Have you ever asked the question, “Why should I use math manipulatives?” It’s something that teachers can find daunting in the classroom, but it’s something that has fully transformed how I teach math and how I run my math centers. I’m going to tell you why it is important to use math manipulatives, 10 awesome examples of math manipulatives and, I will show you how to use them in the classroom.
Now before I get into the nitty-gritty of math manipulatives, if you are looking for games to try using math manipulatives, I have just the thing for you! Make centers fun with these free games sent directly to your inbox! Just a teacher helping out another teacher! Click here to get started and make your math centers more engaging and fun!
Why Use Math Manipulatives?
When I first started teaching many years ago, I didn’t have math manipulatives and I tended to go for worksheets and those “drill and kill” lessons. I found that some students were able to do this successfully, yet so many of my other kids struggled. That was because they needed the concrete example in front of them and they needed to touch and see how numbers work, not just “know it by heart”.
Math manipulatives help students hone their math skills. Students need to be able to use and connect a variety of concepts in many different ways. When students use their manipulatives, it gives them a concrete example of numbers, number sense, addition, subtraction, you name it, and students can create a deep understanding of those concepts.
When I started using math manipulatives in my classroom, my students became more engaged in their math lessons and they had a deeper understanding of the concepts I was teaching. They were able to verbalize their answers and explain how they got to an answer easier and it made teaching the next steps that much easier because they had something to connect to. Students are also beginning to build their confidence with math and find that it isn’t as hard as they thought it was.
Examples of Math Manipulatives
Below are examples of 10 awesome manipulatives that I use in my classroom. I will share what they are and how I use them in my classroom.
Now, I know there are plenty of manipulatives out there, but these are great basic starter sets for you to get your math centers up and running and make them fun and engaging!
Two Color Sided Counters
These can be used in so many ways! You can use them for addition, counting numbers, or playing one of my student’s favorite games BUMP! I love using them for addition specifically.
One game to play a game called “Shake and Spill”. I give my students a certain number of counters to put in a cup (for example, 10). Then the students shake up the cup and then spill it onto the carpet (of course we go over what this should look like in the classroom). Then the students count the number of one color counter and the other and make a number sentence out of it.
For example, the student may have “spilled” 6 red counters and 4 yellow counters. They would write the number sentence as 6+4=10. Then they would put the counters back in the cup and shake again and get different numbers and write their number sentence. This is super engaging for the students and it gives them a concrete example of addition and number sentences.
Pattern blocks can be used for more than just shapes! You can use them for number sense, addition, you name it! One of my favorite ways to use pattern blocks other than in my geometry unit is to count sides and vertices. I hold up a shape and ask them to identify the shape (for example a triangle). Then we count the sides. Then I show them another triangle, and I ask how many sides do I have all together. I continue doing this with different shapes! I even mix shapes up and have them add the sides together! For example, I would show a triangle and a square and ask them how many sides or vertices so 3+4=7. It’s great to keep up those skills and reinforce vocabularies such as sides, vertices, and shapes!
Snap cubes are great math manipulatives to use not only for counting but as a precursor to tens rods. Students need to understand how the ten rods work. They need to know that when they have a group of 10, they can put it in a group. Once they understand this, ten rods are easy to understand.
There are many games you can play with this. One of my favorites is “Roll and Make”. Students roll a number (ex: 5) and then gather more snap cubes. Then they roll again and gather more. Once they have 10 snap cubes, they click them together and have a tens stick. I have them go until they get a certain number, for example, 30 or 50. This gives students the visual of how to make ten sticks and then makes it easier to transfer to the place value rods that are used later in math concepts.
This is one of my favorite math manipulatives to use! I love finding them at Target or even at 5 Below! I use them for game pieces, counting, grouping by 5’s 10’s, etc.,10 frames You name it! I have little bins with one kind of eraser in it and students can choose what they like to use for their math center games, and the best part of all they are very cheap!
Rekenreks are a great math manipulative for counting to 20. There are so many uses for this. My favorite game to play is “Guess My Way”. I use the beads to make a number, for example, 7. There would be 4 beads on top and 3 beads on the bottom. Then I hide my answer from the students and I say “I have 7 guess the way I made it.” Then the students use their rekenrek to make a way they thought I made 7 (Maybe 6 and 1, 5 and 2, etc.). I will check and say they are close or it’s not my way, and they have to keep trying until they get it right. It is a great way to reinforce different ways to make a number. It also makes for a great math station or math center!
Ten frames are a necessity when working with numbers. It allows students to visually see and organize numbers to 10. They can also find different combinations to ten and makes it a great anchor for when students are adding numbers higher than ten. What’s great is that you can use double-sided counters, snap cubes, Target erasers, you name it!
Base Ten Blocks
Base 10 blocks are perfect for teaching place value. Once you have used the snap cubes to teach the concept of grouping my 10, they can move on to base 10 blocks to help represent numbers and visually see tens, hundreds, etc.
Dominoes are another great math manipulative! You can use dominoes to review numbers or just to use addition games. There are a lot of great examples here for you to use from The Teacher Next Door!
Dice just aren’t for playing a game anymore! You can use them for addition and subtraction! I love having dot dice and dice with numbers as well. I start with my class by having them roll their 2 dot dice and then adding them up. From there, I introduce number sentences and have them write the number sentences for what they rolled. Once they are comfortable with the dotted dice then I switch it to one dot die and one number die to teach counting. Then when they have that concept, I move on two number dice. This is a great fun way to use dice!
How to Use Math Manipulatives
These math manipulatives are great to use in the classroom and at math center time. You can use these math manipulatives in a variety of ways! They are great for students explaining their thinking by being able to see and touch the manipulatives, making it more concrete and less abstract for your students.
Math manipulatives also require working collaboratively. The mini erasers are a perfect example! Students need to learn how to share materials, how to take turns using erasers that they may want. They also need to learn how to take care of the materials, how to put them back, and how to use them without breaking them.
Math Manipulatives also allow students to think in many different ways and solve problems in many different ways. For example, using a tens frame and two-sided counters, students can create different ways to make 10. They can explore and flip over as many counters as they would like to see what numbers add up to 10. It is a great way for students to take risks trying to solve an open-ended problem.
Math manipulatives are perfect to use for teaching math concepts. Students became more engaged in their math lessons and they had a deeper understanding of the concept. They can verbalize their answers and explain how they got to an answer easier and it makes teaching the next steps that much easier because they have something to connect to. They make perfect math centers too! So if you are looking for something to try in your classroom this year, check these 10 awesome math manipulatives and try them out in your classroom!