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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Taking Place Value to the Next Level

I used to think that if a kid could count to 1000, then they had a good understanding of three digit place value.  After many years of teaching math to kids of all ages, I have found that I could not have been more wrong.  I know think about place value understanding all day long.  I find that it is the single biggest thing that holds kids back from developing conceptual understanding of bigger math ideas like multiplication, division, fractions and decimals.  I have made it my mission to make sure the kids I work with in grades 2 and 3 have an excellent understanding of three digit place value so they are ready for bigger ideas by upper elementary.  When I get an upper elementary student in need of intervention the first thing I do is check for a deep understanding of place value.

This August as I was prepping for back to school, I got Fishing Around with Place Value Riddles written by Linda over at Primary Inspiration.  This is a product that works extra hard and I have put it to good use with some of my students in grades 2-5.  

Grade 2

My second graders are responsible for numbers up to 1000.  This means I want them to be able to count forward and backward in this range, skip count, order numbers, build numbers and be able to add or subtract 10 or 100 from any of these numbers.  The biggest thing is that I expect all of this to be done with fluency.  This time of year we are only a few months into second grade but I always have kids who are meeting these end of second grade standards by this time of year.  This is when I like to introduce a challenge to these kids.  These place value riddles are an excellent match.  These kids get to stretch their understanding of place value and keep their brains engaged in learning more math.  They have to think outside the box and gives them something to work towards.  For these learners, I made a set of cards and placed them in a small plastic container.  I then gave each of the kids who were ready for this challenge a Poly Envelope and a record sheet.  Then they are free to come and grab riddle cards as they need them and work together or independently to figure out the riddles.   Once a week or so during Guided Math I pull this group and we go over answers and work together on any riddles they are stuck on.  As the year progresses and more kids meet my second grade standards, they will be invited to try these out!

My second grade set-up

Grade 3

Third graders should have a good understanding of three digit place value and be ready to take it to the next level.  I have found these cards are an excellent match for my third graders.  I have used them several times this year for whole group instruction, partner game time and Guided Math centers.
I store everything I need for third graders in the classroom in a regular 2 pocket folder.  It includes the game board, answer key, student record sheets and riddle cards.  This way I have everything ready to go when the year starts and I revisit these cards throughout the year.  

The game board made an excellent Guided Math center.  Kids pull riddle cards and answer them to progress through the game board.  They love when they land on a fish and get a free turn!

I also used them in another math center during the first weeks of school.  In this version, they solved the riddles with a partner, wrote the answer on a sticky not and then ordered the cards from least to greatest.  This was a great way to review ordering and comparing numbers under 1000 as well as pushing their place value understanding to the next level by solving the riddles.  

The third way I have used these cards in math centers is to have kids write their own riddles.  This was very challenging for some kids but a great way to really think about numbers.  Several kids have written riddles that were not specific enough and when the class went to solve them, they had to be revised.  This was great learning for all and a good way to add more riddles to our set.  

In recent weeks, I have clipped a pile of these riddle cards to the white board.  Because my students have become much more fluent at solving them, they are now fairly efficient.  Now I use these during transitions and at line up time.  Give each kid one and they can line up or move to the next task once they have the answer.  I often just have them tell me what the number is but occasionally I have them write the answer on a sticky note with their name and  place it on the table.  Then later I have a student who is an early finisher check the work and bring ones they think are wrong to my attention.  

Grades 4 and up

I have used these cards in fourth and fifth grade with the entire class as a choice math center.  This is when the cards are all in a tub along with the options described above and a few others from the packet.  Kids can write their own, play with the game board, solve and order and more.  This lets them review important skills and pull things together.  I have also used the riddle cards during transitions and line-up time.  When I pull older students to my own space for intervention, I use these riddles in many of the ways I described for third graders. 

If you are looking for a hard working product that will help your students with place value and will be used over and over, check out these Place Value Riddles!

Grab this excellent resource for your classroom!


  1. I completely agree! I'm teaching 5th grade for the first time this year, and that is the biggest stumbling block my kiddos have now that we're trying to multiply and divide whole numbers and decimals. They still have no sense of what place value means. I'm glad you're making such an abstract concept more concrete for your little ones. It will pay of years down the road, thank you!

  2. Place value is a crucial foundational concept for all math learning. Thank you for these ideas. Our school goal is that no student leaves our K-2 primary school without a firm grasp on place value.

  3. These resources look great--will have to check them out! Thanks for sharing!