Hands-on Activities for Teaching Place Value

Place value activities

Place value is one of the foundations of math, so it makes sense that when our students don’t understand it at a conceptual level, they struggle when learning new concepts (e.g. multiplying and dividing by powers of ten). Teachers are pressured to move kids through a curriculum when they know what their students need is solid understanding the basics. Here are a few “teaching tools” that I have created to help students conceptually understand place value with a hands-on approach. These tools are perfect for centers, so I recommend against making an entire class set. Instead, a set of 6-8 is ideal for guided math lessons. Every printable included in this post is available for free HERE!

1. Place Value Mats

Hands-on activities for teaching place value

I made two versions of these mats (one for whole numbers and one for decimals). Students are given a number that they are to write down on the mat. They will then outline the corresponding value of the number in the column above. Once the values are all outlined, the student will then write the expanded form by looking at the outlined values. I like to use these reusable dry-erase pockets for these mats. You’ll notice that I used a symmetrical color pattern for the decimal mat. When teaching decimal place value, students tend to see the decimal point as a line of symmetry between the two systems. This can lead to confusion down the road and it doesn’t help them understand the relationship between tens and tenths, hundreds and hundredths, thousands and thousandths… etc.

2. Build-a-Number Mat

Hands-on activities for teaching place value

These mats are similar to the place value mats from number 1. However, students will actually “build” the numbers using powers-of-ten pieces. You can also have students use these boards to visualize and write a number in expanded form.

Hands-on activities for teaching place value

A few tips when making these maths: Use the “hook” side of the self-adhesive velcro on the math and the “loop” side (the soft side) on the individual pieces. To save time, I ran one long strip along the back of the pieces and then cut them out after. Using the “loop” side on the pieces makes them easier to cut through. You will only need 9 of each power-of-ten piece per mat. I also included a decimal version of the math in the free download.

3. Place Value Flip-Chart

Hands-on activities for teaching place value

These are essentially an interactive place value chart. It allows students to see the values of digits within a number by flipping the pages.  Like I mentioned above, the color pattern reflects the line of symmetry represented in the ones place. The spring/coil represents the decimal place. It can also be used to help students write numbers in expanded form.

Hands-on activities for teaching place value

The download contains a color version (above) and a black-and-white version that can be colored (below). Just laminate the page, cut out the pieces, and then bind them together.

Hands-on activities for teaching place value


4. Place Value Foldable

Hands-on activities for teaching place value

These simple foldable offer your students another great way to visualize numbers and expanded form. I used these 3″ by 24 ” sentence strips and dry-erase tape.

Assembly tips: If you’re using a 24-in strip, fold according to the measurements below. Then cut your dry-erase tape 1.25 inches wide.

Hands-on activities for teaching place value

5. Math Tiles

I love math tiles because not only do they require critical thinking and problem-solving, students have to utilize place-value understanding to solve them. Here are just a few of the activities I have that relate to place value.

I hope you get a chance to use some of the tools with your students. Feel free to contact me with any questions!

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