Place Value Made Fun

September 15, 1996

CONTRIBUTORS: Brian Carey, Kim Beyer, Jacqueline, and Michael Sobol.

We read how one of Calvin Klein poster boys makes a seven-figure income just for having the right face. Quick! Do your fifth graders know what minimum amount he makes? Obviously, place value is an important skill in number manipulation, say, for counting your OWN money, let alone someone else’s. These following games and exercises can help you reinforce place value skills in a fun way. Start by having students in groups of two or three roll three dice. Using the numbers they rolled, have them make as many three digit numbers as they can. Have the students tell the places of the numbers as they write them on the board. You can ask the students if the 5 (for example) is worth more in this number or this number. Add a dice a day until they get to the1 millions place (7 dice).

Keep your dice around for the next game, too. Pairs of students each make four columns on a sheet of paper or chalkboard, labeled “thousands” “hundreds” “tens” and “ones”. Then they take turns rolling one die. After each roll, both students must place the number in one of their columns. After four rolls, compare the resulting four-digit numbers. The high (or low) number winner receives one point, and play continues to a predetermined number. If both students get the same number, no points are given, and as they become more familiar with the concept, add more columns for larger numbers (and less chances for ties).

This game is reminiscent of the MasterMind color sequence game, only with numbers, of course. It goes by many different names, including “Digit Place”, from Marilyn Burns’ book “About Teaching Mathematics”: Make three columns on the chalkboard titled Guess, Digit and Place. Write a three-digit number (no two digits the same) on a slip of paper, then have students guess the number. Write their guess in the first column, how many digits are correct in the second column and how many of the correct digits are in the correct place in the third column. Don’t tell which digits are correct or in the correct place, only “how many”. Students keep guessing using the clues until they have the number correct, and may need assistance from you in reasoning through the exercise. You can start this out as a whole class game, then let students in groups or partners take over. In addition, it makes a good homework game for teaching someone at home. As they progress, move into four- and five-digit numbers. Base ten blocks are essential for a concrete conceptual understanding of place value. If your school doesn’t have base ten blocks, improvise with popscicle sticks bundled together with a rubberband to form tens or hundreds. When they understand the concept, you can play many games quickly that are fun to reinforce the concept. For instance:

Race to 100:
Kids are in pairs with a place value mat in front of them and base ten blocks and one pair of dice. Starting at zero, one child rolls the dice, and puts the resulting number on the mat in the proper place and has to state what s/he did. Then the other child rolls and does likewise. Play continues with students describing how they are trading “ones” for “tens”, etc. as they add each roll to reach 100. You can throw many wrinkles into this such as “taxman” in which the teacher says “taxman” and whatever number is rolled…that number has to be subtracted from the place value mat. You can also play “Go for Broke” in which the race is from 100 to 0.

Place Value Display Race:
Children work individually or in groups starting with same material as above less the dice. The teacher rolls one pair of big dice and a student calls out the number. The class races to display the number with base ten blocks trying to be first!

Base 10 Riddles:
Use a story or logic approach by saying that there are 2 “tens”, the hundreds places has four times as many “units” as the “tens” while the ones place has half as many “units” as the hundreds place. (a “unit” equals either one “one”, “ten”, or “hundred” piece from base ten set.) What is the number? The kids can also make their own puzzles for the class to figure out.