Number Sense and Place Value

Teaching Place Value to a First Grader

How do you help first grade students make sense of place value?

Young students need to have a solid understanding of place value which is the foundation for success in mathematics throughout the school years and into everyday life. For students to grasp place value ideas, students must learn to read, write, order, and interpret multi-digit numbers. Teaching place value to first graders should include different settings of activities which encourage students to work seamlessly between the decipher forms listed above. Throughout school “students working in the base-ten system is intertwined with their work on counting and cardinality, and with the meaning and properties of the operations. Work in the base-ten system relies on these meanings and properties, but also contributes to deepening students understanding of them.”

In the first-grade, students should be provided with engaging activities which use a range of modules, including craft sticks, base ten blocks, ten frames and place value cards.

How can you start?

  • Introduce students to the concept of numbers and their digits. Point out that numbers are made up of digits and their position determines a place value.
  • Have students use materials which can be grouped, such as counters and clear bags, to create a representation numbers.
  • Create opportunities to explore tens and ones with a focus on tens and ones. Reinforce the language that is place value specific. Use words like ‘tens’, ‘ones’, ‘place value’ and ‘digit’. Have students use the appropriate vocabulary when working with the place value system.

Provide as many meaningful activities with materials and visual representations which will help your students learn! Equally important is to modify activities to meet the needs and level of your students. As you plan to teach your students place value, below is an activity to add to your instructional repertoire!

Activity Materials:


  • Organize students into pairs and distribute the materials.
  • Have students mix and sort the cards into matching groups (picture, number, word).
  • They then represent each number with the bags of 10 and loose cubes.
  • Ensure they count by tens and ones for each. For example, for 43 they should count the bags of 10 and loose cubes, saying, “10, 20, 30, 40, 41, 42, 43.”

*Game adapted from Stepping Stones Differentiation G1.36


Common Core Standards Writing Team. (2015,March 6). Progressions for the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. Grades K–5, Number and Operations in Base Ten. Tucson, AZ: Institute for Mathematics and Education, University of Arizona.


Andrea Kotowski

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Andrea Kotowski | Learning Services Educator

ORIGO Education

ORIGO Education has partnered with educators for over 25 years to make math learning meaningful, enjoyable and accessible to all.

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