Place value manipulatives is certainly a mouthful to say. But don’t let the formal-sounding name throw you off; these are important tools for first graders that can make a big difference in helping them understand this important math concept.
place value: where a numeral is within a number determines how much it is worth–ex: 5, 50, 500, and so on.
manipulative: objects or tools that are used to give hands-on exploration and practice of a concept or skill.
Many manipulatives that help children learn place value are small objects that can be easily counted and then grouped together in sets or bundles of tens or hundreds. There are also objects, such as poker chips, that can be used as “conceptual counters”–whites are ones, blues are tens, and reds are hundreds, for example. Finally, there are tools that can help organize counters, such as place value mats or tens frames.
Counters for Larger Numbers: Try these counters and grouping ideas for exploring place value. To use place value counters, start by counting out the ones. The rule in Tensville is that there can never be 10 of one group in the same place. Start by counting the ones, then when you reach 10, move these over into the next area (tens). When there are ten groups of 10s, move these over into 100s.
Ones could be dried beans, small stones, pennies, beads, or other counters. They could also be sticks, like coffee stirrers, straws, pipe cleaners or toothpicks.
Tens could be small cups, bowls, dimes (trade in pennies), small bags, tens frames, or plastic baggies. When using stick like counters, it is easiest to bundle tens together with a rubber band.
Hundreds could be dollars (trade in dimes), a bag, a large plastic baggie, or a small tray that is able to hold the tens groups.
Place Value Chart: The place value chart is a simple backdrop for counting that is very helpful for helping kids see the difference between tens and ones. When children get more than 9 ones on the ONES side, they physically move ten ones over to the TENS side and regroup them by putting them into a cup or bundling them up with a rubber band. The mat helps them connect this regrouping action to the vocabulary of tens and ones, and introduces them to the columns that are implied in our number system.
Base Ten Blocks : The quintessential place value manipulative, it is made expressly for representing ones, tens, hundreds and thousands, and all the pieces relate visually to each other–a tens piece is the same size as 10 ones lined up next to each other, and so on. The best thing is to buy a set, but if you are pressed for cash or have a lot of kids, the printed versions will do in a pinch. If you do, I would suggest having at least one physical set that kids can play with sometimes, since the 3D printed version is not as intuitive as the hands-on version.
Tens Frame: The tens frame is another visual tool for counting out small objects. Because it is organized into 10 boxes, it is easy to see the relationship between 10 and another number. Numbers larger than 10 can be created by putting more than one 10s frame side by side. You can use paper tens frames, or to make it more fun, buy inexpensive ice cube trays that have ten sections. See this video for some ideas on using tens frames.
Poker Chips : Yes, I know, don’t get all excited. Poker chips can be a legitimate learning tool! As children become good at counting with sticks, beans, or other manipulatives that visually demonstrate tens and other groupings, transition into using counters that suggest their value by their color. One easy way is to use poker chips– poker chips as place value manipulativesthey come in different colors, and are all the same size and shape. White chips are ones, blue chips are tens, and red chips are hundreds.
Count the chips using the same kind of place value chart you have been using, to help reinforce the idea that the different colored chips are worth different amounts. This is an important step toward learning that the numbers themselves are worth different amounts when moved to different (invisible) columns, or places, within the number.
Bear Counters : Bear counters come in three different sizes, and kids really like using these as place value manipulatives. They can be used in the same way as the poker chips above to indicate a difference in the amounts counted, but with the added benefit of visually showing that some are bigger than others. For example, the smallest bears could represent ones, the medium bear show tens, and the biggest bears could be hundreds.
Place value manipulatives are a great way to help kids get a sense of how our number system works. Take a look at the examples of different manipulatives and the videos that show how to count with them. Then be sure to visit the Place Value Activities for ways to use place value manipulatives. Also be sure to check out Place Value Skills Page for ideas on how to help kids understand this concept. Finally, round off their learning with some of these great Place Value Games.