How to Teach Place Value in Math

Understanding place value of numbers is important.

Place value concepts help lay the foundation for all higher level math. Teaching place value to students requires teaching in a way that they will master the underlying concepts, as well as the mechanics. That requires effective teaching strategies presented in a step by step fashion.

Assess readiness skills before teaching place value. The Yale National Initiative recommends ensuring that students have mastered counting numbers one through 10 and understand one to one correspondence. They should also be able to say, write and read numbers, and do simple addition and subtraction.

Start with manipulatives (tangible objects that can physically be counted), then move to pictures or other visual representations when students first learn place value. The Yale National Initiative recommends going to abstract numbers after the basic concepts have been reinforced with manipulatives and visuals.

Require students to practice putting objects or manipulatives into groups of 10. Then have students group their 10's into groups of 100, or 10 groups of 10. Houghton Mifflin identifies this as a beginning for teaching place value.

Show students how to compare groups. Students should put groups together and take them apart while identifying the value of each group, according to the Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. For example, students could count out 30 objects. They can then put three groups of 10 together and identify it as a quantity of 30. The students should be able to compare the two groups and identify 30 as actually being three groups of 10. They can make similar groupings and comparisons for the hundreds place.

Require students to practice putting numbers on a place value chart and then writing out the numbers in expanded form. This emphasizes the place value of numbers. For example, 3,000 in expanded form would be 3 x 1,000, 3 x (10 x 10 x 10), and 3 x 10 to the third power.

Teach each step to mastery. The Yale National Initiative emphasizes that each step is critical to mastering place value.

Michelle Green has a Master of Science in education and a specialist degree in school psychology. She has been a small business owner, a public school teacher and a local newspaper columnist on small business. Green currently works in school psychology, diagnosing disabilities, developing programs, and consulting, as well as writing informational articles online.