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Math: Place Value

Container Lid Game


Today's Snack: To get more container lids, go through your refrigerator or pantry and eat up the last pickle, the last blob of peanut butter, etc. You'll have a goofy assortment of items for your snack, but at least you may come up with a few more container lids for today's activity! Last, but not least, since you'll always need milk jug lids, be sure to have a tall glass of milk.





Container lids of all kinds of food items stored in zip-lock bags,

sorted into two sets of nine lids each, in seven colors or sizes

Index cards | Marker



Math is abstract. You have to imagine the quantity that the written symbols - the numbers - really mean. Numbers represent quantities, because it wouldn't be very convenient to count out quantities that get large.


It's a good thing, too: can you imagine paying $10,000 for a car, and having to count out 10,000 dollar bills? Instead, we can write a check or use a credit card, and transfer that amount of money without having to physically do it.


But as the numbers get bigger, it gets harder for kids to visualize their size. They tend to lump together all numbers that are beyond, say, three digits. They have a hard time distinguishing between a million and a billion and so on. Some can't understand how the "1" in 1,999,999 is still a bigger number than all the "9's" in that number.


So here's a fun activity you can do with two children, to teach place value, as well as recycle and reduce your amount of trash a little bit!


Save lids, and have your relatives and friends save them for you, too. Always wash lids in hot, soapy water. You can put in a few drops of bleach, too, to make sure the food is all gone and the lids are all clean.


Let dry. Sort by color, size or however else makes sense. If you have nine lids in each of seven categories, you can do place values into the millions.


Put each category of lids into a zip-lock bag that you have labeled for its place value. Try to group and label by size. For example, extra-large red peanut-butter jar lids could represent "millions," large green Parmesan cheese lids could represent "hundred thousands," and small blue water-bottle caps could represent "ones."


If you have two complete sets, then you can have two children play this game at a time, but with one set, you can keep one student busy.


Then write several numbers of all different sizes with marker pen on index cards. To play, start with one- or two-digit numbers and work your way up to the seven-digit challenges.


Put the labeled zip-lock bags in reach, and demonstrate how to do one of the problems. Discuss place value, and how numbers can represent much larger quantities, depending on where they are placed within a big number.


Then ask the students to pull out the right number of lids for each place value. Whoever gets it done correctly first gets a point. The first one to 10 wins - or however you want to structure the game.


By Susan Darst Williams Math 2012


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