Place value is such a critical understanding for young mathematicians – it is a basic building block for future math problems. Place value can be very challenging for young children because it is so abstract. As teachers we need to find ways to help make the abstract concrete. I have previously written about creating deep understanding of place value throughout the year. This post will focus more on the specific activities I do in a place value unit. All of these activities can be found in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.
Place Value Starts with Teen Numbers
When working on place value with kindergarteners, we must start with teen numbers. In fact, the math standards on place value for kindergarten only put the focus on understanding that teen numbers can be made up into a group of 10 and ones.
Before children are able to fully understand place value of teen numbers, they must have a solid foundation of number relationships for teen numbers. I love to play hide and seek where the students work to build a number line of teen numbers and then we take turns hiding one number. Students then have to figure out, by looking at the surrounding numbers, which number is missing.
Ten frames are really helpful for understanding place value of teen numbers, because it so clearly shows a full group of ten and some extras. I love include ten frames in all of my place value games to see the visuals of the tens and ones. For example, I have my students pick a teen number card and then have them fill in the ten frame with that many cubes. I like to include an equation so that students can start to have practice with ten plus how many extra.
I also like to have them draw this out in a teen number book. The book then asks them to write how many groups of tens and how many ones. It’s the introduction to tens and ones in a more concrete and visual way.
Once my students have a chance to build teen numbers on ten frames, I want to help them start quickly subitize a group of ten and the ones. I love to do a “Tell Me Fast” warm up where I quickly show them teen numbers on a ten frame. There is a previous blog post on subitizing if you want to learn more.
I also like to play the game Cover It and Bingo where students have to see the ten frames to figure out what number they need to cover up. This is a great practice for skip counting groups of tens and then switching to ones.
Concrete to Abstract Place Value Understandings
Place value is so tricky for young students because of how abstract it is. We need to find ways to start with the concrete and then expand to the abstract. Starting with teen numbers and ten frames is a great way to do that. Once you are ready to start moving on to larger numbers, you should find lots of different ways for your children to build the numbers.
Place Value Tools
I know growing up and when I taught first grade we use base ten blocks a lot. I really don’t think they are a good tool for students first attempting place value work. Students really need to build the groups of tens themselves before they can understand that the stick of ten cubes is a group of ten. I also don’t like using bundles of popsicle sticks. Yes, the children can be in charge of grouping the popsicle sticks into groups of tens, but once they are in groups it is hard to visually see that it is ten and it can be too abstract to look at the bundle and skip count by tens.
I like to have my students use unifix cubes (or connecting cubes) to count out the number they need. Then they take those cubes and make groups of tens and then whatever is leftover is the ones. They can physically count and see the ten cubes in each stick of ten and the extras. This is a freebie in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Another way to do this (or to introduce this) is to have students count large quantities of counters and have them make piles of ten. Then they can skip count those tens and the extras. If they want, they can turn those piles into sticks of tens or they can leave them as piles of ten, either way, they are practicing building groups of tens and then counting the extras.
Once they have had lots of practice building groups of tens, then we can move on to the more abstract practice of seeing a number and knowing how many tens and how many ones. I like to use these puzzles for that because children can still count the ten frames to determine what number it is, but there is a connection to the abstract number of tens and ones.
Place value is a critical understanding for young mathematicians, but we cannot expect them to understand this abstract concept without having concrete practice first.
How do you like to give your students concrete place value practice?