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Building Place Value and Number Sense Skills

9 Activities for Building Place Value and Number sense in the middle grades with base ten blocks

When I was an interventionist looking at our schoolwide data, I noticed something in our students’ math data.  The students in third grade that scored lowest in math overall on our benchmark testing (NWEA’s MAP test), were the lowest scoring in the place value and number sense sub-domain. As time has gone on, I’ve continued to see that trend- that the lowest achieving students in math, tend to have poor number sense. Here are some of my favorite place value activities to build number sense  in the middle elementary grades- 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades.

If you’re looking for more behind what number sense is and why it is so important, you can read more about it in my Building Number Sense post. In this post, I also detail my Number of the Day routine- the single most impactful number sense routine I have ever implemented!
Building Number Sense

Number Rounds

One of my favorite ways to work on number sense is by doing Number Rounds.  This is a little game I thought of that’s played similarly to Sparkle.  The whole class stands in a circle and I choose a starting number and a rule, e.g. Add 10 starting at 54.  Every time we reach a new hundred, that student has to sit down.  So, the student to the left of me would say 64, then the next student would say 74, then 84, 94, and then the student who said 104 would sit down.  We’d continue playing until there is one person left standing.  The students struggling with this concept get to hear it throughout the game.  Even the students who seem to have a solid foundation struggle a bit trying to add a new “place” mentally.  It can be played with any number of digits and anything can be added (10’s, 100’s, 100’s).  I also thought of playing the game starting with a larger number and working backwards and the first person to go below zero is the winner.  I might try that out this year.  This game has been a favorite in my classroom in first, second, or third grade, and is a quick way to build number sense and mental math skills while getting students out of their seats. Check out my Adding Movement in the Classroom post for more ideas.

Heads Up, Numbers Up

Practice Place Value with Heads Up- 7 Up with a fun, math twist!

This game is a fun twist on Heads up, 7 Up that I named Heads Up, Numbers Up.  First, choose 7 students to go the front of the room. Have them walk around and put one student’s thumb down and then write a single digit number on a dry erase board as they form their line. When students get called to make their guess for the game, I have them answer various place value questions like:

-How do you say this number?

-What is the number in the thousands place?

-What is the value of the 6?

– What is this number rounded to the nearest hundreds place?

Then, students switch places in traditional Heads Up, 7 Up style. It’s a fun twist on a traditional game all of the kids already know, and can be easily modified to work with smaller numbers by only having 4 or 5 students at the front. It’s one of my favorite place value activities and my kids love it too!

Football Fever & Snowman Math Place Value Centers

Subtracting rulesI use my Football Fever centers in the fall in third grade to review place value skills within 1,000 before we start really working with larger numbers.  With these centers, my kids practice matching standard and expanded form, comparing numbers, ordering numbers, and practice mentally adding and subtracting 10, multiples of 10, and 100 with 2 and 3 digit numbers.

I even added pages to practice adding and subtracting two numbers so I could use the same set of centers for even longer.  Plus, these are easy prep!  You can place the sheets in sleeves, or just have students write with pencil.  I laminated the cards for longevity, but to save time you can just print and go!

To see more about the centers and to check out the preview with samples, click the image below.

Football Fever place value centers

I also created a similar set of centers that I used in 2nd grade in the winter so they are snowman themed.  They practice the same exact skills as the football set.  You can check them out by clicking the image below.


Place Value Puzzles

Place Value Puzzles are a great way to practice matching standard form, word form, and expanded form. You could also use a 4 puzzle set to add in base 10 representation, or just swap it out for one of the others. I used Ellison dies to cut out these 3 piece puzzles and then left them as a center. You can use these to work with any number of digits and they’re super easy to differentiate by student readiness by changing the complexity of the numbers.

Standard, Expanded, and Word Form Task Cards

Expanded Form write the room image

These Expanded Form, Standard Form, & Word Form task cards are designed to be a Write (or Solve) the Room, however, they can be used in any way you choose.  The cards alternate between each form on the cards.  I also offer two different recording sheets for this one: one that is completely blank, and one that has the given card pre-filled out on the sheet. Download my Standard, Expanded, and Word Form Task Cards for free.

Rocking Out with Place Value

We have to continue to build students’ practice to include larger and larger numbers to solidify place value and build number sense skills. I use my Rocking Out with Place Value unit to help me push students to working with large numbers and it allows me to differentiate for students who may not be ready to do so.

100 columns

Students practice manipulating numbers to 1,000, 10,000, and 100,000.  In the tens columns centers, students practice adding and subtracting 10, 100, or 1,000.  This center really helps students see the value of each place and students get much needed practice with regrouping into new hundreds, thousands, and beyond.

Number Grids

The Rocking Out with Number Puzzles center has students visualizing the number on a hundreds chart and identifying the numbers that would surround that number while adding 1 and 10 to that number.

The Rocking Out with Place Value unit features 3 different activities all tiered to 3 levels of numbers giving you 9 different centers options. It’s perfectly differentiated for a variety of student abilities.  To check it out on TpT, click the image above or here.

24 Game

24 is a great mental math resource that builds number sense. Just like my Number Puzzlers, students work through expressions one step at a time in hopes of reaching 24 as the target number. The lowest version includes multiplication and division (though typically more common combinations and facts making 24) so some students would be ready for it at the end of 2nd grade. We use 24 in my building in 2nd and above and hold schoolwide competitions. I have showcased the Single Digits 24 below, but the double digits version is great practice for older students that need to build their number sense.



Number of the Day Printables


Number sense is truly built through ongoing, daily practice.  One way this can be achieved is through a Number of the Day focusing on place value every day with a new number.  I have 6 different pages practicing a range of skills, and working with 2-digit to 4-digit numbers.  One version is ready to print, label the day’s number, and copy (easy peasy!)  The second, is a Google Drive file- perfect for using digitally in Google Classroom.  You can get both of these files, and more ideas for building place value and number sense skills in your classroom, by signing up for my newsletter below.  You’ll get the printable version right at sign up, and the digital version will be in the first email you see after beginning.  It walks you through sharing with Google Classroom in case you aren’t familiar.  Additional ideas and resources will also be sent throughout the next few weeks to help you build number sense in your students all year long! In a few days, I’ll also send these Missing Number Hundreds Charts that work with numbers from 100-10,000. Fill out the form below to get both!



9 activities for building place value & number sense skills with base ten blocks



  • Thank you for sharing your hard work. It is so true. So many of our third graders just don’t have number sense and these activities are going to help. We start school next week and I am going to include them right away.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. I hope a couple of the ideas help your kiddos!

  • This post could not have come at a better time! My students are struggling with place value concepts. I so appreciate the many links and ideas you provided!


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