I know that it’s summer, and you might not be thinking about the beginning of next school year. But place value is typically one of the first units for many grade levels, so maybe you bookmark this post and come back when you’re ready! Read on for some low-prep and engaging place value games for a variety of grade levels! Be sure to look for the links through the post to download your freebies!
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Build the Biggest
This is a classic place value game that can be adapted for many different grade levels! It’s super low-prep and requires only some dice, either standard or ten-sided, and a recording sheet. Best of all, your students will love it, so it provides for very engaging practice for an important skill. Let’s look at the 2-digit version to see how the game is played.
Each player needs a recording sheet, and players share one die. Players take turns rolling the die, but both players use the number rolled. Player 1 rolls the die and gets a 5. Players use privacy to conceal from their opponent where they are placing the digit. Once a digit is placed, it can’t be changed. Player 1 chose to place the digit in the tens place, while Player 2 chose the ones place. Next Player 2 rolled a 4. Player 1 placed the 4 in the ones place, while Player 2 discarded the 4. Finally, Player 1 rolled a 6. Since Player 1 had already placed digits in the tens and ones places, they had to discard the 6, while Player 2 placed the 6 in the tens place.
Both players reveal their numbers and read their numbers out loud. The player who believes they have the greater number explains why. Remember, we want children using place value to compare numbers. So it might sound something like this: My number, 65, is greater than 54 because we compare the greatest place value position first. I have 6 tens and you only have 5 tens. The ones don’t really matter. Please make it an expectation that students explain why their number is greater! We simply must have students explaining their reasoning at all times.
Since Player 2 has the greater number they score one point. There is, of course, the possibility of a tie. In that case, both players each score 1 point for the round.
This link will take you to a folder with versions for 2-digit numbers, 3- and 4-digit numbers, 6- and 9-digit numbers, and even a version for decimals.
Triple Digit Dare
This place value game, which requires only a deck of playing cards, is a version of the classic card game, War. There are three versions—basic, advanced, and an adaptation for decimals.
Use a standard deck of playing cards with the 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings removed. Aces count as 1.
Note: I recently played with Queens as zeros, and you can keep the Jokers in as Wild cards that can be used for any digit.
- Deal each player 3 cards.
- Players use the cards to create the greatest 3-digit number possible.
- Players show their cards, and the player with the greatest 3-digit number takes all the cards.
- Play continues with 3 more cards for each player.
- You could easily vary this game to use 2-digit, 4-digit, or even larger numbers.
Once the students master the basic version, you can introduce a new version of the game, this one with an added twist of strategy.
- Same standard deck of cards with the same cards removed.
- Each player still gets 3 cards.
- Remaining cards are placed face down in the middle of the table.
- After each player looks at their cards and determines their greatest 3-digit number, the fun starts! Taking turns, each player has the option to…
- Stick—-keep their 3 cards
- Swap—remove one card from their hand and take a new card from the pile in the middle of the table
- Steal—trade a card from their hand for a card from any other player’s hand (without looking at what card they are picking)
- After all players have had a turn to adjust their cards, players show their cards and the greatest 3-digit number wins.
The decimal version is played by the same rules (either Basic or Advanced), but the players use a mat to organize their numbers. They can place the cards face down on the mat until it’s time to reveal their number. There are two mats—one with ones, tenths, and hundredths (shown here) and the other with tens, ones, and tenths.
Grab the place value mat for the decimal version here.
Line it Up
The last game I have for you today combines place value with ordering numbers. Again, I’ll use the 2-digit numbers example.
Each player needs a score sheet. A pair of dice, either standard or ten-sided, is need for each pair of students. I always like students playing games in pairs when possible, rather than groups of 3 or 4, because the game moves more quickly and students are doing more math when they don’t have to wait for two or three other players to take a turn.
Player 1 rolls the dice. In the example shown below, a 2 and an 8 are rolled. Now comes the strategy! The player can choose to either use the digits as 28 or 82. Next, they must place their number in one of the squares on the number line. Once placed, it can’t be moved. The five numbers must be in order from least to greatest, so it’s important to think carefully about where to place each number. As with all strategy games, let students figure out the strategy on their own! That’s how you bring problem-solving into the activity.
Since 82 is a pretty large number, Player 1 decides to put the 82 in the last square. Good strategy? Maybe, maybe not. If Player 1 rolls two 8s, for example, on a later roll, the only 2-digit number they can make is 88, and 88 is greater than 82. Since they can’t place their number, they lose their turn.
Play continues with players alternating turns. The recording sheet has space for 5 rounds of the game.
Because this game can be adapted for any magnitude of numbers (e.g., 3-digit) and even decimals or fractions, I’ve included a couple of additional game boards with more generic titles and more space to allow players to write larger numbers. Download your Line it Up recording sheets here.