Using Manipulatives in the Primary Classroom
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Using Manipulatives in the Primary Classroom

How to Use Manipulatives in Primary Classrooms

Math shouldn’t be tough for kids. There are so many economical tools widely available for classroom use. Manipulatives bring abstract concepts down to Earth and literally into the hands of students and parents. Recent studies have shown that manipulatives or objects that can be touched and moved by students to introduce or reinforce a mathematical concept, help students at all grade and age levels. Manipulatives have a particularly positive effect on primary classrooms. Here are some manipulatives you can use for measuring, counting, shapes, and more.

  • Have students show three blue counters, and then match each blue counter with a red counter.
  • Create a sentence such as, "__ students were playing kickball and __ students were on the swings. There were __ students all together." Have students take turns changing the numbers, and model each sentence using manipulatives.
  • Show five red counters and four blue counters. Then ask, "Are there more red or blue counters?"
  • Have students use 2-sided counters to show 3 (white) + 6 (black). Then ask, "How many more black counters are there?
  • Sue has 10 markers. She has 2 friends. Show how many markers each friend will get, if the markers are to be shared equally.
  • Sue has 10 markers. She wants each friend to get 2 markers. Show how many friends can get markers.
  • Use play clocks and ink stamps that imprint clocks in both digital and analog format on paper. This can help students to learn to tell time.
  • Flash cards are useful to help learn addition facts.
  • Mayonnaise jars, salad dressing jars, or milk cartons are useful in teaching liquid measure for cups, pints, and quarts.
  • Have students sort money into pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. How many pennies are heads up? How many nickels?
  • Have students use coins and dollars to understand the real-world use of regrouping, skip-counting, and other mathematical concepts. Have students find all the ways to show a dollar, how to regroup a dollar in order to give 4 friends 25 cents, how to make change, and how to skip-count to find the value of a group of nickels or dimes.
  • You should encourage students to explore shapes and their attributes and provide them with appropriate manipulatives and a structured environment to make this happen. Students can explore shapes by decomposing them, creating new shapes, and comparing and sorting them.
  • For primary students, use different shapes in different colors and sort them by attribute. Have students determine how to classify the pieces, by color, shape, size, and so on.
  • Use counters to teach one-to-one correspondence, ordinal numbers, and basic addition and subtraction.
  • Use two-sided counters to model one-to-one correspondence, addition and subtraction, or skip-count.
  • Use place-value mats to show each digit's place value when using base-10 blocks.
  • Use base-10 blocks to model the variety of ways a number can be represented, and to model regrouping when adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.
  • Use fraction strips to show equivalent fractions, to add fractions, to subtract fractions, or to find common denominators.
  • Use geometric-solid models to teach nets or spatial reasoning.
  • Use standard and non-standard rulers and measuring cups to represent length or volume.
  • Use spinners to find the experimental probability of landing on a designated area.
  • Use number cubes or dice to find the experimental probability of rolling a certain number or a combination of numbers

For specific products, please see our Early Childhood Manipulatives page.

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