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Keep It Simple When Teaching Place Value

By Keren Perles

Teaching place value doesn’t need to be complicated, as long as you keep it hands on. This article will give you a fresh technique to use while teaching place value -- yes, a technique that will keep your students excited about math!

Preparing the Beans

This hands-on lesson plan in teaching place value involves the use of bags of beans.

Give students large cups full of beans to use for their manipulatives. Have students count out beans in groups of ten, place each group into a small plastic bag, and seal the bag.

Help each student label the bag “10” with a marker. Continue until each student has 12 bags of 10 beans each. Have students return to their desks with the bags that they made, along with 9 individual beans.

Stage 1 – Ones and Tens

Instruct students to put their bags of beans aside for a moment and just work with the individual beans. Write the number 7 on the board, and ask students to count out 7 beans. Commend them for complying. Then write the number 17 on the board, and ask them to count out 17 beans. When they discover that they don’t have enough individual beans, encourage them to use their bags of beans as well. They should eventually discover that 1 bag of beans + 7 beans = 17 beans. Ask them to respond chorally to the question “How many ’ten bags’ did you use?” and “How many ‘one beans’ did you use?” Then help them make the connection to the number 17 written on the board, which has a 1 in the tens place and a 7 in the ones place.

Stage 2 – Hundreds

Hand out paper lunch bags to each student. Instruct them to put ten of the “ten bags” in the lunch bag, and label it 100. Then write the number 117 on the board and ask them to count out 117 beans, using the lunch bag. Repeat the same discussion with them as in Stage 1.

Stage 3 – Generalization

The first two stages will teach students the basic idea of place value. Rather than continuing with bags of 1000 beans, discuss with students what they have learned. Write a few numbers on the board, and ask them to figure out how many bags of beans they would need for each number, without actually counting out beans. Discuss the term “place value,” as well as “ones place,” “tens place,” “hundreds place,” and even “thousands place” and beyond.

Once you’re sure they understand place value, ask them to use what they’ve learned to compare two long numbers, such as 6,701 and 6,855. Help them to understand the importance of place value in making these comparisons.

With this activity, teaching place value can be fun as well as educational. Watch your students’ faces light up as they finally understand this basic math concept.