through sixth grades.

Race for a Flat Game

In this game students race to make a "flat." They roll a dice and place the number rolled on their place value mat. When they have a group of ten, they can exchange it for a ten rod. The game continues in this manner until someone gets a "flat."

Go and Stop

In this activity students use base 10 blocks to show visual representations of three-digit numbers. They answer questions and participate in extension activities.

Squirrel Place Value

In this worksheet students identify the numbers after counting the blocks on a sheet. They use their place value mats and manipulatives to aid them in answering the questions.

Place Value

In this activity students use flats, rods, and units to show visual representations of different numbers.