Introducing Place Value to 1st and 2nd Graders

It’s a common activity used for introducing place value. You give your students a pile of crackers, pretzel sticks and chocolate chips. You tell your students that the crackers are the hundreds, pretzel sticks are the tens and chocolate chips are the ones. You and your students take turns building numbers with a fun snack.

Highly engaging? Yes.

Highly effective? Not for all of your students.

If you are aiming to reach all of your students- even those who tend to struggle the most- you want to be sure that you are following a progression when introducing new concepts.  Keep these two principles in mind.

1) Think CRA. That means you are starting with hands-on materials, moving to representational models like place value drawings or a place value chart and then finally moving towards abstract models such as expanded form and unit form.

2) Remember that not all hands-on tools are created equally! Start with groupable models like linking cubes where your students can physically put together groups of ten from ones or groups of 100 from tens. Next, move your students towards proportional, pre-grouped models such as base ten blocks. Last, tools such as place value disks that are pre-grouped and non-proportional can be used to support your students.  Keeping both of these progressions in mind will ensure that you are reaching as many learners as possible as you introduce new (and important!) concepts to your students!

Try Introducing Place Value With This Activity Instead!

Provide your students with a set of linking cubes. Linking cubes are an excellent grouping place value model because your students can compose and decompose groups of tens and ones.

Ask your students to put together a number of “ten sticks” to use throughout the activity. This quick introduction allows your students a chance to practice the concept that ten ones make a ten. Not to mention, if your students are prepping ten sticks during the activity it’s one less thing for you to prepare before the activity begins— a true win-win.

Next, name various amounts of tens and ones and ask your students to model with the linking cubes. As your students are modeling these numbers they will have to attend to the size of a ten stick and the size of a one as they build. It’s another chance for your students to attend to the size and scale of place value.

Ask your students to count aloud to find the total number. Your students will have to attend carefully to whether they are counting by tens or ones.

Because you used a groupable model to build, your students can check their work by counting individual blocks. This seems tedious but is an important step when it comes to helping your students to “trust” that counting by tens and ones is simply a more efficient method of counting- it still yields the same amount!