Place Value Games
Place Value Games are a Fun Way to Start the Day
A great strategy for reinforcing math concepts is to start each day with a fun math game. Math games familiarize your kids with math lingo because they teach in a different way than textbooks, plus they reinforce a daily habit of learning and they drill math concepts in a fun way that disguises the fact that it’s drill.
What is Place Value?
Place value is essentially the numerical value a digit has by virtue of its position in a number. It’s a simple but profound concept.
As simple as it is, it can be a very challenging concept for little people to grasp. Let me explain why.
Your child probably learned to count by rote as a toddler. It was almost like a chant, “one, two, three…” and as such it didn’t mean the same thing to him as it did to you.
Then you demonstrated counting over and over, using marshmallows or toys, or counting the cars that drove by or the steps you climbed, teaching your child that those numbers he chanted meant something. That’s called number correspondence, and it’s hard work to understand that the symbol 9, the word nine and nine objects are the same thing.
Number correspondence is very concrete (you’re counting actual things) and literal. Young brains are well equipped to deal with concrete, literal concepts.
As hard as it was to equate the word nine with the symbol 9 with nine objects, you have to take things a step further in order to teach place value. The next step is a more abstract concept than number correspondence, and abstract concepts are more difficult for young minds to grasp.
If you tell your 5-year-old (who knows his numbers backwards and forwards and seems ready to learn place value) that a 1 in the 1’s place represents 1, but in the 10’s place it represents 10 and in the 100’s place it represents 100, you’re likely to get a blank stare, or maybe laughed at.
After all, your 5-year-old knows that a 1 is just a 1.
It will be difficult to make him understand that a 3 in the tens place actually represents 30 things, bundled up as 3 things. That’s why it’s important to teach this abstract concept in a way that makes it seem more concrete and therefore easier for young minds to grasp.
Why is Place Value Important?
Numbers haven’t always been numbers. During Earth’s history, tally marks and other symbols were originally used to represent amounts of things. That wasn’t a horrible way to talk about medium-sized numbers, like how many sheep you wanted to trade, but it was insufficient to talk about very big numbers, like the stars of the sky or the sands of the sea. And it was wholly incapable of talking about very small numbers, like bacteria sizes or the makeup of atoms.
Immediately prior to the invention of our current number system Roman Numerals were used. Letters represented numbers, and a lesser “number” in front of a larger “number” meant it should be subtracted, while a lesser “number” following a larger “number” should be added. It was a cumbersome system and still not a great way to talk about very large or small numbers.
A positional notation system like our current Hindu-Arabic system is elegant and simple in that it uses only ten unique symbols (0-9) but allows users to reuse them, just assigning them different values based on their position in the sequence. Our base ten (decimal) system can represent any number from infinitesimally small to infinitesimally large reliably and consistently.
Place value provides the foundation for mathematical understanding and that’s exactly why it’s so critical to understand. It’s necessary for addition, subtraction, exponents, long division, fractions and almost every other math operation. If your child doesn’t understand it at a conceptual level he’ll struggle as he moves on.
How to Teach Place Value
Studies have shown that base-ten manipulatives are the best way to communicate the concept of place value because they teach in such a simple, visual, concrete way. They can be used to build whole numbers as well as decimals and provide learners a deeper understanding of the meaning of each concept. Place value games are also very effective.
Use your base-ten blocks to show your child that each digit in a number represents a place value rather than just a number. For example, show him that the number 37 is actually three 10-blocks and seven ones. Make sure that he understands that the 3 in the ten’s place represents 30 or 3 groups of ten, and not 3.
Show him repeatedly how to add, subtract, multiply and divide using the base-ten blocks. Seeing it visually will increase his understanding of regrouping and give him better number sense, plus a whole arsenal of mental math strategies. He’ll be able to compose and decompose large numbers, making mental computations with large numbers easy.
Give your child lots of opportunities to count by 10’s and 100’s (kids begin counting things individually, so you have to shift this thinking). Practice writing multi-digit numbers in expanded form (800 + 30 + 2) as well as writing them correctly in in word form (eight hundred thirty two) and numerical form (832).
Use the place value charts included in the free printable and play place value games as often as possible. Between all of these techniques, your child should have a very thorough understanding of place value.
Printable Place Value Chart for your Games
A few of the place value games below will be easier if your child has a place value chart to look at while playing. The first Place Value chart (pictured in game #1 below) is just a basic chart that comes in two styled — one up to the hundred billions, and one that includes decimals, both with spaces for writing.
When laminated, it makes a great, reusable tool. You can use it laid flat (my kiddos like to use them as bookmarks in their math textbooks) or you can fold it in half so it stands up on a table. Look for the blue box at the bottom of the post to get that free printable place value chart.
Here’s another free Place Value flip chart — this one is pictured in game #3 below. It’s my kiddos favorite. It’s a flip chart, so you can flip the number cards up or down to create the number you need. It’s incredibly easy to make this place value flip chart with just the free printable, a pair of scissors and a stapler. Two versions are included, one with places up to a hundred million and the other with decimals. Directions are on the printable.
My kids like to keep these charts handy for reference while we play the place value games below.
16 FUN Place Value Games
These fun games are one hundred percent no-prep, totally easy to use, and guaranteed to teach the concept of place value in a fun way. The only materials they require for play are a deck of number cards (uno, skip-bo, rook or a set of playing cards with the non-number cards and the 10’s removed) some dice (we use ten-sided dice because they contain numbers 0-9, where 6-sided dice only contain the numbers 1-6, but you could use 6-sided dice if that’s all you have), counters (for BINGO) and the free printables you’ll find at the end of this post (look for the blue button).
You might want to make yourself a ‘Place Value Shaker’ (pictured here) out of a pill organizer and some dice, both from the dollar store. I add place values to mine to make it easy to read, and I use ten-sided dice — it looks like this. I use it for several of the games below (though it isn’t necessary) and just fill three place values or four place values, or however many we want to work with.
If you don’t have a deck of cards, the free printable pdf at the end of this post includes number cards. You’d have to print several copies of each page to have enough number cards to equal a deck, which is why I just use decks of playing cards (88 cents a deck at Walmart). Two of the games use base ten blocks as well. If you don’t have a set of base ten blocks, you can print some free at DIY Math Manipulatives.
1. Place Value Challenge Games
Using a deck of cards with only numbers (remove any non-number cards and 10’s), deal each player 3 cards. Players must arrange all three digits to form the highest number possible and shout out their number correctly in word form. The player with the highest number wins all the cards in that round. The player with the most cards at the end of the game wins. More advanced learners can work with 4-digit or larger numbers. A place value mat (also included in the free printable) will help younger students to better understand the objective.
2. Place Value WAR
Using a deck of cards with only numbers (remove any non-number cards and 10’s), deal each player three or four or more piles (depending on whether you’re working on hundreds or thousands places or more) face down on the table. At the same time, the players flip over just the top card from each pile, exposing a multi-digit number. The players say the resulting numbers out loud in word form and the player with the highest number gets to keep all of the cards. The player with the most cards at the end of the game wins.
3. Place Value Flip Chart Fun
This free Place Value Flip Chart is easy to make. All you need is a pair of scissors and a stapler. My kids like to challenge each other, taking turns thinking up super tricky numbers and letting the other player make the number on the flip chart.
Another way to play with this Place Value Flip Chart is to play twenty questions. Both players should have a Place Value Flip Chart. Players should sit across from each other stand a book or something in between the charts. One player creates a number of his choice. The other player has twenty chances to ask yes-no questions and try to guess what the number is.
This also makes a handy reference as you play the rest of these place value games together.
4. Number Form Practice
This game/worksheet is included in the place value printable at the end of this post. The printable is pictured beneath the place value mat in game #1. We just use our place value shaker to come up with a number, transfer that number into the place value chart, then fill in the blanks below, which include writing the number in standard form, expanded notation and word form. To make it more fun to play, I set a buzzer in between my children, and the winner of each round gets a point.
5. Place Value Scavenger Hunt
Grab a stack of junk mail or old magazines and have your kids find numbers that match each description, cut them out and glue them on the sheet in the space provided. The printable (look for the blue signup form below) includes the free place value scavenger hunt game.
6. Place Value Mats Comparison Games
Stack the deck of number cards face-side down on the table in the middle of two players. Players take turns drawing cards from the stack and adding them to their place value mats, in whichever position they choose. (Once placed the cards cannot be moved.) Once the mats are full, the players push their mats together and use the circle to designate the mats <,>, or = to each other. (I glue the two circles with the < and = symbols back-to-back so it can be flipped or rotated to cover all three possibilities.)
You choose whether or not to keep score by awarding a point to the winner each round or not. The place value mats and symbols are included in the free printable.
7. MVP (Most Valuable Place)
This game may be played with multiple children at once. Have players take turns drawing cards and placing them on the place value mat (cards cannot be moved once they’re placed), trying to create the biggest number possible. Once all of the places are full, the children call out their numbers in word form and the player with the highest number wins. Alternately, children could roll dice to fill their place value mats. Another fun way to play and review addition at the same time is to have the children record each score on a sheet of paper and keep a running total — first player to ten thousand wins. The place value mats and number cards are included in the free printable.
8. Expanded Form BINGO
Learning to think of multi-digit numbers in their expanded form helps kids to be able to decompose numbers mentally, which makes mentally adding and subtracting large numbers easy peasy! The printable includes BINGO cards with 3-digit numbers in their expanded form. Both cards are different so you can play with a couple of kids at once. The number cards on the following page go with this BINGO game.
9. Place Value BINGO
Your BINGO cards are included in the free printable. Each student will need a BINGO card and a handful of counters to cover spaces. The cards have the same numbers but in different positions so you can play with a couple of kids at once. Cards with two and three digits and cards with three and four digits allow for different levels of play.
As the caller, you’ll just make things up, saying things like, “This 3-digit number has a 7 in the tens place,” or “These three consecutive integers have a 1 in the hundreds place, a 3 in the ones place,” or “The expanded for of this number is 800 + 60 + 5,” basically just focusing on the concepts your child is already familiar with.
10. Place Value Race
You’ll need to use styrofoam cups that show a bit of the rim when stacked, rather than plastic cups that completely disappear inside one another for this game. Write the numbers 0-9 evenly spaced around the rim. Start by showing your kiddos how you can rotate the cups within each other, lining up different integers, to make numbers. Then give each child three or four or more cups, depending on which place value you want to work on, and call out a number (I use our Place Value Shaker, pictured above). The child who works the cups into that number and shows you the quickest wins that round and becomes the caller for the next round. See the video below.
Your child will need a die, a pencil, and the free printable worksheet. The boxed number is the starting number. Your child will roll the die, then add the corresponding number the starting number, and write that number on the line. No regrouping is necessary, so this worksheet is a great place to start.
This game is great for helping your child to see that you can easily add one in any place. This worksheet only goes up to 4 places, but you can make your own worksheet, as many places as you’d like, using the blank master. You could also have your child subtract the values instead of adding them.
These fun mazes will have your kids begging for more. Have your child start with adding tens to the 8,117 maze. It will seem easy until he hits a nine. Oh, the dreaded nines.
Here’s how I handle the nines. I have our base-ten set ready to go. I find that pre-teaching is less effective than answering questions, so I just let my kiddos get started. When they hit a nine and have a hard time visualizing the regrouping, that’s when I bring out our base-ten blocks.
Your child will hit 8,197 halfway through the maze. Build the number 8,197 using 7 unit blocks, 9 ten rods, 1 hundred base, and 8 thousand cubes. (If you don’t have a set of base ten blocks, you can print some free at DIY Math Manipulatives.) Add your child another ten rod and ask him where it goes. Give him a minute to think about it.
He might make the connections and figure it out himself, because the base-ten blocks are such a great tool. But if he needs to be prompted, ask him if he wants to trade you ten rods (tens) for a base (100), then have him write out the number, 8,207 from the base-ten blocks. The subsequent mazes are just more difficult versions of the same thing.
If that first maze is easy for your child, just let him progress through the mazes until he has a question. Help him figure it out with the base-ten blocks and try to move on. If the first maze seems difficult, have your child build the first number with the base-ten blocks, and build each number as you progress through the maze, showing your child what it looks like to add a ten rod over and over. All of the mazes are included in this free printable.
This game requires dice, a ‘Place Value Shaker’ (pill organizer) and a game board for each child. We use ten-sided dice because they contain numbers 0-9, where 6-sided dice only contain the numbers 1-6, but you could use 6-sided dice if that’s all you have. Here are the free printable Place Value Earthquake game boards.
I got the idea for the Place Value Shaker from We Are Teachers and they have a printable you can use on your pill organizer, if you’d like. I bought my pill organizer for 88 cents at Walmart. I constructed it a little different because I wanted the place value labels inside the compartment with the dice. You’ll find the game board (labeled Place Value Earthquake) in the free printable at the bottom of this page.
You can use this game to teach place value up to the millions, since there are 7 compartments in a pill organizer, but that’s enough places for your child to be able to understand the concept of place value and be able to apply it to larger numbers. The game boards are pretty self explanatory, and the video will also show you how we play the game.
I included the standard form, word form, base-ten symbols and expanded notation on these puzzles, so they’re a great game for your child to fit all of the place value concepts together and make all of the connections in their minds. You might want to start with the 2-digit number puzzles. and progress to the 3-digit numbers. If you choose to laminate these for durability, you’ll want to laminate them before cutting them out so as not to make assembling the puzzles difficult. Here are the free, printable place value puzzles.
This place value game is especially fun because your child is trying to figure out a special message from YOU! It requires kids to translate English into math, which is a critical skill to learn. Your child will be able to figure out all of the clues by himself, but he may need some hints for writing out the word problem at the end. My 4th grader was just fine with that final word problem, but my 2nd grader needed some help. This place value worksheet is included in the free printable. Scroll to the bottom and look for the blue box to download the file.
These place value riddles are pretty self explanatory. The free printable includes five different riddles for your child to solve. All your child has to do is translate numbers from standard form to expanded form to solve each riddle. Expanded form forces kids to look closely at each digit and make the connection between its place and its value. Those connections will solidify the concept of place value, but in an enticing way.
Don’t Forget the Math Literature!
These fun Place Value books will get your kids thinking about place value like they never have before! Check your local library to see if you can borrow a copy first, and if they don’t have it, check for a used copy online.
Zero the Hero by Joan Holub
A Place for Zero by Angeline Sparagna LoPresti
Place Value by David Adler
Sir Cumference and All the King’s Tens by Cindy Neuschwander
Penguin Place Value: A Math Adventure by Kathleen Stone
There you go! After completing each of these games and activities a few times, your child should understand place value thoroughly. The more he interacts with all the different forms of place value (standard form, word form and expanded notation) the better he’s understand what you’re trying to communicate. Practice breeds familiarity. You’ll be able to tell if he needs more practice or not.
- Place Value Chart
- Place Value mats and comparison symbols
- Number cards
- Scavenger hunt
- Place Value Mystery
- Place Value BINGO
- Expanded Form BINGO
What are your favorite games for teaching place value? Please share your favorite resources in the comments below!