Back to Basics: 3 Tried & True Place Value Games

And we're back! We just finished our fifth week of school(!) and it looks different. It feels different. But it is SO good to be back in person, masks and all. It's a tricky balance of remembering "how I used to teach in person" and "what worked during distance learning" and "how do I keep the curriculum rigorous, while planning for some students to inevitably be quarantined at some point and not miss instruction".  Luckily, here are some tried & true math lessons and activities that work well for the beginning of the year.

I used to be tempted to skip teaching place value because it seemed too simplistic, assuming fourth graders knew how to read larger numbers. WRONG! Developing number sense and place value are critical to understanding ALL math! To read more about developing number sense click HERE.

Games and hands-on activities make teaching place value less of a bore and more fun, as well as reinforcing those number sense, rounding and estimation skills. 
With a partner, students pick a "secret" 3-digit number and write it down on a sticky note to reference during the game. Partners take turns guessing the each other's number. Each time someone guesses, the other person tells how many digits in the number are correct and how many of those digits are in the right place. But they do NOT tell which digits are correct. This becomes a process of elimination, using previous clues. It is crucial to MODEL your thinking aloud, especially so students understand the concept that they are not just guessing randomly, but purposefully choosing their numbers. Kids LOVE playing against the teacher, as you model!
The best part is eavesdropping in on their conversations. I always encourage students to think aloud. I've overheard snippets like, "Well, I'm going to try the 7 again, since one of the digits was correct and in the right place." After guessing 375, this student was excited because two of her numbers were correct and in the right place. One the next guess, she kept 75, but tried 475. "Oh no, now I only have one digit in the right place again so it must be the 7 in the tens' place." And so on. . . (Now of course, this is not say that other students were not just wildly guessing any combination of numbers without looking at their previous attempts. . .) If you have some students online, this is a great game to play in breakout rooms. No prep necessary, only a piece of paper or kids can use the whiteboard feature in Zoom or Google Meets. Grab your copy of Digit Mind directions HERE.
Another partner game my students love to play is a place value card rounding game. Students draw seven playing cards, placing them in any order to form a number. They take turns spinning the spinner to determine which place to round to. 
Unlike most games, where the largest number automatically wins, in this version a second spinner is used to decide whether the greatest or  the least number wins. Students love the anticipation of the spinner! Download your copy of Place Value Rounding Game (game board & spinners) HERE.
If you and your students are tired of drill & kill math worksheets, students love solving equations in the form of task cards! These rounding and estimating task cards help to familiarize students to the language and format of test prep questions. They can be used as a math center, during math workshop, or as a whole class SCOOT game. The best part is that students work on these task cards independently, giving the teacher time to work with small groups of students or to confer one on one. Check them out HERE or by clicking on the picture below.
How do YOU teach place value and rounding?
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  1. Thanks for sharing these place value games. I'm going to use a couple of them with my grandchildren.

  2. Such creative ideas. Glad you’re finally back in the classroom. Stay safe and healthy.