The Importance of Teaching Place Value

Written by Dan

Last updated

As educators, figuring out how to teach fundamental maths concepts can often feel challenging. Teaching place value is one skill all teachers need to know and understand to help their students grasp mathematical understanding at a deeper level.

Place value knowledge is essential for young learners just beginning their journey into numeracy and those further along on their mathematics path as they work with more significant whole numbers or convert fractions into decimals.

Understanding this complicated concept takes practice, guidance and exploration but is necessary when discussing mathematical knowledge in both primary levels, secondary realms of mathematics and beyond.

In this blog post, we will explore what exactly teaching place value looks like and why it’s critical for so many future scholars!

Related: For more, check out our article on the importance of teaching arithmetic here.

Place value

Understanding Place Value and Its Role in Maths Education

Understanding place value is one of the essential concepts in math education and can provide students with a strong foundation for solving more advanced mathematics problems.

Place value allows us to compare numbers, write hard-to-say numbers easier, and simplify calculations.

Teaching students how to use and identify place values will enable them to imagine larger quantities in their minds and develop an appreciation for what each digit in a number stands for.

With the proper support from the teacher, the student can understand whole numbers, fractions, decimals, and percentages on a deeper level than ever before.

Ultimately, this knowledge will give them the confidence to solve more challenging problems and work through difficult situations by looking at all aspects of a problem from every angle possible.

Place Value and the Different Types of Notation Used

Place value is the basis of the numeric system used in mathematics education. It allows us to express very large or tiny numbers in a way that others can read and understand.

Place value involves tracking the placement or “order” of individual digits in a number. This order allows us to distinguish between different magnitudes (for example, knowing the difference between 756 and 7,560).

Other types of notation are used to represent numbers in written form.

We often see standard form (unbroken line of digits), expanded form (numbers broken out into groups separated by commas) and word form (numbers listed as words) being used every day; however, there are many other forms for representing numerical data such as base ten blocks, equations and Roman numerals.

Understanding place value and the different types of notation available is essential to mastering mathematics concepts.

Developing an Understanding of Place Value Through Visual Aids

A practical and effective way to teach children about place value is through visual aids.

Tools such as ten-frames and number lines provide a visual database for students to work with and build upon.

Visual aids can help students learn the value of each digit in a multi-digit number and constructs such as expanded form and words associated with numbers (“six million thirty-four thousand”).

Incorporating visuals and their associated terms helps students better understand place value and its related concepts. T

hus, teachers should use a combination of visuals, practice, discussion and other activities to help their students gain an in-depth understanding of place value.

Visual Aids

  1. Mini-Whiteboard and Place Value Chart
  2. Number Line Tool
  3. Base Ten Blocks
  4. Number Grid
  5. Counters/Tokens
  6. Arrows or Fingers to Represent Digits
  7. Coloured Cards to Sort Numbers into Groups
  8. Decimal and Fraction Strip
  9. Dough Mats with Markers to Represent Place Values
  10. Personal Place Value Journals

Exercises to Strengthen Students’ Grasp on Place Value Concepts

Understanding place value numeration systems is an integral part of learning math, so teachers must help their students become familiar with the concepts.

Fortunately, there are many practical exercises that teachers can use in their classes to help students gain a better understanding of place value.

Through hands-on activities and games designed to build basic numerical literacy skills, teachers can promote enjoyable learning while bolstering student performance.

With targeted exercises like these, students will gain a strong foundation in the principles of place value, enabling them to succeed in higher levels of math.

Games and Other Fun Activities

Games and other engaging activities are an excellent way to enforce place value understanding in the classroom.

From playing Charades or Bingo to using flashcards and worksheets, there are so many fun ways that you can help your students practice their skills on this topic.

Students will better understand place value by playing these games and become more confident with their math knowledge.

Incorporating fun activities into your lessons is an easy and effective way of helping your students understand the concept of place value.

  1. Race to the Tens: Players create a set number of tens and ones using base ten blocks, then race to construct that number by piecing together place value blocks.
  2. Place Value Concentration: Players match cards depicting the same amount in different representations of place values (reversed or standard order).
  3. Place Value Top-it: Players create two-digit numbers with cards representing tens and ones, then compare how many more or less one number has compared to another.
  4. Roll and Cover: Players take turns rolling two dice, identify the number in standard form, and cover it on their game board with a counter or token.
  5. Drawing Place Values: Players draw a two-digit number on paper and represent it with base ten blocks within an allotted time frame.
  6. Match Up Mania: Players touch each card on the table before finding its matches among all the other cards in standard and word forms.
  7. What’s My Number?: The facilitator generates random two-digit numbers that players must identify using visual aids such as base ten blocks, arrows, words etc.
  8. Counting Caterpillar: Each player rolls a die up to five times to build caterpillars of increasing sizes at each roll in order from one to thousands of places.
  9. Polar Place Value Plunge: Players pick cards with decimal or whole numbers randomly selected by the facilitator, organize them according to place value range, score points for every correct classification they make and go “plunging” into icy waters if they make wrong moves.
  10. Number Tower Challenge: Teams create towers using base ten blocks where teams need to arrange numbers from greatest to least before their opponent does.

What Place Value Teaches Students About Numbers and Problem-Solving Skills

Place value is an integral part of teaching students about mathematics and problem-solving skills. Recognizing each digit’s value in creating numbers helps students properly problem-solve in other areas, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and fractions.

Understanding place value also deepens their knowledge when using decimals and large numbers.

For example, understanding tens and hundreds can help them determine essential facts like how many thousands are in a million.

Teaching children place value teaches them more than just number recognition- it instils certain concepts which will aid them throughout their math career.

Place value is integral to math education and can give students the skills to become problem solvers.

It can be a significant component in numeracy in children, and understanding place value can be used to introduce students to higher-level mathematics such as algebra, calculus, and geometry.

When teaching place value, teachers should use visual aids and allow students to explore models showing different kinds of numbers.

The students can strengthen their grasp of the concept and its implications through exercises and fun activities like games.

With a solid understanding of place value, students lay the foundation for further math education to better understand numbers and how they work together.

Website Resources

The Teaching Ideas website has a comprehensive range of resources for teaching about Place Value.

There are activities, worksheets, diagrams, and much more to help teachers understand and develop the concept in their classrooms.

The Primary Resources website includes lessons and activities for exploring Place Value with Year 3 children.

It covers the value of digits in numbers, comparing numbers using place value, addition/subtraction using decimal notation and beyond.

The Tes website features an interactive resource for Year 3 children about Place Value.

It includes various activities such as counting forwards/backwards in steps, finding the value of digits within a number and ordering numbers from smallest to largest.

Teaching Ideas  Primary Resources Tes

Teaching place value is an essential part of mathematics education. It’s about laying a strong foundation for future learning, fostering number sense, and empowering children with the tools they need to navigate the world of numbers.

So, are you ready to embark on this fascinating journey of teaching place value? Remember, every big concept starts with a single step.


Q1: What is place value and why is it important?

Place value is a fundamental concept in mathematics that denotes the value represented by a digit in a number based on its position. It’s a cornerstone of our number system, enabling us to understand large numbers, perform calculations, and comprehend the relationship between different units. Without it, our numerical system would be vastly more complex and less efficient.

Q2: At what age should children start learning about place value?

Learning about place value often begins in early elementary school, around the age of 6 or 7. However, this can vary depending on the child’s readiness and the educational curriculum. The key is to introduce it in a way that’s engaging and appropriate for the child’s developmental stage. Remember, it’s not a race, but a journey of understanding.

Q3: How can I make teaching place value fun and engaging?

Who says learning has to be dull? Making place value fun is all about incorporating interactive activities and games. You could use physical objects like blocks or beads to demonstrate the concept, or even try out online games and apps designed to teach place value. It’s about making the abstract concrete, and the mundane enjoyable.

Q4: Can understanding place value impact other areas of math?

Absolutely! Place value is like the foundation of a building – it supports everything that comes after it. It plays a crucial role in arithmetic operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It also paves the way for understanding decimals, fractions, and percentages. Understanding place value can truly transform a child’s mathematical journey.

Q5: How can I assess a child’s understanding of place value?

Assessment is an integral part of the learning process. To gauge a child’s understanding of place value, you could use a mix of written exercises, verbal questions, and practical tasks. Observing how they solve problems and listening to their explanations can provide valuable insights into their comprehension.

About The Author

I'm Dan Higgins, one of the faces behind The Teaching Couple. With 15 years in the education sector and a decade as a teacher, I've witnessed the highs and lows of school life. Over the years, my passion for supporting fellow teachers and making school more bearable has grown. The Teaching Couple is my platform to share strategies, tips, and insights from my journey. Together, we can shape a better school experience for all.

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