5 Ways to Teach Place Value and Word Form

Once your students can count past 20, it's a good time to teach them place value.  I'm glad our curriculum in fourth grade starts with place value.  It makes sense that students understand what a number with multiple digits means and how to say it before we ask them to find products with 4 or more digits!   So to start out our year, I want to share with you 5 ways to teach place value and word form.

1.  Money (Hands on Learning)

The biggest hook I have for teaching place value is MONEY.  I ask students what is it about big numbers, like millions, billions, or more, that interests them the most.  Usually we get to money early on in that introductory discussion!  I have students start sorting play money on a place value chart to keep the learning tactile. 

There are several activities you can do with small groups, a place value chart, and money.  Students can build numbers (show me $23, 852).  Vary the number of places according to your objective and their zone of proximal development.  You can repeat this activity later in the year when teaching estimating as well as decimal place value by introducing dimes and pennies as tenths and hundredths.  You can also use these materials to add numbers.  I like to start with multiples of ten, such as "What is $2,000 more than $23,852?"  You can multiply, such as "Show me 3 sets of $42,312."  You can divide, as shown here.  And of course, you can demonstrate regrouping, such as, "I notice when I added I got 12 bills in the thousands place.  I'll trade ten of them in for the place to the right of it, which is ten times as much." 

2.  Be the Number (Interpersonal Learning)
The second place value lesson will always hold a special place in my heart, because it's the reason I was hired at my present school (skip this paragraph to get to the lesson itself, or read on if you'd like my origin story, haha).  I got called in mid September for the fourth grade position when funding came through for the present teacher to take on a different role (so no red flags there in terms of why there was a vacancy).  When I arrived for my interview I had a gut reaction like never before; I felt like this could be home.  My interview went better than usual (I said things like "when I work here," not in an overconfident way, but because I was feeling it).  The panel was leaning toward the more outgoing other candidate, I later learned, but I was the second choice going into round 2, which was to come and teach a lesson.  I was given the option between reading and math (place value).  While the other candidate did a read aloud (and failed to impress) here is the lesson I taught that won over the panel (and the children).
Without seeing any of their curricular materials, I decided direct instruction of place value should point out that there are patterns to numbers.  There are times to say the period (thousand, million, and so on), times to say the word "hundred" in every period, and there are numbers I like to call "buddy numbers," such as "forty-seven" as opposed to "four, seven."  And speaking of the periods, in standard form, their names aren't explicitly written.  No, instead of writing "million," or using a period as in the punctuation mark, we write a comma (go figure?).  So to make all these patterns come alive for students, I created an activity for this group of students that I was meeting for the very first time called "Be the Number." 

After selling them on the idea that we'd be learning how to read big numbers like 247,856,423, I told them I was going to need some volunteers to come up and Be the Number.  Or more to the point, a part of the number.  And they'd hold up a sign.  Then I told them, "I also want to get to know you all a little bit.  I'm sure some of you have a good friend in this class.  Some of you love to be the center of attention.  And some of you don't talk very much but you're hard workers.  However you see yourself, I am going to need your help to build the number.  And if you aren't called to come up to stand in front of the class and hold up a part of the number, I need your help too, because audience participation is going to support the building of this big number, so are you ready?
First, raise your hand if you have a good friend in this class [I'll spare you the part where I asked their names each time so the interview panel saw I was already getting to know the children; there were 2 parents on the panel so I wanted them to see me getting to know their children right away].  Okay you two are the number 23.  Not '2 and 3;' you're going to say your buddy name together, 'twenty three.'  Next, I need someone who loves to be the center of attention.  Okay, Mickey, you come on up.  You are going to say your number, 'Four,' nice and loud.  Now we, the audience, are going to give you that attention you love by answering you with the word, 'hundred.'  Next, I need someone who is a quiet worker.  You're going to hold up this comma, and you don't need to say anything.  And we, the audience, are going to respect your need for quiet work by whispering, 'thousand.'"  

Now I'm hoping you can see where this lesson is going, choosing partners, centers of attention, and calm students, so I'll skip ahead to how the final number sounds:

Kid #11, loudly:  Two
Audience: Hundred
Kids #10 & #9:  Forty-seven
Kid #8 silently holds up comma, Audience whispers:  Million 
Kid #7, loudly:  Eight
Audience: Hundred
Kids #6 & #5:  Fifty-six
Kid #4 silently holds up comma, Audience whispers:  Thousand
Kid #3, loudly:  Four
Audience: Hundred
Kids #2 & #1:  Twenty-three
Round of applause!

The only preparation I needed here were about a dozen pieces of colored card stock (all one color so as not to be distracting in terms of patterns) with a number on each and two with commas.  Of course there was repetition built during the construction of the number as roles were being added in in so we practiced saying 423, then 56,423, then 47,856,423 before getting to the final number.  And I did plenty of pointing at who was meant to be speaking to help prompt the speakers throughout.  The social emotional part of the lesson, in my opinion, was even more important than the place value, but of course it also cements the concept of patterns in math by creating a real world framework.  The anchor chart in this post was designed to anchor students' thinking to the activity throughout the rest of the unit.  
3.  Chips (Hands on Learning)
The chips can be used the same way as the money, as explained above, but it makes the concept slightly more abstract.  The numbers on the chips are especially helpful when you move into decimal place value, since there is no coin representing a thousandth of a cent. 

4.  Number lines (Visual Learning)

If you like to teach math like I usually do, starting with hands on learning and then moving on to visual before ending with the abstract, Number Line Worksheets are a great way to do it.  I feel like there is a lot of buzz about fraction and decimal number lines, which I use as well, but that's just even more reason to start with whole numbers when exploring place value.  Having students look at the increments on these pages get them ready for estimating, as well as thinking flexibly about units in measurement, graphing, and of course, place value.  

5.  Games (Logical)
Finally, a math concept isn't complete for me unless we can make a game out of it.  You may notice that I put games last in my list.  The reason is I find a lot of math games are not playable unless students already understand the concept they are practicing.  That's just going to lead to off task behaviors.  So either save the games for independent practice or make sure you are partnering a motivated student who struggles with a student who enjoys taking on a teaching role (games are wonderful in those partnerships).  I have multiple games that I use for place value practice:

a.  Power of Ten is a card game.  This low-prep game has just 8 cards to cut out for each level (I have a whole number version with 3 levels as well as a decimal version).  Students draw cards to see if they are multiplying their number by 10 or 100 and moving across the place value chart in the process. 

    b.  Codebreaker requires even less preparation!  You can make copies of the Codebreaker gameboard for students to write on, or laminate/stick them in screen protectors.  Each partner writes a number of their choosing at the top, then asks specific questions about their opponent's number, such as, "Is the number in the hundreds place less than 5?"  I have a decimal version as well. 

    c.  If you're moving on from the concept of place value and word form and into the application of place value, such as comparing numbers, Comparing and Ordering Peppers is a fun game similar to the card game War.  I use the Scoville units for measuring the heat of peppers (and researched them so they are factual) because my many of my fourth graders are fascinated with which is the hottest pepper.  You can read more about my Comparing and Ordering Peppers Game here.  

If these activities sound engaging to you, you can find them all here in my Place Value category page.  If they're not exactly what you're looking for, or you have a question about the implementation, leave me a comment on the blog or "Ask a question" on Teacher Pay Teachers.  

Take Care!

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Prepare for New Student Orientation During Back to School Season

In September, we're prepared to welcome a class of new students.  But midyear, hearing, "You're getting a new student this morning" made me break out in a sweat.  I realized I need to be prepared for new student orientation all year.

Here's how to eliminate the stress that goes along with welcoming a new student to your classroom, even when it's sprung on you at the last minute.

Prepare for New Student Orientation in September.

Keep new students in mind while you are in “Back to School Mode.” Here's how to make a new student feel welcome even when his or her arrival is sprung on you unexpectedly.

Set aside at least 3 extras of whatever materials you make for your students (name tags, journals, and so on).  Put them all in the same place, such as a large manila envelope or Ziplock bag so that you have everything together when a new student arrives.  If you have an extra student desk in your room, put 3 stacks of larger items, such as books, notebooks, and folders right inside.
Keep a current supplies list.  If there are items you can't compile in a set space, keep a list on hand.  Update this list at the beginning of the year when you’re in the mindset for creating an organizational system for new student orientation from day one.

Delegate.  At my school, the assistant principal has the key to the textbooks closet.  This is why I’ve separated my “new student checklist” into books/other items.  I give the left half to her so she can get the textbooks and I keep the right half for myself. 
Keep extra “beginning of the year folders” for papers you hand out at the beginning of the year.  For example, many schools have student handbooks, emergency contact forms, surveys designed to get to know their students better, and so on.  Have extras on hand for a new student in one location.

Have "ice breaker activities" on hand.  Look through your back to school ice breakers.  Have materials ready to go, be it "find someone who" worksheets, "getting to know you surveys," or Morning Meeting greetings.  Depending on your class, you could pull out an old favorite or try something you didn't have time for in September.


Keep a New Student Orientation Checklist.

To get you started with your preparation for new students, you can download a free, editable new student orientation checklist

Prepare for Parent's Night.
Being in the mindset of welcoming your new students will also help you get into the mindset of welcoming their parents.  Here is my editable Parents’ Night Packet.

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Pandemic Teaching and Teachers’ Collective Trauma

I hope 2021-2022 was a better year for you than 2020-2021.  I hear the term “collective trauma” thrown around a lot, and it makes perfect sense to me.  An expression that resonated with me was “We were all in the same storm, although we were NOT all in the same boat.”  I’m sure that we all had our own very specific problems that came up between March 2020 and now that are either related to the pandemic or how others handled it.  But right now, at least for me, things feel different today than they did that March. 


In January 2020 some of my students were getting a “weird pneumonia.”  We had heard of COVID spreading in China, but it wasn’t in this country yet (at least, that’s what they tell us).  I started washing my hands a whole lot by February, and I remember telling my husband, “I wonder if this will be the last time we eat out at a restaurant.”  A few days before the state closed all school buildings, we started having meetings about advanced cleaning protocols.  Then we closed for a day.  I immediately prepared some activities kids could do at home and Emailed it to parents.  My gut told me, “This isn’t doing to be over in one day.”  Then we closed for a couple weeks.  Our district wanted to know what we were doing to support kids because they (like everyone else) had no idea how to support kids.


Around this time, I started creating online activities on Google.  This was before I knew how to assign things on Google Classroom, and before we were asked to teach new concepts online (for months we were told to review only, because we didn’t want to penalize any student whose family could not facilitate a homework routine or did not have the resources to print papers or work on a device).   

And within a week I started updating my existing products on Teachers Pay Teachers. 


It was slow going, because I was learning as I went.  There were some teachers who had a head start.  But my priority was never to match them.  It was for those of you who already purchased and enjoyed my products.   

Suddenly you (and I) needed to do ALL our teaching online.  We couldn’t send home folders of papers or bags of manipulatives and task cards.   I was having nightmares about the things I couldn’t do with my students anymore, with all the shame of feeling unprepared.  Like me, I knew you had all these activities to support your standards that weren’t usable.  

So I started updating them.  I was familiar with Google Slides, so I took the ideas behind those pdfs I was selling, created activities that didn’t need to be printed and cut out, and added Google Slide links to those existing products.  That way at least some of your old purchases would still be usable during the time of remote learning.  

I felt like I was making some real headway with the activities that upper elementary students needed the most practice with.


I was getting better at it by April.  Obviously, activities that involve cutting and drawing just don’t translate well to a Google Slide activity.   


But I was getting better at it, and then we had April vacation.  And obviously, we weren’t going away anywhere (I was even getting my groceries delivered, so my dream of not having to drive anywhere was coming true, at least). 


Then Thursday of my vacation, my mom called.  Hysterical.  My sister died.


She was in her 30s.


In the height of the pandemic, we couldn’t hold a funeral.  My mother was terrified of even a small gathering with my brother and I so we couldn’t even grieve together in person.  We worked in shifts to go through my sister’s apartment.  My mother did some sorting, my brother did most of the hauling.  I went through paperwork. 


This same week that I took for bereavement to sort through my sister’s things, our district, with guidance from the state of Massachusetts, clarified some of the remote learning expectations for the rest of the year.  Suddenly I had to learn how to assess student work on a variety of learning platforms.


And then another family member was hospitalized. 


That put an end to my dabbling in Google Slides creation. 


Trauma Informed Teaching is a buzzword I’d heard before the pandemic.  I’d been a good learner and test taker all my life.  I had no fear of technology.  But now I was learning SeeSaw and Google Classroom and Renaissance and Kami and document cameras and Google Meet and a dozen other platforms.  I sat through trainings over Zoom and I could not follow along.  I was in a haze, tearing up because I couldn’t click through and make notes fast enough, getting headaches, not sleeping well, feeling more absent minded, startling easily, and feeling short tempered.  I was experiencing the effects of trauma on my brain. 


I couldn’t blog anymore because I felt like I wasn’t the expert anymore.  I was the one who had a lot to learn, and I wasn’t even doing a great job at that.  At least my administrators and colleagues supported all of us during the wave of educational and protocol changes that kept rolling over us.  But because I wasn’t, well, fully operational, I knew I had to focus all my energy on my own students instead of my Teachers Pay Teachers store. 


But then…that was my creative outlet.  I couldn’t go out for recreation.  I couldn’t go to the gym.  There’s more to life than work and losing my little sister was a reminder that life is short.  So I started yoga and crochet.  These were activities I could handle.  They helped me relax.  Completing a crochet project helped me feel accomplished.  Yoga became a routine to calm my mind when life was feeling chaotic.  And I felt like it was going to make me physically stronger too. 


Then a year after it started, a vaccine was made available.  I could go out places again.  I could see my family.  Things are back to normal…but also not normal.  We’re not housebound, but Covid is still here with its quarantines, (with students and co-workers suddenly needing a week of extra support) part-time mask usage, and of course, illness.  My sister is still gone; that won’t change.  But my other family member is better (so why am I still not sleeping well?).  I’ve started taking some 1 hour PD sessions this summer, and instead of feeling like I’m in a haze, I’m feeling excited about trying new things.  And I’ve started blogging and creating new resources for my Teacher’s Pay Teachers store. 


It's been a long 2 ½ years.  We teachers were (mostly, but not always) praised in the beginning of pandemic teaching.  Then in the middle, well, all of us, parents, teachers, state and local officials, school boards, we all got frustrated and got less praise.  And I wondered, as I walked the halls, "How many of my colleagues are quietly hiding their trauma?" 

I’m starting to find some balance.  I had a rough time learning how to do online learning, and I prefer making activities that students can draw on, cut out, and make a game out of.  But what do you think?  Are you going back to using hands on resources?  Or are your students finding more success with online learning, even when they are back in the classroom? 


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Returning to in Person Learning: Next Steps

Have you returned to full in person instruction yet?

I feel very lucky that here in MA, viral rates have been dropping over the past few months and teachers have had the option to register for vaccines for about 2 months.  The children switched from hybrid instruction (in September) to fully in person at the end of March.  Like many schools, I’m seeing some children who were remote learning rock stars and others who struggled.  Plus they haven’t interacted with half of their peers for over a year!  The building was closed from March to September, and then my students were separated into 2 cohorts for 2 days in, 2 days asynchronous, and 1 day of remote instruction.  So now what?

Now that I feel more protected (and my mom and husband are too) I feel like a huge weight has been lifted.  It’s true that group and partner activities don’t work like they used to.  Protocols around eating and general sanitation are still in effect.  But the brain fog I experienced with too much all at once has cleared.  I’m feeling a sense of cautiously moving on.  So I’ve started thinking about next steps as a teacher for my students to finish the year stronger and prepare for the inevitable learning gaps some, but not all children will have next year.  My first priority with this class was some extra social and emotional learning time during the day.  But at night, now that remote learning is out, planning differentiation is my biggest priority! 

The good news is TpT is having a sale, so if you are also prioritizing differentiation now (or planning for next year) you can save 25% May 4th and 5th. 

Differentiating Your Return to in Person Learning

Many people love my Long Division Matching Game.  It’s easy to explain how to play (flip them over and try to find a match).  But what about students who have been unable to complete their work for the past 15 months during remote instruction?  Yes, some fourth graders still haven’t grasped the concept of multiplication, and it can feel frustrating when we want to move on to fourth grade standards.  This game will help you bridge the gap.  This Multiplication Arrays Matching Game looks very similar to the long division graphics, but it features multiplication equations.  I like to work with my multiplication skills group this game while the rest of the class does the long division one.  I spend time modeling how to count rows and columns to match the equations and then matching it to the answer on their multiplication table.  Soon they are playing the game independently and getting that much needed repeated practice with the concept of what multiplication really is.  It also helps them transition to the long division concept. 

On the other hand, some of your students probably did fine over the past year, and a few may have really excelled at online learning.  I found that although many of my students need reteaching now that they’re back full time, others are ready to move on.  Many people love my Line Up! series for comparing and ordering fractions.  What started as a small, quick activity has expanded into bundle covering multiple standards, and then turned into a Google Slides version with a motivating superhero theme for remote learning (although as adorable as those cityscapes look on the Chromebooks, I prefer using the original because the kids get up and moving to discuss the sorting process).  But what about students who are ready to move on to decimals?  This new addition to my product line:  Line Up!  Compare and Order Decimals takes the game your students are already familiar with and has them apply the process to comparing and ordering decimals.   

Or if you want low prep practice to introduce the topic, check out these Decimal Number Line Worksheets.

And if you missed my last blog post (or were waiting for a sale…and now it’s nearly here) I have Compare and Order Peppers:  Numbers to the Hundred Thousands Place.  This product is priced for the 4th grade standard but comes with levels of differentiation above (over a million) and below (under 10,000).  Keeping with the spicy theme, the levels of the place value are grouped into mild, medium, hot and extreme heat.  The illustrations and Scoville Heat Units for each pepper were researched to be accurate because most years my 4th graders become seriously interested in this topic.  Comparing and ordering numbers for different place values has never been more relevant to them!    

Are there other math skills you find yourself reteaching this year?  Let me know!  I might have a product already, or it might give me an idea to put on my to do list. 


Take Care!

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