Place value is ultimately the basis of our entire number system. It is an extremely crucial skill that builds the foundation for other core math concepts. For students, it’s a key math ability that helps develop a true sense of numbers. Number sense must be established before learning more complex skills. Since it’s SO important to master, I believe we MUST make it fun!
When it comes to teaching place value, there are so many ways to meet the needs of ALL learners in your classroom in a hands-on way. By using differentiated components during your math instruction, coupled with fun practice time filled with hands-on activities, your students are sure to master this invaluable skill. In this post I am going to share some fun, engaging, and new ways to help your first grade students truly understand place value AND be ready for so many grades to come!
Why Is Place Value So Important?
Place value encompasses so much. From understanding what a number actually is, how to compose, decompose and compare those numbers, to the more complex skills of learning how to manipulate those numbers through different operations. It’s so important at this stage to support students’ understanding because if not, they risk the potential to continue to struggle as each grade progresses. I know because I’m living proof of it. I did not have a strong sense of numbers before having to learn more complex addition and subtraction operations. I struggled immensely with fractions and eventually algebra and overall I just ended up one of those people who hated math.
Teachers have their work cut out with this one, particularly in first grade, because the jump in standards from kindergarten to first grade, as well as from first to second, are huge! Just like with reading, math builds upon itself as we learn new skills. If there are gaps in our learning, eventually we will begin to struggle. First grade standards for place value include teen numbers, counting, reading and writing numbers through 120, understanding tens and ones, comparing numbers, and adding and subtracting within 100. That’s A LOT for 6 year olds to learn. It’s going to take time and a lot of practice.
Once we’ve really digested our standards and what we have to get them to understand, we can look at what they “should” come to us knowing. Kindergarten focusing on numbers 11-19 and helping students deeply understand those teen numbers. They also learn how to count to 100 by ones and tens as well as writing and representing numbers through 20. They also spend a lot of time comparing numbers through 10 and learning about greater and less than. This gives students a great foundation for first grade, but still a huge jump they have to take from what they learned in kindergarten.
Students are asked to take an even bigger leap from first to second grade! After we teach them everything they “should” know, students are then asked to learn numbers through 1000, understand 3 digit numbers, skip count by 5s, 10s, and 100s, compare two 3 digit numbers, add up to four 2 digit numbers, AND add and subtract within 1000. All I have to say is WOW! Think about the progression of understanding and where something could easily go wrong. THIS is why it is so crucial to teach ALL of these foundational building blocks because they only get more complicated as they go.
You’re probably saying, WOW, that was a lot. And you’re right, it is. But it is also really important to have this in the forefront of your mind when teaching these skills. So let’s get into the fun part- teaching! We’ve got three components: the CRA model, three act tasks, and of course hands on activities to ensure engagement and rigor are high!
The CRA Model
All children come with a different set of tools, background knowledge, and skills they possess. Our challenge is meeting them where they are, bridging gaps in their learning, and supporting their growth through all stages. As stated earlier, place value encompasses a lot and making sure students master all skills embedded is something we have to do.
CRA are three letters that will change your WHOLE WORLD. This is how I help every single student succeed in the classroom, no matter what place of learning they are at. The CRA model breaks down math into three components: Concrete, Representations, and Abstract. This is where the power lies. All students start with concrete practice. This means busting out ALL the unifix cubes, ones, tens, and hundreds, depending on where your students are at. Using their hands to manipulate objects to build number sense is what this component is all about. As we practice our concrete skills together, THEN we bring in our representations, or drawings. We have students physically drawing ones and tens as they are learning so they can build tools to use anywhere when working with numbers. The last component is where our abstract learning takes place. It is here concepts are introduced to help build our mental math.
Integrating all of these components into our math instruction gives students choices on how to interact with the skill, while simultaneously differentiating for their needs. The great thing about this model and these components is that it does not have to be a linear process. Students may work really well with their concrete practice and go right to abstract, while some may not even need concrete practice for a skill but instead representations. It is meant to be used as a tool to support learners and give them all the strategies they may need while learning all these place value skills. Learn more about how to use the CRA Model HERE!
Let’s look at an example of using the CRA model while learning about comparing numbers. Below are some different ways for students to understand how to compare numbers and understand what numbers mean and represent.
As you can see, these groups of students are working in three different places and need different types of support to help their understanding. They were taught various different strategies and were able to choose how they learn best. They all clearly understand the concept of comparing numbers, but are working with different groups of numbers and using different tools to support them. This is the power of the CRA Model. Students are taught multiple ways, using different supports, and it ensures there are no gaps in their learning because they deeply understand numbers and what they mean.
One thing I have learned throughout the years is that we too quickly move students away from manipulatives before they are ready. Providing students with ample practice and no restrictions on supportive tools helps them develop a strong sense of place value. This reduces the struggle when they get to more complex operations, such as division and algebra, because they truly understand what those operations mean as it relates to numbers and how to do it.
By using the CRA Model and math workshop, I am able to support students WHEREVER they are at and either help them catch up, teach them new skills, or begin to enrich their learning with even more advanced skills. Check out my post on how to successfully implement math workshop HERE! With both of these tools, I promise that ALL of your students will thrive no matter what their needs are. By implementing the CRA Model, I promise you will see a world of difference in the depth of understanding in your students. Stuck on a specific skill and want support with how to teach or differentiate? Email me and I can help!
With anything we teach, it’s important to make connections between the skills or content to the real world for students. They should understand how this matters to them outside of being successful in school. When we can make these connections for students, they can begin to form deeper connections of why we need these skills and how they help us in our world.
One of my favorite ways to help make connections is by using a 3 Act Task. Have you heard of them? They are a great way to get students using ALL the critical thinking skills to solve complex, real world problems. Check out this 3 Act Task designed for first grade place value! Talk about a win! Our class took the challenge and we had the greatest time.
There are so many great ways to make real world connections about place value for our students. Some include explaining how we use numbers everyday in our lives such as counting the number of items at a checkout, handling money, or trying to estimate the amount of things we need for our family.
Make it FUN
Now let’s get to the good stuff! Hands-on activities are a sure fire way to make learning fun! Let’s get into some of students’ favorite engaging place value activities! *Please note that all of these activities have been created for students using the CRA Model to help support their needs.*
Comparing in a concrete way is like playing with Legos! This activity is super simple, low prep, easy to differentiate and fun for everyone. You get number cards and symbol cards for students and they are free to use them however they best make sense for their comparing needs.
The next activity is another fan favorite for comparing. Students have a blast comparing numbers with these differentiated penguins! They get everything they need to compare numbers in multiple forms. Number cards include visual representations, numerals, and equations to give more of a challenge. Students can use these cards with any manipulatives they need to practice comparing while having fun!
The next activity is a guaranteed way to have all of your students telling the entire school you’re the best teacher ever! Ever had a snowball fight in your classroom? This is the most fun game that can be implemented with pretty much any skill! Learn more about them HERE. This Place Value Snowball Fight is SUPER engaging and provides great practice for students working with numerals and visual representation, but you could tailor it however you need!
These are just SOME of the fun and engaging activities found in the Place Value Pack! Check out some more hands-on fun in the pictures below.
Place Value Hands On Activities
Want to get kids up and moving? Your students will love this engaging place value scavenger hunt! You can grab it for FREE now!
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WHAT ARE TEACHERS SAYING?
Teachers tell me over and over again how much this resource has helped their students’ understanding of place value. Read below some of the wonderful things teachers have to say.
“Absolutely amazing resource filled with a lot of activities!!”
“Great resources to practice place value. Hands on activities that are crucial for engaging and introducing place value.”
“I like how differentiated these activities are. These activities are hands on which are great for First Graders!”
“There is so much variety in this resource. My favorite activity, that my students loved, is the place value scoot with expanded form and base ten blocks.”
“Great resources to use for independent centers to sharpen skills!”
Grab the jam packed growing place value bundle that is full of tools and resources to support your students learning about place value and building number sense. Whether they need support with teen numbers, more practice with numbers within 120, or are ready for 3 digit numbers, this bundle has got you COVERED! Learn more with the link below.
I really hope you enjoyed learning about how to make teaching place value engaging while also meeting the needs of ALL your students! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the Place Value Scavenger Hunt FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how-to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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