Ideas to Teach Place Value

Understanding the base-10 organization of our numbers is essential.

Place value, the foundation of our number system, plays an important role in any mathematics curriculum. Children who understand that digits mean different things, depending on the position within a number, will be able to comprehend large numbers and decimals with ease. Usually introduced in kindergarten or first grade, this unit can be fun and interactive for students and has many practical applications.

1 Introducing the Concept

Often, teachers use interactive whiteboards or lower-tech overhead projectors to introduce their class to the manipulatives they will use in their own exploration of the concept. Children will then be able to use base-10 blocks showing number to increase their understanding of place value. In base-10 blocks, single cubes are combined together to visually represent the number positions of ones, tens, hundreds and sometimes thousands. Place value charts, flipbooks and flashcards can be useful too.

2 Textbook and Worksheet Practice

Exploring through hands-on activities will help children learn the concept of place value, but many students will need to practice their skills through pencil-and-paper tasks. Place value exercises can be found in any primary- or junior-level text. Many free worksheets can be found at Super Teacher Worksheets.

3 Games

Playing games can help many students learn without even knowing it. In many classrooms, activity time is perfect for reinforcing skills through play, while also encouraging collaboration, problem-solving and other important social skills. Many fun commercial games are available and Free Training Tutorial houses a host of free online games that students will love.

4 Real-Life Examples

A place value unit will be much more interesting for students if they can relate the concept to their own experiences. Knowledge of place value will help Brian decide which store has the best price for that new videogame. It can help Dad decide on the shortest route when he takes the family to Disneyland. It can also help the coach decide who won the 400-meter race. There are many real-life uses of place value and students should be encouraged to make connections whenever possible.

Sharilyn Rose has been writing professionally since 2010. She is an Ontario Certified Teacher and has developed presentations, training materials and educational resources for use in classrooms since 2005. Rose completed a master's degree in educational psychology and special education from the University of British Columbia in 2001.