Truly understanding place value requires students to be able to unitize. What this means is that they must be able to understand that a group of ten ones can be counted as a single unit, called a ten. That’s a huge mathematical step, because the idea is so abstract. As with any abstract concept, students need lots of varied hands-on experiences building tens and ones and talking about the meaning to develop a true understanding. That means ten-frames and counters, linking cubes, beans on a stick, linking chains, etc.–as many different representations as you can think of.
The ten frame kits can be a bit pricey, but you can create your own students kits using this file. I also uploaded a B&W version, in case you want your kiddos to color their own. If you need ten-frames to use with counters, download those here.
I’d love hearing your experiences with early place value understandings! Please share what has worked for you.
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