Fun Place Value Activity for Elementary Students

Let's have a teacher-to-teacher chat about place value. You know, that math concept that's as essential as your morning coffee? It's the key to unlocking the world of numbers. But for some students, this key concept can be a brain teaser. In this blog post, we will dive into why teaching place value is vital in our classrooms, why it often gives our students a run for their money, and most importantly, how we can make it click.  I'm excited to share with you a resource that will help your students build their confidence while tackling place value in a fun and engaging way! Dare I say, it's been called a "fun game"!?!

Teaching your students about place value is vital in your classroom, and these resources will make teaching place value easy and fun for you and your students.

Importance of Teaching Place Value

Picture place value as this intriguing secret code in the world of mathematics. It's not just a topic in the curriculum but the bedrock upon which we build a deeper understanding of numbers and mathematical concepts that follow, through many many years of school. Yep - it is that important.  And with a topic that important we must give it time each day in our classrooms.

I know what you are thinking, "time every day?" Yes! Since place value is one of those math concepts that gradually builds upon itself, we can build in complexity and difficulty too.

Here are 7 reasons why teaching place value is of utmost importance:

  1. Understanding the Base-10 System: Place value introduces students to the base-10 system, where each digit's position represents a power of 10. This understanding is fundamental to our number system and forms the basis for all future mathematical operations.
  2. Building Number Sense: Place value helps develop number sense, which is the ability to understand the magnitude and relationships between numbers. Students learn to recognize the value of each digit and how it contributes to the overall value of a number.
  3. Reading and Writing Numbers: With a solid grasp of place value, students can read and write numbers accurately. They understand that each digit holds a specific place and value, allowing them to articulate numbers in both written and numerical form.
  4. Enhancing Arithmetic Skills: Place value is essential for performing addition and subtraction with regrouping (carrying and borrowing). It enables students to manipulate numbers more efficiently and understand the mechanics of arithmetic operations.
  5. Laying the Groundwork for Multiplication and Division: Place value understanding is crucial when students begin to multiply and divide. It helps them comprehend the concept of multiplying by powers of 10, which becomes more apparent as they work with larger numbers.
  6. Facilitating Mental Math: Understanding how numbers are composed and decomposed helps in quick estimation and mental calculation
  7. Preparing for Higher Level Math: Foundational knowledge is needed for tackling more advanced skills such as decimals, fractions, and algebra.
Phew.... That was a lot!  Hopefully, you understand that place value is a skill that needs to be mastered and spiraled throughout the year!

Providing students with lots of practice for place value is a key to helping them master these foundational math concepts.

Place value is not just another thing we teach. It's the golden key that unlocks the world of numbers. Our students must genuinely grasp the understanding of place value, as it is the starting point for their math adventures!

The Challenge of Teaching Place Value

But let's be honest - teaching place value isn't always smooth sailing, right? It's like trying to navigate a maze for some of our students. The younger our students, the more difficulty they have with developing a concrete understanding of abstract concepts. Yeah I know, the words 'concrete' and 'abstract' don't go well together in a sentence.  So now you see the problem.

Tackle the challenges of teaching place value with fun hands on activities to increase student success in your classroom.

One reason place value can be tricky is that our learners often learn best through hands-on, tangible experiences. They thrive when they can see, touch, and manipulate objects to understand abstract ideas.  

That's why it's essential to build a strong foundation with place value blocks like the picture above, using a place value mat to build numbers and to create and decompose the smallest numbers to the larger numbers. The concept of place value is abstract in nature. Bridging the gap between the concrete and abstract can feel like a tall hurdle, but as educators, it's our creative superpower to take these abstract ideas and serve them up in a relatable, interactive, and fun way!

Students must be able to create a given target number with base-ten blocks. It doesn't matter if they are two-digit numbers or three-digit numbers at this point because this place value activity is differentiated for your students. You can meet them at any level with this fun game making this place value activity perfect for 2nd grade, 3rd grade or even for 4th grade review!

The Solution: Place Value Skills Swirls

So.... you might be wondering, how in the world do we make the abstract concepts of place value relatable and downright enjoyable for our students, especially when they're all coming from different learning backgrounds? Well, I've got some nifty tricks up my sleeves and these place value swirls are one of my favorite ways!

These classroom tested Place Value Swirls are not your ordinary classroom fare. These little gems are all about diving into numbers in different ways -  expanded form, word form, standard form, and base-ten blocks. It's like an adventure of numbers that will help your students master these concepts. 

Here's how to play this fun place value game:
  1. Pass out the "game board" to each student. Then add the differentiation, focusing on the different place value of the numbers OR by the place value concepts of different ways to write a number. 
  2. Students will then cut out all of their strips and place them in a row to be able to see all the different number cards.
  3. Find the start strip and paste it to "START". Look at the question, answer it, and hunt for your answer on the cut out strips. If it's there, GREAT! If not, look at the problem again!
  4. Play continues around the page until all the strips have been used!

Skill Swirls Place Value Cut and Paste Activities like these will help your students learn about expanded form, word form, standard form, and base ten blocks.

This resource has three levels for your learners – numbers to the tens place, hundreds place, and thousands place. No one's left out, and everyone gets a slice of the fun. Want to know an added bonus? These games are a breeze for you, the teacher. They're no-prep, which means you can focus on what you do best – teaching! Your place value unit will love you!

Why These Place Value Lessons Work 

What's the real magic here? These activities are sneaky little geniuses. Your students won't even know they're learning because they'll think they're playing games! Yes, you heard it right – it's education in disguise.  I like to call it undercover learning. Not all our students have the same knowledge of place value. Some might be working with tens and hundreds while others are ready for the challenge of thousands. Guess what? This resource is a great way to reach all learners!


I've designed these hands-on activities with differentiation magic. When your students dive into them, they won't even realize that there are different levels at play. The whole class is having a blast together. No one's feeling left out, and most importantly, no one's left behind.

That's the beauty of it. It's inclusive education at its best. I've taken the diversity of understanding and turned it into an opportunity for every student to shine. So whether they're taking baby steps or making giant leaps in their learning, Place Value Swirls are right there with them. 

The swirls are also self-checking, which not only helps students, but helps you too. It's like having a built-in mentor that gives instant feedback. Students must find the correct number in their strips to move on. This allows students to find and fix mistakes in the moment which only helps learning - using higher level thinking skills to find the mistakes in their own problems. 

Building the Foundation of Math with Place Value

We explored the realm of place value and uncovered why place value is important to mathematical understanding. Teaching place value may pose its challenges (easy differentiation, engagement, time constraints to name a few), but we've prepared ourselves with engaging activities and resources that make learning this concept accessible and enjoyable for all learners. 

Students love the game like feel of these place value swirls. Teachers love the variety of practice and no prep features.

Together, we can ignite our learners' curiosity, boost their confidence in math, and turn a laborious exploration into a fun-filled challenge. With these tools in hand, we're well-equipped to help all of our learners at all levels achieve math success!

What's Included in these Place Value Skills Swirls?

  • (3) Word Form puzzles (tens, hundreds, thousands)
  • (3) Expanded Form puzzles (tens, hundreds, thousands)
  • (3) Model Form puzzles (tens, hundreds, thousands)
  • (3) Mixed Practice puzzles - all place value forms included (tens, hundreds, thousands)

Looking for more tips and ideas on place value? Make sure to check out these blog posts.

Love these Place Value Swirls? 

These skill swirls have become one of my students' favorite place value activities over the years. So much so, they wanted me to create more swirls for other math activities! That's how the Skills Swirls Ultimate Activities Bundle came to be.  The same great game-like feel we used for place value can now be used to help students grasp even more math skills like telling time, money, 3-digit addition and subtraction, place value, and 2-digit addition. It's a buffet of math lessons! 

Sprinkle these fun ideas into your math centers. Use them with the whole group, individualize them to different learning levels, assign them for homework, review day, or prepare for your substitute teacher. However you use them, just know that your students will be getting high-quality skills practice with this hands-on approach.

Grab this Mathematics Skill Swirls Bundle resource complete with 7 hands-on, differentiated activities to use in your classroom as you teach place value this year.

If you're searching for a vibrant and effective way to teach place value without the hassle of boring worksheets and less-than-thrilled students, these Skill Swirls are your answer! The differentiated levels cater to various learning needs (tens, hundreds, thousands), providing flexibility for every student. The best part? These games require no prep, making it a time-saving resource for busy teachers. Print & go! 

Your students will be so engaged in the interactive nature of these activities that they won't even realize they're learning - a sentiment echoed by one student who screamed across the class, "It's like we aren't even learning!" With 12 Skill Swirls covering word form, expanded form, and base-10 blocks, this resource is a comprehensive solution for reinforcing place value concepts throughout the entire year! 

These engaging place value activities are perfect for 
  • centers, 
  • substitutes, 
  • whole group instruction, 
  • small group instruction, 
  • individual practice, 
  • early finishers,
  • homework
  • AND MORE!

Save these Place Value Puzzles

Remember to pin this post to your favorite math or teacher Pinterest board so you can come back when you need fresh ideas on making learning place value fun! Remember, this resource helps with many of the challenges regarding place value - differentiation, engagement and time constraints! Take back your weekends, meet the needs of all of your learners, and create truly engaged students with these Place Value Skill Swirls!

Use these place value activities in your classroom this year to help your students practice, learn, and master place value. With activities like those in the Skill Swirls Bundle, your students can complete daily place value practice using hands-on activities they will enjoy each and every day. Grab the bundle to start using these valuable activities in your classroom today!  #elementaryisland #placevalue #skillswirlsplacevalue #teachingplacevalue

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