Teaching Place Value to First Graders in a Fun Way

What is Place Value and How Can it Help Kids Learn Math?

Place value is an essential math concept that helps kids understand the value of numbers. It is the foundation for more complex math operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. By understanding place value, kids can develop a deeper understanding of how numbers work and how to manipulate them to solve problems. 

When kids are starting to learn place value, they are introduced to the concept of tens and ones. They start to understand that each digit in a number has a specific place or value. With the understanding of place value, kids can explore the relationships between numbers and apply their knowledge in real-world situations.

Learning place value can be a challenging task, but it doesn’t have to be repetitive or boring! By taking a creative approach to teaching place value, children can understand the concept with ease and enjoy it. Here are some fun ways to teach place value to first graders, focusing on two-digit numbers.

Using Base Ten Blocks to Make Learning Fun and Meaningful

Utilizing concrete models like base ten blocks is a great way to ensure that students understand the concept in a hands-on, engaging way.

Base ten blocks are a great tool to explore place value. By manipulating the rods and cubes, children can make sense of the concept of place value in a concrete and meaningful way.  Base ten blocks can help students comprehend number systems, how to break down large numbers into tens and ones, and how to add or subtract in different ways. Using activities involving concrete models will enhance children’s problem-solving skills.  

One possible activity could involve having students build numbers using base ten blocks.  Ask the students to pick a card and identify the place value of each digit. For example, if the card shows 56, the student should identify the 5 as being in the ten’s place and the 6 as being in the one’s place.  Have students build the number using base-10 blocks, with each block representing a unit of one or ten.  Otherwise, they can choose their own numbers to carry out the activity.  To make it more challenging, you could ask them to flip two number cards (with digits 0-10), make the larger number using those two digits, and build that number with base ten blocks.  This will help them think about tens and ones while comparing the value of the two numbers.

Another idea could be to play a game with the whole class or in groups.  Distribute a 2-digit number card to each student or group of students.  Once students have built their number, have them compare it to the numbers built by other students or groups.  Encourage students to add or remove blocks to build greater or smaller numbers, and to describe their reasoning for doing so.  Repeat the activity with different numbers and encourage students to continue building and comparing numbers.

It is also possible to create games involving base ten blocks which make learning even more fun!  An example is the place value monster game which could be played individually or with a partner.

A place value game using base ten blocks for kids to build or construct 2-digit numbers.  This monster place value game is fun and kids have to build horns and teeth with rods and cubes.

To play this game, children need to place a counter on the yellow square.  Then, they have to roll the die, move their counter that number of spaces, and name the number they land on.  They will use base ten blocks to represent that number on the mat: rods (tens) for horns and individual cubes (ones) for teeth.  They will continue in this manner until the allocated time is up or until they reach the yellow square.

Kids really love this monster game to practice place value!  To practice with a partner, children will both roll a die, move their counter that number of spaces, and name the number they land on.  Then, they have to determine who landed on a greater number.  This player gets to build the monster with base ten blocks (as suggested above).  They will continue in this manner until one of the players reaches the yellow square to win the game.

This activity provides a hands-on and visual way for students to understand place value and practice comparing and building numbers. By using base-10 blocks, students can physically see and manipulate the value of each digit in a number, which helps deepen their understanding of place value.

Using Number Card Activities to Engage Students and Deepen Place Value Understanding 

2-digit numbers to teach place value (tens and ones)

By utilizing simple number cards in your lessons, you can make learning about place value fun and engaging for your first graders. With these strategies, they’ll be sure to gain a deeper understanding of this important math concept.

A very simple activity involves a game of “Guess My Number.”  The teacher would pick a number card and provide clues to the students about the number using tens or ones. For example, the teacher might say, “The number I am thinking of has three ones.” The students would then take turns guessing a number until the correct answer is found. The teacher could also provide additional clues, such as “The number is less than 60” or “The number is greater than 20.”  To make it a bit more challenging, the teacher could have a student be the teller.

Another engaging activity that also involves movement is Place Value Scavenger Hunt.  To play the game, create a set of two-digit number cards and hide them around the classroom. Divide your students into two teams and have them hunt for the numbers.  Give clues using tens and ones, such as “This number has 4 tens and 8 ones.”  When they find the correct number, they must bring the card back to their team’s pile. The team to collect the most cards wins. Another variation of the game could be to just call out the number and ask the student who found the card to identify the place value of the digits in order to add the card to their team’s pile.

Place Value War is another class favorite.  This game reinforces students’ understanding of place value and helps them practice comparing numbers.  Using two decks of cards, split the class into two groups. Each team will take turns flipping over cards and saying the number, together with the place value of each digit. The group that says the number with the highest place value wins the round. The team with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.  This game provides students with an interactive and competitive way to reinforce their understanding of place value and to practice comparing numbers. 

Utilizing Technology to Make Place Value Lessons Fun & Engaging

A girl playing a place value game with a caterpillar theme.  The digital place value game helps children identify the tens and ones in 2-digit numbers.

Technology has become an integral part of education and is increasingly being used to make lessons fun and engaging for kids.  In addition to the activities mentioned previously, there are many digital activities and online games that can be used to teach place value to first graders. Digital games and activities could involve having the students build numbers using base ten blocks, counting blocks, identifying the value of the digits in numbers, and comparing numbers.  These activities can help reinforce the concepts covered in the classroom and can be used to assess student progress.

Although there are lots of apps and digital activities, I love using Boom Cards™ with my students and it helps get even the most reluctant learners to participate.  They can be used as a whole class activity on the interactive whiteboard, as digital centers, and also as an independent activity.  Kids really love the self-correcting feature and it is a win-win situation when the activity is a game. 

A girl holding a tablet with a place value game.  The digital place value game has tens and ones base ten blocks for kids to build or construct 2-digit numbers.

By using creative activities and games, first graders can learn the basics of place value in a fun and engaging way. Students will not only learn the concept of place value but will also have fun in the process. With a little creativity and enthusiasm, teaching place value to first graders can be a rewarding experience for both teachers and students.

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