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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teaching Place Value

A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook followers about the very first thing they taught in math at the beginning of the school year.  All but one or two people said PLACE VALUE!  I looked back at my blog and couldn't believe it when I realized I had never blogged about a few of the activities I do when teaching place value.  I suppose it's because it has always been at the beginning of the year, and things just tend to get lost in the shuffle in the craziness that is the beginning of the year.
So, without further ado, I'm sharing a few little activities we have done over the years.  I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking since I tend to get a little wordy! (Be sure to read to the bottom of the post for great ideas from my Facebook followers, too.)

We started with an anchor chart (shocking, right?!).  I prep this chart ahead of time since there are so many straight lines involved.  You can always tell which charts I did some prep for ahead of time...straight lines were prepped, but swirly lines (in most of my anchor charts) are used when I'm doing it on the fly with my class!

Here is what the place value anchor chart looks like when we are done.  It's a very basic one, but it works for me!  There are tons of other cute ones out there, too.

One of the first math notebook entries we do is on Place Value (right after the ten commandments of math).  I spruced mine up this year to offer to you for FREE!

You can see that the notebook entry very closely follows my anchor chart that I make with the class.  We have really focused in on the difference between PLACE AND VALUE.  This is crucial with this age level, as they truly have to understand the difference.  I create a free activity called The Place Value Park that kids LOVE, and it is purely intended to review the difference between place and value.

This is the left hand side "output" assignment for their notebooks.  Kids love it, and it's an easy way for me to see if they grasped the concept I just taught them.  For the Base Ten Model of this large number, I explain it to them, BUT I don't make them draw it out.  Instead, I have them split their 6-digit number into two smaller 3-digit numbers and represent it that way.

After this intro lesson, we move on to one of my favorite group place value activities called Candy Rush!  I created this back when I was student teaching and have used it every year since.  My kids just LOVE it.  Basically, each student gets a bag of candy (I used to give them actual candy, but now I just use the included printable bags of candy) and finds the value of their bag of candy.

Then, they get into groups and compile their information into a chart and answer questions about all of their candy values.  It really helps students understand the difference between PLACE and VALUE because they see that even though one student has 29 pieces of candy, they may have the lowest value because of the types of candy they had.  They all have those lightbulb moments during this activity that I just LOVE!


I really tried to make the questions reflective so that they could draw connections.  Of course, there is plenty of other math practice included, too!  You can grab the activity HERE.

When I feel like they are fairly solid in their understanding of these skills after the group activity, we get busy with my very favorite Math Project of the year, Place Value Detectives.  I still remember the exact moment I came up with this project, and it was like a lightbulb turned on.  It has been a huge hit with students, and I love the way it makes them really think about place value.


I have differentiated the project so that it meets the needs of students in grades 2-5, although it's best suited for grades 3+ since there is a lot of critical thinking and problem solving involved.  It covers all the standards, including expanded form, word form, rounding, comparing, and more!

This Place Value Project is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  Click HERE to check it out!

These are two of my favorite pages.  The left page has students figuring out how grades were changed in a jumbled grade book.  I know it looks like those Xs on the right page are saying the work is wrong, but really, it is just the student solving the mystery of the School Supply Stealer using their clues.  The three teachers with the "X" aren't the correct culprit.

Here is one of the challenge/enrichment differentiated place value pages!  The kids LOVE figuring out the ages of the family.

Although I'm not one for "tricks" and I always teach my kids how to use a number line to round numbers, I always LOVE to show them this fun balloon rounding reminder.

When you hold the balloon and let go of 1, 2, 3, or even 4 fingers, the balloon stays right where it is.  if you let go of 5 fingers, though, what happens? THE BALLOON GOES UP!  Just like in rounding.  They LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this analogy and our silly little saying that goes with it.  Again, we definitely still teach them with a number line so that they understand conceptually what they are doing, but this is a great rounding trick for those visual kids.

After we work through the place value project and the candy rush activity, I feel like my students have a good understanding of place value skills.  We culminate the unit with a review and/or quiz, which is FREE on my TpT store.  I do not give all of the pages to all of the kids, especially at one time.  I use it as homework throughout the unit or give one or two pages to each student to complete as a quiz at the end, depending on their skill level.

You can download this FREE Place Value packet at my TpT store!
 I also asked some of my Facebook fans what their favorite place value activities are.  Here are some of their excellent answers!

Even MORE Place Value Activity Ideas
  • "I enjoy giving my kids opportunities to move! I give them a number that is identified as ones, tens, or hundreds. I say a number out loud and together, without talking, they have to move around the room to find their partners that will make that number" -Michelle Q.
  • "Roll dice to make a 2 or 3 digit number. Then show that number in 4 different ways: expanded form, word form, number form and with base tens."- Beth G.
  • "I have the students get in groups and look at the 2010 population census and pick 5 countries and record their population, from there they make a place value chart and write the numbers in expanded, standard, and word form and order them from least to greatest. From there, we use a classroom number line and place the countries and their populations on it. After that we review the number line and apply our data analysis by seeing what number was most frequent, less frequent, etc...helps with real world application."- Morgan C.
  • "Used base ten blocks today to teach writing numbers in expanded form. It was awesome to see their faces light when the finally made the connection that (2 x 100) = 200 because it's two groups of 100 units! Best lesson so far this year"-Christi W.
  • "I like to have the kids make place value pictures. They use hundreds, tens, and ones to make a picture then they have to show their number."-Claudia C.
  • "We integrate social studies by having the students use an atlas to locate various countries in the world and identify the population and land area. We compare and order the numbers as well as write them in word form and expanded form. We will also have the students brainstorm as to why certain countries have a higher population than others and if there is a correlation between land area and population."-Angie L.
  • "Place value Bingo. Students have a certain # of places to write a number. They write a number. Then call out digits & place value positions until they call bingo. Students also have to read the number out loud as well as go over digits/ place values called."-Margaret K.
  • "As we progress through our work w/ place value, students will partner up & play "war" trying to create the largest, smallest, put them in a certain order the fastest, etc."-Staci T.
  • "Number top it. Place value game with playing cards...players must build the largest number they can by picking cards. To win the just have the largest number and read it properly 2 different ways!"- Kerry O.
  • "We also do the secret number game. I also like to give the kids cards with digits, say the number and then they have to get themselves in the right order."-Jenneth S.
  • "I love to post various 4-6 digit numbers around the room and play "I spy"-Samantha K.
  • "My students love "The Secret Number Game." It is played like this:
    --Place lines on the board or have your students put them on their whiteboards. Then give the clues. (You can also make these on paper. Kids even love to write them, teacher can type them, and they can be given to the whole class.)
    ____ ____ , ____ ____ ____
    The digit in the thousands place is the number of tentacles on an octopus.
    The digit in the ones place is the number of legs on a cat.
    The digit in the hundreds place is the number of arms on a starfish.
    The digit in the thousands place is the sum of 6 + 2.
    The digit in the tens place is the difference of 18-9.
    What is my secret number?
    Say it!! "-Stacy P.
  • " I do an outdoor PE game. Two teams of students, red rover style. Each student on the line gets a digit 0-9 (some students have partners). I call out a large number (i.e. 68,709) and students with those digits have to run to the other side and line up in the correct order. First team to correctly display the number called wins a point! They love it!! "-Ashly R.
  • " I play a game with my students in which I tell them how many digits and they set up their spaces. Then I tell them, "There is a 4 in the thousands place, a 6 in the hundred thousands place, etc." (out of order) until we have built the number. If theirs matches mine, they get a point. Depending on the level of the students, I will make it more challenging by not repeating a clue or going faster, or make it easier by repeating clues or using fewer digits."- Laura H.
  • "I also have them line up in order from ones to millions while holding cards. The other students are able to see quickly whether the students are in the correct order and we use cards with commas as well to help reinforce the periods."-Tracy Y.
  • "Place value people: Give a group of students one digit each and have them stand at the front of the class. Insert "people commas" as needed, depending on the size of the number. Identify one person in the group; the rest of the class must write the place and place value of the digit. Use your favorite method for choosing a student to tell the answers. If the student is correct, he/she gets to replace that person and be a new digit in the number. "-Donna G.
Happy teaching!  Feel free to share your best place value idea or blog post in the comments!


  1. This was an awesome post! I teach 3rd grade and the first topic I teach in math is place value also! Thanks for so many great ideas and resources!

  2. These ideas are wonderful! I teach 5th grade and we start with place value as well. I am always needing new ideas and activities that allow the students to move about the classroom. Thank you!

  3. Wonderful ideas!! Thanks for sharing! We start place value tomorrow!

    A Tall Drink of Water

  4. These are such great ideas! Just what I was looking for! Thank you! :)

  5. Great pages! I tried getting the free place value pages to print, but they wouldn't. :(

  6. The journal freebies are great! Very student friendly. Thanks for your post and all the great ideas!

  7. I'm looking forward to incorporating this anchor chart and set of foldables into our first week activities. Thanks!

  8. This might be a bit bold, but what other lessons do you use in your notebook? I love your ideas and would love to use them too!!

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  10. I love the anchor chart. I totally just adapted this for my first graders. We are teaching expanded form and the curriculum doesn't really explain to them enough about the basics of place value and the kiddos are struggling with it. I plan on using this chart with them for our reteach day!

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  14. So many grwat ideas. Thanks! I git the olace vakue detective s and look forward to using it in just a few weeks.

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  16. I love this...thank you!! These are going to be the first things in our Math notebooks. Question...does anything go until the place value chart or is it there for reference only? Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Hi Malena,

      So glad you found some idea! Yes, under the place value chart, we write wide variety of numbers in each of the value and read them as a class together.

      :) Mary