Updated: Jun 27
Today we are going to be talking about how to teach place value in Kindergarten. Place value is important as it builds the foundation to every maths concept within your student’s learning throughout their whole schooling career.
In this blog post we are going to explore what place value is and why is it important. We are also going to look at how you teach place value to your students as well as some place value activity ideas to help you teach place value in a fun way.
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What is place value and why is it used?
So simply put, place value is the value of each digit in a number. An example of this would be the value of the 6 in 560 is 60 but the value of the 6 in 670 is 600. Students need to learn that although the digit can be the same the value depends on its position in a number.
Why is it important to learn place value?
Place value is essential as it is important that children understand the value of a digit in a number. They need to learn that even though the digit is the same, it’s value can be different depending on it’s position. Place value is important as it allows children to add, subtract, multiply and divide effectively and affects other areas of maths too.
Learning place value forms the foundations of regrouping, multiple digit multiplication and the decimal system, which is key when learning about money as place value enables children to understand the true value of money.
How do we use place value in everyday life?
Place value is used in lots of areas of our lives making it an essential concept for children to understand.
We use place value when telling the time as we deal with hours and minutes
Money is another area which features place value as we can deal with pounds & pence or dollars & cents etc. Children need to learn how to convert pounds into pence or how many cents are in a dollar.
Measure is another area of our lives where place value is featured. When learning about distance, length, weight and volume, children need to effectively use different units of measurement such as kilometres, metres, kilograms, grams, litres, millimetres etc. Students also need to learn how to convert between different units of measure.
What skills are needed for place value?
When deciding if your children are ready to learn about place value, first you need to ensure they have a good understanding of adding and subtracting within ten as this forms the basis of place value. My addition and subtraction resources include various activities as well as a weekly plan to help you teach addition and subtraction using number lines, ten frames, the part part whole model and word problems.
How do you explain place value to students?
When explaining place value to your students, first you can talk about the difference between a digit and a number. Explain that numbers are made of digits and that digits can have different values depending on their position in the number. Ensure your students know what you mean by the words “digit”, “number” and “value”. Once you are happy your students are confident using these words and understand their meaning, you can then go on to explain how a digit in a number can have a different value have depending on its position.
What are the steps to teach place value?
Your next step would be to introduce skip counting and counting in tens. This will give your students a sense of grouping numbers into ten. You can also show students how to group concrete materials into 2s, 5s and 10s and demonstrate to them that is easier to count objects in these groups. Make sure to give them lots of practise doing this with concrete materials.
Next, you can explain the difference between numbers and digits to your students. Talk about how we combine digits to make numbers. You can show a few examples. So, if we have a 2 and 7, they can be just 2 and 7 on their own, however, if we put them together, we get 27, which is a different number. You can even swap the same digits about to show your students how the number changes even though we are using the same digits. So, for example, 71 is a much higher number than 17 but both numbers are using the same digits. This is a good way to explain place value to students who are finding it tricky to understand the importance of the position of the digit.
Using base ten materials would be the next stage when teaching place value. Introduce exchanging 10 ones for 1 ten. Give your children lots of practise doing this. Make sure your students have a strong sense of ten. Ensure they are comfortable with counting to ten, exchanging whenever they reach ten and skip counting in tens. You can also do the reverse of this and ask your students to exchange 1 ten for 10 ones. This will be useful when learning how to regroup in subtraction later on.
Next, you can show written numbers and explain the tens position and the ones position in the numbers. Ask students to tell you how many tens and ones are featured in the written numbers. Children can then practise building the numbers showing tens and ones using concrete materials. My Place Value activities which cover tens and ones as well as hundreds, tens and ones will give your students lots of practise at reading and representing two-digit and three-digit numbers.
When students are ready, you can now ask them to write numbers in expanded form. This is a great way to develop place value understanding. For example, write the number 237 as 200+30+7. Keep an eye out for a common misconception here where students may write this is as 2+3+7. My Place Value task cards will give your students lots of practise at writing numbers in expanded form as well as standard form and word form.
Why do students struggle with place value?
Some students struggle to understand why the same digit does not have the same value in a number. Why does a 9 in the ones place mean 9 and a 9 in the tens place mean 90?
Often children with dyslexia find place value challenging.
Sometimes children are taught a method, for example in multiple digit addition or subtraction but don’t completely understand why they are borrowing or regrouping. They know the method but lack the understanding of what they are doing.
Learning how the number 0 works within place value is another area of challenge for children when learning about place value. Students need to learn that 0 is a place holder.
Place value can contradict what children have already learned about the number system which can cause some students to struggle with understanding place value. Why is the 1 in 1785 have a higher value then the 8 in the same number?
What is the easiest way to teach place value?
Make sure to use lots of concrete materials. Base ten materials or dienes are great as you have materials that represent ones, tens, hundreds and so on. You can also use unifix cubes up to tens and ones or even loose parts. Having concrete materials when teaching place value will make it easier for your students to understand as they can manipulate and clearly see how numbers are structured. The resources included in my Place Value resource bundle all feature base ten materials giving your students even more practise at using these when learning about place value.
Ensuring you spend enough time explaining each position in numbers for the ones, tens, hundreds etc will also make teaching place value easier. You can talk about the number of zeros if appropriate when looking at larger numbers such as 1000, 10 000 and so on.
Practising exchanging will also make teaching place value easier for you and your students. Ensure you spend plenty of time exchanging 10 ones for 1 ten and using concrete materials. This will help consolidate that 1 ten is equal to 10 ones and 1 ten can be split up into 10 ones. This will also be useful when students then go on to learn addition & subtraction with regrouping.
Lots and lots of practise! It is always a good idea to revisit place value with different ages and stages even if have covered it before.
How do you teach place value in a fun way?
By using lots of hands-on place value activities featuring concrete materials and manipulatives, you are sure to make teaching place value fun. Ensure to have lots of opportunities to build numbers, exchanging tens and ones etc. My Place Value Build it Mats are great for giving your students lots of practise at building two digit numbers. You can also set up a classroom shop with money when your students are ready. Lots of games and activities like math centers are a great way to teaching place value in an engaging way too. I have described some examples below.
Hands on place value activities
Arranging & counting objects in 2s, 5s and 10s.
Exchanging, counting out objects, when you reach ten you need to exchange 10 ones for 1 ten. You can do using a dice. Roll an amount of ones to add to your pile then exchange when you reach 10.
Exchanging in reverse. Practise exchanging tens for groups of 10 ones.
Building numbers – give your students a number and ask them to build the number showing the tens and ones. You can use base ten materials, loose parts etc. My Place Value Build it Mats feature two digit numbers at the top of each mat for your students to build ensuring they show the correct number of tens and ones.
Overall, Place value can be a tricky concept for children to grasp but it is extremely important as it forms the foundation of all other areas of numeracy and maths.
Keep in mind, children may find understanding how the “value” of each digit can be different depending on its position and you may need to think of various ways to reinforce this concept.