Place value is always a concept where I find myself needing to spend a lot of time differentiating. While some kids are ready for independent practice after only a short mini-lesson, others need LOTS of repeated exposures. The abstract nature of larger numbers just makes it more challenging, especially for third graders.
Today I am going to share a few of my favorite strategies to make place value stick for your struggling learners and some tools I use in my classroom to make sure they are really getting it.
Teaching Place Value: Expanded Form to Standard Form
So many kids have trouble with expanded form. Graph paper is your best friend when students are working on going from expanded to standard form because it allows them to line up the zeros accurately. This free graph paper can be quickly and easily printed for use when working on expanded form problems. I also teach them to check their work by counting how many digits are in the first number of the expanded form. That is the number of digits they need in their answer!
Teaching Place Value: Standard Form to Expanded Form
After I am sure they really get the concept, I teach my students a trick to help make sure they don’t make silly mistakes going from standard to expanded form. Here’s the trick. They start by underlining each digit in the number. After recording the first digit in the number, they count the number of underlines after it.
Teaching Place Value: Word Form to Standard Form
Kids have so much trouble going from word to standard and standard to word. I teach my students when they see a comma in word form, there will be a comma in the number. For my students who are really struggling, I teach them to put a box around the word “thousand”. Then we write the number before the box, put a comma in the number in place of the box, and write the number after the box.
Assessing Place Value Mastery
Okay, so now I’ve shared a few tricks. It’s time to talk about assessment. In my personal experience place value is the hardest thing I teach all year. Part of this is because it is first and their brains are so fuzzy from summer. The other part is that it is really abstract in a lot of ways…especially those really big numbers. It has been really important for me to keep track of who is getting specific skills on a daily or every other day basis because I’ve found that once gaps form, it can be really hard to find the time to get back and fill them. For some kids, I could be on place value all year because they just aren’t developmentally ready for the leap into the abstract.
Formative assessments are a huge buzzword in education right now for a reason. They can save you a ton of time and energy in the long run. Every few days, I do a short quick check on the place value skill we’ve been working on. This helps me identify my struggling students and resort my math groups. (Yes, it is a lot of shuffling, but I have found it lets me fill gaps more quickly). Here’s an example of one of the quick checks I use:
As you can see I always include one writing to explain question just to see if the kids get it at a higher level. I’ve made a set of 12 (2 per skill) of these for my place value and money unit. Depending on my group, I’ve used them in two different ways.
- Pre-Post Style: I give the first one the day before I teach the lesson if I have a really advanced group. This lets me sort groups and give the kids who already have mastered the skill a challenge project that has them practice it through deeper problem solving and critical thinking. The goal is for all students to reach this point, but I can better do this if the kids who have mastered the skill aren’t sitting there bored or trying to answer all the questions.
- Post-Test/Re-test Style: I give the quick check as a formative assessment after I teach the lesson and we practice on those years where math is a whole class weakness. Then I pull the kids who haven’t mastered the skill into a small re-teach group. They take the alternative version a few days later after more practice and teaching to make sure things are clicking.
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