Place Value for First Graders


Understanding place value and building two-digit numbers is a key math concept for first graders. Children need a variety of concrete experiences with our base ten number system to build their understanding of place value. In first grade, we are laying the foundation for students understanding more complex numbers as they continue to grow and learn.

Key Place Value Understandings to Teach First Graders

Here are a few key understandings about base ten to teach your students:

  • Ten ones can be called a “ten”. (review)
  • Teen numbers have one ten and some remaining ones. (review)
  • The 2-digits in a number represent how many tens and ones the number has.
  • Decade numbers (10, 20, 30, etc.) have groups of tens but no leftover ones.
  • We can compare two-digit numbers by first looking at the tens. If the tens are the same, then we look at the ones.
  • When you have tens ones you can group them into a ten.

Manipulatives for Teaching Place Value for First Graders

There are so many objects and counting opportunities we can provide students to learn about grouping objects into groups of ten. Here are a few manipulatives that work great for beginning to teach about place value:

  • cubes
  • math links
  • counters and ten-frames
  • base ten blocks
  • food such as M&M’s, goldfish, etc. organized in small cups

There are so many possibilities! Here is a printable list of items to begin gathering for counting collections.

Idea list for creating counting collections to use for teaching first grade math skills.
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Activities for Teaching Place Value for First Graders

Making Groups of Ten

Grouping objects into sets of ten is a great first activity for young students. Hopefully, students were exposed to these types of activities in preschool and Kindergarten. Many first graders will still need opportunities for these types of activities. The great news is students love doing this! It makes a quick and easy math center to use in your first-grade classroom, especially at the beginning of the year.

Tens and “Leftover” Ones

Once students are used to making groups of ten, we can start talking about counting the “leftover ones”. I love this activity that I call “Scoops” for teaching place value for first graders. It is great for small groups and can easily be moved to a learning center.

Here’s how to complete the activity:

  • Each student “scoops” a cup of the chosen object.
  • They have a set of small bathroom cups to begin organizing their objects.
  • They put 10 objects in each cup.
  • They put any “leftover” ones in the one’s column.
  • Students practice counting their cups by tens and then counting on by ones.
    • In the picture above, they would count- 10, 20, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37
  • We can also begin talking about how many tens and ones the number has.
    • We might say. “We counted 37 counters. The number 37 has 3 groups of tens and 7 leftover ones.”

Building Numbers with Base Ten Blocks (Concrete Level of Understanding)

Students are now ready to build numbers with base ten blocks. There are lots of fun ways for students to practice! Here are some ideas to mix it up and keep it fresh in your classroom!

Have your students work at the number factory.

Students will see a two-digit number on the board, and it’s time for them to get to work! They will build the number with the base ten blocks.

First graders build the two-digit number forty three.
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Students check their work to see if they used their place value blocks to build the number correctly.
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Use dominoes to determine tens and ones

Use dominoes to determine amount of tens and ones.
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This activity can be completed in a whole-group, small-group, or at centers. Students choose a domino and place it on their place value mat. They look at the first side of the domino and build that many tens. Then, they look at the second side of the domino and build that many ones. You can make it more challenging by asking students to build the largest (or smallest) number they could make with their domino.

More ways to practice base ten.

Use links!

Students build numbers with links in this place value activity.
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I’m not sure why, but students LOVE links!!! Links are also great for working on fine motor skills- so it’s a win-win situation! In this activity, students choose a number card. They say the numeral and how many tens and ones it has. Then they build the number. They make chains of tens and count out individual ones and “hook” them to the cards. This activity is great to introduce during small groups, then transfer it to a learning center for independent practice.

Practice with Ten-Frames

Your first graders will love using place value pockets for practicing their skills! Let each student create and keep their own “wallet”. They store filled ten-frames on the left side, and ten-frames with numbers 1-9 on the right side. They draw number cards and build the numbers.

Build two-digit numbers with ten-frames when teaching place value to your first graders.
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Base Ten on a Number Line

It’s great for students to make connections of how different math tools are related to each other. In this activity first graders use place value blocks for showing numbers on a number line. Students choose a number card and lay out the base ten blocks to represent the number.

Practicing place value on a number line for first graders.
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Base Ten at a Representational Level

Place Value on a Hundreds Chart

Once students have had concrete experiences using lots of manipulatives, we can move to a representational level of base ten understanding. Some students will be ready for this level quickly, while other students will need more time using manipulatives before they are ready to work at this level.

Use a hundreds chart to practice base ten with first graders.
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Teaching our students how our base ten system relates to a hundreds chart is another key math skill for first grade. Understanding this concept will make it easier to teach the following place value skills: ten less & ten more, adding a 2-digit number and a multiple of ten, and subtracting tens. It will help students understand how we can quickly travel up and down rows on the number line because each row contains ten.

Roll and Cover Two-Digit Numbers

Roll and cover is a fun game to practice base ten.
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This activity makes works well for small-groups and centers. Students take turn rolling the two dice. They say how many tens and ones and what number it represents. Then they find and cover the numeral on their “Roll and Cover” mat. Students want to be the first one to get five in a row on their board. Students can play over and over again! The set below contains two-versions of this game.

Place Value Write the Room

Write the room activity for practicing place value for first graders.
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Do your students need opportunities to move? Write the room is the perfect activity for students to be out of their seats and moving while still learning and working on skills. The teacher hangs the base ten cards around the classroom. Students grab a clipboard and a recording sheet and walk around to find the cards. They look at the cards and record the matching numeral or number of tens and ones.

Place Value Puzzles

Place value puzzles make a great learning center. These puzzles contain 3 parts: a numeral, base ten blocks, and number of tens and ones. Students can match all three parts, or you can make them easier by only including two of the three parts.

Most of these activities, you can easily create in your own classroom using the math manipulatives you have on hand. If you would like a ready-to-use version of these place value activities for first graders, I have them available in my TPT store.

Need more ideas for teaching math skills to first graders? I have several posts about teaching math.

You can view this place value resource on TPT.
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Hi, I’m Jaymie! Thanks for stopping by my blog. I taught for 17 years including 12 years in First Grade, 4 years as a Reading Interventionist, and 1 year in Pre-K. 

I have a passion for creating rigorous, easy to use primary resources that require little or no prep! I hope you find some easy ideas to take back to your classroom or use in your homeschool!

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