Do your students understand decimal place value? Decimals are a new concept for most of our elementary math students. This can be a tricky concept for kids to grasp, but it’s an important one for them to understand as they continue to work with larger numbers in math. Understanding place value helps our students think about numbers strategically. This blog post will give you three of the best ways to teach decimals so that your students become confident with the values of decimal places!
What are decimals?
Decimal numbers represent numbers that are not whole. Decimals are numbers that are in between whole numbers. Just like fractions and percentages!
How do you explain decimal place values?
One way you can explain decimal place value to your students is by using a place value chart. This is a visual representation of the value of each digit in a number based on its position. A place value chart is a visual tool that helps students understand the concept of place value as it applies to decimals. The chart is divided into columns, with each column representing a different place value (such as ones, tenths, hundredths, etc).
These charts are something students are familiar with in math for learning traditional place value. Now we’re just adding decimals to the end of whole numbers. You can use this as a hook so they will be able to build on to their previous knowledge of place value.
Students can use the chart to see how the value of a decimal changes as the decimal point moves to the right or left. A place value chart with decimals can help in developing understanding of how large or small a number is. This visual math tool can help them understand how to round decimals and perform other operations with them in future math lessons.
Another great way to help students understand values of decimal places is to use money! This is a perfect way to connect the concept because its something familiar to kids, it has real world context, every student has learned about money in earlier grades, and students can relate to money.
To explain this, I write $1.25 on the white board. We discuss how the “1” is worth $1, the “2” is worth $0.20, and the “5” is worth $0.05. I go over several examples like this. I even bring out my magnetic money. I love that stuff! (It’s the little things!)
Using money to teach about the value of decimal places allows your students to see the connection between a decimal and in its written form in a real world situation.
Okay, this might be my favorite way to teach the value of decimal places! Have students practice place value with decimals by using base 10 blocks. These blocks represent units, tens, and hundreds, and can be used to physically build numbers and understand the whole place value system. Plus students are already familiar with these tools and it brings multisensory learning into math! Its a win win situation!
Students can use the flats to represent the whole numbers, rods to represent the tenths place (1/10 of the whole), individual units to represent the hundredths place (1/100 of the whole).This allows students to physically manipulate and see the relationship between the different values of decimal places.
Base 10 blocks provide a simple and concrete way of understanding the connection between the written representation of a decimal and its place value structure.
A bonus of using base 10 blocks to represent decimals is that students can use base 10 blocks to model basic math operations like adding and subtracting decimals or comparing two decimal numbers.
Here are a few activities that you can use to teach decimal place value to your students:
- Decimal scavenger hunt: This engaging decimal game will have your students up and moving around AND learning. Plus… it doesn’t take much time to prep. Hide small cards with decimal numbers around the classroom and have students search for them. Once they find a card, they should bring it back to their seat and determine the place value of each digit.
- Decimal war: This is a variation on the card game “war,” but with decimal numbers. Students should each draw a card and determine the place value of the decimal number. The student with the highest place value wins the round. I love this decimal game because it’s no prep!
- Decimal ordering: Give students a set of decimal numbers and have them order them from least to greatest or greatest to least.
- Decimal matching: Here’s another EASY math game to prepare! Create a set of decimal cards where one half of the cards the decimals are written in standard form with digits and the other half are expanded form or written form of decimals. Have students match the numbers to their place value. This is a good one for finding partners for other activities later on in the year!
- Decimal dice game: Create a fun game using dice with decimal numbers on them. Students should roll the dice and then perform a math operation (such as addition or subtraction) with the numbers they rolled. I use a set of dry erase dice to make this a little easier to prepare. Its not perfect because the decimals get rubbed off from time to time. We talk about how to avoid this before we start the game.
- Decimal scavenger hunt: Difficulty prep level: medium. Hide small objects around the classroom and have students find them. Once they find an object, they should determine its price and then figure out the total cost of all the objects they found.
- Decimal Place Value Worksheets: These worksheets are great to print out for a quick math center, homework, or complete as individual seat work. This anchor chart is included!
- Interactive Values of Decimals Places Slides: Perfect for projecting on your whiteboard while you’re teaching whole group or creating quick assignments in Google Classroom. Decimal Place Value anchor chart is included!
If you know you’re going to need decimals resources to supplement your math unit lesson plans, check out these Decimals worksheets, games, task cards, assessments and more!
Teaching decimal place values to your students can be tricky. Just like with whole number place values, its going to take your 4th or 5th grade students lots of practice in a variety of ways to fully grasp the concept for the values of decimal places. After our decimals unit in math, I add decimals practice in a math rotation to keep the students skills sharp with games, task cards, and interactive slides activities.