Place Value Discs and Strips…Oh My! Tips for Organizing Your Manipulatives

Mar 31, 2017

The world of manipulatives is wide – and often messy and chaotic! Today, we share tips for organizing and getting the most from your manipulatives, specifically place value discs and strips.

place value organizationWhy Place Value Discs and Strips?

The manipulatives that I have found to be most useful, and actually a necessity in math instruction, are place value discs and strips. They come with whole number and decimal numbers, which makes them great for students transitioning from the early years of Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade into working with decimals in 4th and 5th grade.

These place value manipulatives are a non-proportional manipulative. We have lots of manipulatives in the classroom that are proportional, such as base ten blocks, abacus, Unifix cubes, things where one unit equals one, and ten of them put together equals ten individual units. We want students to spend many hours in the world of proportional manipulatives, especially in the Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms. By 2nd grade, we want to transition them into non-proportional, which is similar to how coins operate. For example, a nickel is large, but is only worth 5 cents. A dime is smaller but is actually worth more. A non-proportional manipulative is the next step in preparing students for pencil/paper activities that require a conceptual understanding of what they’re doing.

When you look at Zoltan Dienes’ work, he talks about multiple embodiments for kids to see things in mathematics. That’s one of the reasons why we want our instruction to progress from proportional, to non-proportional, to pencil/paper. Kids will have a better depth of understanding of math concepts if we follow this order of instruction.

How To Organize

Don’t have place value discs and strips yet? Grab the coupon code at the end of the post to get 20% off any place value product from our store!

When looking at how to organize these wonderful manipulatives, it can become a bit overwhelming. You don’t want to have to waste valuable instruction time looking for what you need, and if you don’t take the time to label and organize your manipulatives, it is less likely that they will be used effectively in your classroom.

The place value decimal discs come with 30 of every value (tenths, hundredths, and thousandths) and the place value whole number discs come with 35 of every value (ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands).The best way we’ve found to organize these discs (either whole number or decimal) is to create sets of 15 of every value that are then stored in bags or containers. For a typical classroom, we suggest between 8 and 10 packages of discs, which will create a whole class set after they’ve been separated into smaller sets of 15. The place value whole number discs package will give you a few extras after you create your sets of 15 that you can use to start the next set.

A photo storage box from Michael’s (use your weekly coupon!) or Joann’s (ask for the teacher discount or use the weekly coupon!) is a perfect solution for keeping all your individual sets neat and contained! We like to keep the decimals and whole numbers in separate containers so we have the most flexibility in the classroom.

Place value strips (whole number or decimal) come in a set of 10 or 30. If you get a class set of 30, we like to un-perforate them and separate them into sets of 15 so there would be two of every value in a set because when you’re doing problems using the place value strips you might need to use two of the same number. A class set of 30 will give you 15 sets.

Important note: Once the discs or strips are separated into sets, mark the backs of that set with a letter, symbol, or sticker! This saves time later because, when a disc or strip falls on the floor, you will quickly know which manipulatives go with which set!

Here is a picture of our container where our place value discs and strips are stored. The finished product would fit nicely into the Math Salad Bar for kids to grab when they’re needed.


The place value mat is mainly used for the discs, both whole number and decimal. We suggest at least 15 mats per classroom so each pair of students can have a mat to use with their discs.T-Pops Mats

We usually like to have students work with a partner when using these manipulatives. For example, using the discs, one partner might be responsible for the the ones and the tens, and the other might be responsible for the hundreds and thousands and they have to collaborate to complete the problems.

In my Facebook live videos, I show different ways you could use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with the place value discs. You could also refer to Why Before How, by Jana Hazekamp as she has some really great examples of how to use place value discs and strips within your instruction.

On our website, we have lots of great (free!) resources to support the place value strips and discs, both whole number and decimal (click on Math with Teacher tab).

2nd -3rd Grade Classroom Recommendations (for use with pairs of students):

4th – 5th Grade Classroom Recommendations (for use with pairs of students):

Get your place value discs and strips from our store!

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